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Old 12-01-2003, 06:40 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Palmer Jaguar JP1
Quickest Cat on the Street: The JP1 is, by all definitions, a street-legal race car

By MIKE DUFF/AutoWeek

SHOCK AND AWE: THE CONCEPT WORKS. At least, it seems to in the overtaking lane of Britainís traffic-clogged A1(M) motorway, where what appears to be a Le Mans-bound prototype closes in at speed in the rearview mirror of dawdlers. The shellshocked drivers scatter.

Meet the Palmer Jaguar JP1, one of the most gloriously unlikely cars to have put on a set of license plates, certainly since Count Rossiís road-going Porsche 917 racer. And, in answer to the inevitable first question from stunned onlookers, yes, it is completely street-legal. Everything demanded by Britainís single-vehicle approval legislation is hereódipping headlights, turn indicators, speedometer, even a parking brake. But street-sensible?

In a word, no. With no doors, roof, windshield or heater, the JP1 offers no protection from the ravages of the merciless British winter. Itís not cheap, either, costing about $87,000 at todayís exchange rate (thatís £51,500).

The equation does have a flip side, of course: the sort of performance that even the most exotic supercars canít come close to matching. Underneath the fiberglass bodywork there is a proper space-frame structure (bequeathed from an aborted project to produce a single-make racer), pushrod-operated springs and user-adjustable dampers. Power comes from a mid-mounted version of the 3.0-liter Jaguar AJ-V6, more commonly found powering the X-Type, heavily tuned and driving the rear wheels through the pure racer combo of a carbon composite clutch, Hewland FTR six-speed sequential transmission and limited-slip differential.

As you would expect from something that looks this ballsy, performance is towering. The official figures feel, if anything, pessimistic. What is not in doubt is that this is the quickest Jaguar-powered road car ever, with a claimed 3.6-second 0-to-60-mph time (0.3 second inside the XJ220ís time) and a 0-to-100-mph time of just 6.8 seconds. That is superbike-quick. Top speed is limited by gearing to 180 mph.

Technically the JP1 isnít a race car, but only in that thereís no race series for it. It was originally designed and engineered as a driver training car for Jonathan Palmerís race school at the Bedford Autodrome in England. (Dr. Pís previous career highlights include driving in Formula One and being the man who set the McLaren F1ís original 231-mph production-car speed record.)

But our test car, the prototype, is far from a marketing gimmick. Production has already begun on the first batch of 10 road-goers, and six have already been sold on little more than word of mouth.

Despite its street legality the JP1ís primary mission remains racetracks, and it promises to be the ultimate track-day weapon. But, providing you are prepared to treat it like a big, expensive motorbike and dress accordingly, it is road-viable. The simple act of getting in brings home the fundamental unlikeliness of it all: Itís a convoluted process involving standing on the molded shell that constitutes the driverís seat, bracing yourself against the roll bar and then sliding into the tight confines of the cockpit.

The engineís barely silenced voice brings home the JP1ís racetrack upbringing. With almost no flywheel effect, the motor idles roughly and unevenly. And the gearshift requires a firm hand to clunk it into first. The sudden, snappy clutch also suffers from proper race-car shudder. On initial acquaintance, at low speeds, it feels horrible, an elaborate joke making you the victim.

Get onto wider, more open roads and the JP1 gets much better, very quickly. The motorbike analogy extends beyond the need for waterproof trousers and into the driving experience proper: You need to acclimate yourself to this car. The sequential shift becomes brilliant the more you use it, offering addictive, near-instantaneous clutchless upshifts. A spark-cutting device allows full-throttle gear changes, too. And, predictably, grip levels are massive thanks to the fat Yokohama AVS Sport tires and some downforce coming from the vast carbon fiber rear wing (with user-adjustable positions).

Just how much power our test car was running with is a matter of mild controversy. The official figure is 277 hp at 7000 rpm, although off the record one PalmerSport employee let slip that this particular engine was ďnearer 340 hp.Ē Working against an undisputed curb weight of just 1520 pounds, that emerges from the calculator as a power-to-weight ratio of between 400 hp and 500 hp per ton. (For reference, a Ferrari 360, rarely criticized for sluggish behavior, manages 290 hp/ton.) On wet pavement the JP1 is traction limited until well inside third gear (which runs out at 99 mph), the rear wheels scrambling for grip if you try to put down too much power. On dry tarmac, the acceleration isóliterallyóbreathtaking, forcing you into the seatback as the horizon approaches on fast forward. It is, to use an expression coined by one awestruck passenger, probably ďthe most overtaking-est car in the world ever.Ē

Rationally the JP1 makes almost no sense, thanks to the vast sticker price and almost total lack of practicality. But emotionally? Itís hard to think of a street-legal car that provides such raw, visceral thrills, at any price level, anywhere in the world.

PALMER JAGUAR JP1
# ON SALE: Now in the U.K.
# BASE PRICE: $87,000 (est.)
# POWERTRAIN: 3.0-liter, 277-hp, 230-lb-ft V6; rwd; six-speed sequential transmission
# CURB WEIGHT: 1520 pounds
# 0-60 MPH: 3.6 seconds (mfr.)

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