Project Thundercat (South Africa’s Very Own Jaguar TWR XJS V12 Racing Car Reborn)
Preparation for Classic Car Friday Underway!
In The Beginning...
Project Thunder Cat materialized when we purchased a competition vehicle from Jaguar South Africa. We acquired the car in April 2019 just before we moved into our new/current showroom. The vehicle had been partly changed by Jaguar South Africa in order to qualify for the Jaguar Simola Hill Climb and it was running with standard 15inch wheels, semi-slick tyres and the suspension had been modified with a couple of hard mounts, in order words, where the rubber mountings had been stiffened up or done away with.
The other alteration that they had done to the car had fitted a manual transmission as opposed to the 3 speed automatic transmission that the XJS’s come out with. Other than that, the interior was stock standard with the exception of two Corbeau racing seats that were fitted in the front and an alcantara/suede grip steering wheel…but other than that the car was basically a stock standard car.
We officially collected it from the Jaguar Simola Hill Climb in May of 2019 and brought it to Cape Town for promotional purposes and then decided to make a couple of modifications to the car. The real joke about this was planning to purely make it feel a “little bit” more like a race car by purely fitting a few door skins and taking out the existing imitation leather door cards, take out the rear seats and head rests, roof lining…just strip it out a little bit and change the dashboard a bit to make it look and feel more like a race car.
Well, that is where the mistake started (insert light chuckle here) and as we went further and deeper into these changes and further down the rabbit hole, we decided to change up the wiring and relocate the ECU. Once fabricating the new race-apt door cards, centre console and dash, which came out fantastic, we then thought that lightweight pedals would be a good option as well as a detachable steering wheel to add to the racing edge and give a more race practical feel to the driving experience.
At this point we decided that, since we were helping Thunder out with shedding a bit of weight we might as well remove the roof lining and take out the side impact protection in the car which helped to make the vehicle alot lighter and then take out the electric windows and replace these with plexiglass side windows and that’s where the trouble started because then came the roll cage and the decisions to change the front brakes to more appropriate racing brakes and then we decided to change to competition size wheels because unfortunately with the new size brakes that we were putting in the 15inch wheel would no longer fit.
We then decided to strip out the suspension and redo the suspension completely. We then upgraded from the standard 325 pound to one inch compression spring to a 825pound to one inch of compression spring, changed the dampers, hard mounted the whole front and rear suspension, changed the fuelling system to a proper competition fuelling system and stripped out the entire interior of the vehicle again and checked where we could shed more weight and changed all the gauges in the vehicle and changed the gear linkages on the vehicle and so this project started to grow and grow.
Susequently we also decided to remove the bonnet, made a bonnet mould and had a replacement bonnet made out of fibreglass because as you may know the bonnet on a XJS is not the lightest. fabrication where we are changing the exhaust system completely so that we can it to a proper competition exhaust.
We are throwing out the old Lucas fuel injection system and our objective is to, not just use Thunder as a promotional vehicle but we will be taking part as a competition vehicle where she will definitely be competing in the Jaguar Simola Hill Climb under the classics category on Classic Car Friday and we will be racing her in the classic car class at Killarney Raceway where we believe she will stand a very good chance if we look at the other competition around there but only time will tell.
A hell of a lot of the changes made were strongly influenced by the guys from the original Tom Walkinshaw Racing team the original guys like Donald Miles, from Melvin Hooker in the UK and assistance from David Becvar (DBRC) who races a Thundercat (Jaguar XJS V12) very successfully in the Histo Cup in the Czech Republic which is a Pan European racing series which goes from the Automotodrom Slovakia Ring, Hungaroring, Brno Circuit and Le Mans, Monza and all the big race circuits and they compete against the likes of the Porsche etc. The Thundercat of David Becvar goes extremely well and is subsequently running the LAUDE ceramic coated bearings which, according to David Becvar, are in a class of their own. We proudly see our LAUDE branding now featuredon his Thundercat in Europe at the Histo Cup.
We have also had some assistance from Mike Roddy who owns the original Tom Walkinshaw race car in Australia and the list of names could truly go on of who has influenced the decisions we have made. Some of the decisions have been made by our financial capabilities. Some guys are easily spending in excess of a hundred thousand dollars on a racing engine, well…we don’t have that kind of money available to us and we are obviously doing things within our budget. In saying that though we have had a lot of the technical guidance from our guys to assist us in making technical decisions from people like David, Donald, Melvin, etc who have provided us with the basic specifications and we have then has to configure these specifications and fabricate things locally here in South Africa instead of sourcing them abroad.
To take a step back, one of the problems we have internationally is that there is a huge amount of expertise out there on these V12 motors and racing them but nobody is sharing this information or making kits available for people to make their XJS’s faster. Let’s put it this way, there are people out there that are doing this incredibly successfully but with the Rand to Pound or Rand to Euro exchange rate, it is completely out of reach for the majority of people, especially for those based in South Africa.
So our objective here is to create a bit of market where we export these at Rand value into Europe and obviously create a cost effective solution available to South African enthusiasts where they can buy a “Thundercat Kit” from us. The kit will include a set of prepared cylinder heads with camshafts, different valves, pistons, block, crankshafts, etc. We are also currently working on a set of cylinder heads which we have had completely re-ported and have three angle-cut valves inside the cylinder head, racing profile cam shafts, the exhaust and intake ports have been cleaned up and cleared out (gas-flowed) as well as modern injectors.
We have also developed a fantastic relationhip with the guys at Motul South Africa which was a match made in heaven. Motul launched their performance lubricant along side the Tom Walkinshaw XJS in the 1980s making this the ideal relationship.