Jaguar XJ-S takes its first ETCC podium, Vallelunga, April 1982
There was more than a little criticism from the press when in early 1982 Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) announced it was to enter the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) with a Jaguar XJ-S. Big, heavy and very thirsty, it was – on paper at least – an unsuitable choice for this highly competitive series, just as the XJ12 Coupe had been five years earlier. Worse still, TWR’s effort had limited backing from the factory, only getting paid when the cars finished on the podium. With BMW dominating the series, doing so would be a tall order.
“When we heard that Jaguar was to go racing in European Touring Car Championship events again, our first reaction was, ‘Oh no! we’ve seen all this before,’” said the May 1982 issue of Motor Sport, “Why should it work now, when it was such a disaster in 1977?”
Yet much to everyone’s surprise, the car didn’t disgrace itself during its ETCC debut at Monza in March 1982. Driven by Walkinshaw himself together with Charles ‘Chuck’ Nicholson, not only did the single entry qualify in a tremendous second but it briefly led before a damaged gearbox oil cooler line (caused when Walkinshaw clattered heavily over a chicane) resulted in its retirement.
The ETCC’s next race at Italy’s Autodromo Vallelunga, 20 miles north of Rome, on April 4 would show Monza wasn’t a fluke. To begin with Walkinshaw and Nicholson qualified on pole ahead of the strong contingent of BMW 528is.
Although the black, Motul-sponsored XJ-S performed strongly in the race, it was still no match for the German cars and the Jaguar was soon hunted down and overtaken. Yet thanks to a surprising level of reliability, the Jaguar managed to finish a respectable third, a mere 32 seconds behind the winning 528i of Umberto Grano and Helmut Kelleners.
“I was so impressed by this performance that I authorised a special bonus and TWR was paid as though we had finished second,” wrote Jaguar’s then chairman, (Sir) John Egan, in his 2015 biography, Saving Jaguar. “We were on our way.”
It was Jaguar’s first ETCC podium since 1977 when Derek Bell and Andy Rouse finished second at the Nürburgring in an XJ12C. But while that was the zenith of the Coupe’s touring car achievements, the TWR-entered XJ-S was just getting into its stride. Not only was a second entry prepared from the 24 hours of Spa- Francorchamps onwards, but following four wins and three second places, the XJ-S ended the season as a genuine championship contender.
Big, heavy and thirsty it may have been but as TWR showed, the XJ-S could also be a highly capable racing car.