From the moment you first lay eyes on the Jaguar
C-X75 in the 2015 James Bond movie Spectre
, it’s difficult to look at anything else.
Even when the British agent’s Aston Martin DB10 – a model specially commissioned for the film that never entered production – slides on screen, all eyes remain fixed on the low-slung, burnt-orange missile driven by the main villain.
Daniel Craig has none of the swagger of Sean Connery, and his vanilla panna cotta of a car is devoid of personality compared to the sweeping, organic lines of the evil-looking Jag.
The C-X75 appeals to the mean streak of your inner 10 year old – the part that pulls pigtails, passes notes in class and ultimately wants the baddies to win.
But how did a vehicle that created such a stir – one so advanced as to take a starring role in a Hollywood blockbuster when it was five years old – disappear with such a whimper?
The beginnings of the story can be traced back to 2005 and the launch of one of the most exhilarating vehicles ever built: the 1001bhp Bugatti Veyron.
A technical exercise in absolute performance, the loss-making two-seater blew all rivals into the weeds on its way to becoming the fastest production model of all time.
For supercar manufacturers, the Bugatti was a white glove across the face. Three firms responded in kind: McLaren with its F1 follow-up, the 903bhp P1; Ferrari, with its LaFerrari; and Porsche, which joined the fray with its 918 Spyder. These futuristic hybrids were very nearly joined by a fourth.
The C-X75 was the most advanced vehicle that the firm had ever made and its first supercar since the XJ220.
It stole the limelight at the 2010 Paris Salon, not just for its stunning shape and menacing presence, but also for the advanced technology that seemed to have been lifted from the pages of Eagle or Rocket.
Commissioned before the financial crisis that rocked the global economy, the C-X75 was a celebration of Jaguar’s 75th anniversary and set out the company’s ambitions for the coming decade.
A wildly experimental drivetrain featured four 195bhp, 8000rpm electric motors – one driving each wheel, geared to 3.1:1 and requiring no clutch.
The combined power output was 780bhp with 1180lb ft of torque: enough to comfortably eclipse the XJ220 with a 0-62mph sprint of just 3.4 secs, while also beating the Bugatti Veyron to 186mph with a time of 15.7 secs. Its top speed was 205mph.
Running exclusively on electric power, the C-X75 was said to be good for a 68-mile range, but that could be extended enormously thanks to a pair of gas turbines mounted behind the cockpit.
Each of the pint-sized engines, made by Worcestershire-based Bladon Jets, was mated to a small generator producing 140kW of electrical power, taking the car’s theoretical range to a whopping 560 miles – enough to get you from London to Aberdeen without stopping. Just as noteworthy was the ability of the 80,000rpm turbines to run on a variety of energy sources, including diesel, biofuels and natural gas.
The rest of the concept car was pretty clever, too.
Trick suspension came with three settings: Normal, EV and Track, which as well as changing the digital display – such as Track mode’s timing screen – stiffened the springs, lowered the ride height and even brought up a map of your chosen circuit. The monocoque, meanwhile, was made from aluminium – a Jaguar speciality.
To say that the C-X75 made an impression at its Paris launch would be a massive understatement, and the furore surrounding the car, coupled with an ambitious expansion plan, was enough to convince Jaguar Land Rover top brass to take a punt.
By May the following year, the firm had announced plans to produce a limited run of 250 vehicles, which were expected to cost between £750,000 and a cool £1m each.
The design brief was bold: to match or better the 0-100mph time of the Bugatti Veyron, the 40-mile pure-electric range of the Vauxhall Ampera, and the 89g/km CO2 emissions of the Toyota Prius. Like the Porsche 918 Spyder, the ambitious project C-X75 targeted both extreme performance and world-class fuel economy.
To carry out the transition from motor show mock-up to pre-production prototype, Jaguar enlisted the help of Formula One expert Williams Advanced Engineering. The design, though visually very similar to the concept car, featured comprehensive mechanical changes, most notably to the drivetrain.
The intriguing turbines and wheel-mounted motors were ditched in favour of a 1.6-litre turbocharged and supercharged ‘four’ featuring port-fed fuel injection, which was paired with two electric motors.
Rated at 295lb ft, there was one in the back and one in the front, where they each drove a transaxle, with power coming from a liquid/air-cooled battery pack.
The combined output reached 888bhp with 590lb ft of torque – enough to propel the 1700kg car to 60mph in 2.8 secs, while 100mph could be reached in less than six.
The chassis, meanwhile, was constructed from compression-moulded carbonfibre with a torsional rigidity figure – the force required to twist the body by 1º – of 60,000Nm.
That’s more than four times that of the McLaren F1 and almost as strong as the Koenigsegg Agera R, the 277.9mph car responsible for toppling the Veyron’s production speed record in 2017.
The journey to functional prototypes had remarkably taken just two years, but all optimism was shattered in December 2012 when brand director Adrian Hallmark brought the axe down on the project.
Jaguar’s surprise decision was taken in light of biting global austerity measures, and was no doubt influenced by receiving just 100 expressions of interest.
The last time the firm had launched a supercar it also fell foul of an economic downturn, with warehouses full of unsold XJ220s and disgruntled customers clamouring for the return of their £50,000 deposits.
Whether Jaguar feared a repeat of the XJ220 debacle or simply wished to focus on the F-type and F-pace, the timing of the C-X75’s arrival wasn’t ideal.
McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche continued with their own hypercar projects, proving that there was room for more than one apex predator, but only the Prancing Horse generated real fever in showrooms.
Despite the disappointment of production being abandoned, the firm did commit to finishing the five prototypes and continuing their development, with the ultimate aim of utilising as many of the technological advances as it could in its upcoming models.
Fast-forward two years, and the Jag received a revival – of sorts – from an unusual source: Eon Productions, owner of the James Bond franchise, had a proposition.
The latest film, Spectre, was set for release in 2015, and while 007’s Aston Martin was already sorted, transport for the villain, Mr Hinx, had yet to be decided.
Eon wanted a C-X75 and Jaguar was only too happy to bring the model out of retirement.
Given the rarity and immense value of the existing prototypes, the decision was quickly made to build five more cars exclusively for the movie, with the project once again being outsourced to Williams.
Unlike the first batch, these C-X75s had to be built to endure the rigours of filming, which called for strength, simplicity and reliability.
In order to withstand the punishing chase scenes, the stunt cars were completely re-engineered and, though they are externally nearly identical to the originals, the similarities are skin deep.
Beneath the glassfibre panels lay a spaceframe constructed from girder-like 60mm steel tubing that would put a World Rally Car to shame. The suspension also came straight from the special stage, and allowed the cars to survive gruelling feats that included crashing down a flight of steps. The fully adjustable springs could be raised for jump sequences and lowered for the road.
Mechanically, the stunt cars bore no relation to either the concept or prototype.
Gone were the electric motors and four-cylinder engine, replaced by a supercharged 5-litre V8 borrowed from the F-type.
Now mid-mounted, there was no room for a conventional gearbox, so each stunt car was fitted with a six-speed sequential unit straight from a GT3 racer, operated via a single paddle mounted to the left of the steering wheel.
On the other side, a hydraulic handbrake afforded Mr Hinx’s stunt double Martin Ivanov total control without the need to go groping between the seats for a conventional lever.
Two of the original prototypes were in fact used during the static scenes, but the lion’s share of the action was carried out by ‘our’ car – one of the four that survived filming, and a vehicle that’s about to be offered for sale at RM Sotheby’s Abu Dhabi auction, with an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2m.
At the time of our drive in it, the Jag was exactly as it was when it rolled off the set, with the notable exception of a colour change from orange to blue: Eon didn’t want too many ‘hero’ cars floating around during the film’s promotion, so this one was covered with a form of wrap that comes off when heated. That’s since been removed and it’ll be sold by RM Sotheby’s in its original hue.
Whatever the colour, the C-X75 is an intimidating place to spend time. From the outside it’s all show car, but from the driver’s seat it means business. The butterfly doors were a styling cue missing from the original concept, and they are feather-light – no doubt due to the extensive use of glassfibre.
The seats are unforgiving and firm, more suited to a racer than a road model, and mobility is limited thanks to a five-point race harness.
The dash retains the general shape of the prototype, but with plastic blanking plates in place of touchscreens, while the centre console is dominated by a Heath-Robinson array of buttons and knobs that would look more at home on earth-moving equipment than a svelte supercar.
With the exception, of course, of a starter switch that seems to have been stolen from a fighter jet.
Turning the isolator switch and flicking the starter wakes the Jag as a trail of blood-red LEDs across the dash spell out SPECTRE.
Depressing the clutch provokes a buzz of mechanical and computational chatter as the V8 flashes angrily up the rev range, filling the cabin with a raucous chorus before settling to a rough idle.
Despite the unconventional controls, the car is remarkably easy to get to grips with: the pedals work as you would expect, while all forward gears and reverse are controlled with the single paddle.
It’s hugely satisfying, too, producing a pneumatic ‘dum-chsssh’ with each lightning-quick change. The light clutch is unnatural yet effective, and pulling away is uneventful.
Until you test the throttle. The thumping V8 is tremendously powerful in the F-type, but when mated to a supercar that weighs so little and is geared for low-speed stunts, the fun really starts.
Acceleration is blistering, with the ’box holding each ratio for mere seconds. Firing through the revs produces an aural assault – with no sound deadening to speak of and thin glassfibre panels amplifying the noise from the mid-mounted engine, the racket is electrifying.
The whole package encourages you to push on, but come across a corner – particularly on a damp circuit strewn with leaves – and you become frightfully aware of the car’s limitations.
This C-X75 was designed with two purposes: to look beautiful, which it does well, and to go sideways, which we imagine – if you possess the skill of Ivanov – it does very well.
For us mere mortals, things are more cautious. Turn-in is sharp, but the chassis is incredibly stiff and twitchy. There’s a sense that the rear wants to step out at any minute, and after a few laps you realise that every muscle is tensed as you grip the wheel and strain against the harness.
It may be perfectly suited to howling around Rome in pursuit of an Aston Martin, but perhaps less so to normal road conditions.
It’s a cruel irony that the basest, most animalistic version of the C-X75 is the one that stands the best chance of being spotted in the wild.
Stepping out of this Jaguar, it’s impossible not to glance over your shoulder and think about what might have been.
The firm’s most technologically advanced and aesthetically pleasing car since the XJ13 and XJ220 was snuffed out not by an accident or devastating economic downturn, but by a schizophrenic fit of self-doubt.
Rather than avoid a white elephant, Jaguar threw away a winning lottery ticket.