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Jaguar's Test Facility - Jaguar’s Den

We were invited to peek into the Jaguar’s Den, exploring its assembly plant and Nürburgring test facility.

Greg Emmerson
Aug 17, 2012
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Epcp 1209 01+jaguars test facility+cover Photo 1/10   |   Jaguar's Test Facility - Jaguar’s Den

Since their release from Ford ownership, both Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR) are enjoying a renaissance: rediscovering their heritage and reinventing the brands. With bold design and the latest technology, we’re being reminded of what made these British marques world famous, and now being under Indian management the future looks very positive.

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We were privileged to spend some time immersed in both brands, and we’ll be exploring Land Rover in the next issue. For now, we want to highlight the sporting resurgence of one of the finest car companies in the world: one that defined elegance with the E-Type and luxury with the XJ.

Today we see a very different model line up from years gone by: the cars recapture the racing history as well as the reputation for quality. Although currently lacking a 3-Series competitor, the XF, XJ and XK are absolutely world class.

Aluminum
We visited where it all begins – the Castle Bromwich factory in the British West Midlands – an experience anybody can share by booking a tour on the “Experience” page at jaguar.com

Originally building Spitfires and Lancasters during WW2, and at one time the largest press shop in Europe, the XJ assembly plant is now one of the most advanced in Europe thanks to the car’s comprehensive aluminum production.

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New techniques were developed for the world’s first aluminum monocoque bodyshell. As a result, there are no welding stations in the plant because it would disrupt the metal’s chemical structure. There are no holes drilled for the 3000 rivets in each car either. Instead the self-piercing rivets are fired into the panels for maximum integrity. With adhesive added for extra security (though not strictly needed), the XJ bodyshell is 40% lighter than the equivalent steel. It’s roughly the weight than the Mini’s steel structure yet incredibly stiff, as our racetrack experience would soon highlight. This glue and rivet process was proven to be three times stronger and five times more durable than spot-welding.

Around 440 lb lighter than the BMW 7-Series and similar to the Audi A8, the XJ’s lightweight construction has huge benefits in terms of engine, steering, suspension and brake performance, as well as fuel economy. The cars are almost totally recyclable as well, adding to the list of green credentials.

Taking six days to build, each car is essentially constructed by hand, with robots only employed for the heavier work.

Epcp 1209 06+jaguars test facility+track Photo 4/10   |   Jaguar's Test Facility - Jaguar’s Den

The Ring
In order to prove its new technology and fine-tune such high-performance vehicles, Jaguar has used the Nürburgring for 20 years and was the first carmaker to build an on-site test center in 2003.

A staff of 10-15 personnel occupies the facility from March to October. They compile data that is fed back to the engineers in Gaydon, UK.

One lap of the Ring can simulate hundreds of miles of daily use, subjecting the structure and components to forces that quickly identify weakness. At the start of a typical lap, for example, the brakes quickly reach and maintain 600˚C for almost the entire 12.9-mile Nordschleife lap, giving them an unusually severe test. Structural rigidity, stability control, traction control and ABS systems are all scrutinized and developed here. In fact, the facility manager reported that every test car gets new brakes and tires each day when testing, such are the rigors.

While manufacturers claim scientific reasons for being here, we all know it’s the dream of every petrolhead to tackle the intimidating course. As I climbed into the passenger seat of a matte-black XKR-S Convertible development mule alongside XK development engineer David Pook, his grin gave the game away.

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Ducking under the rollcage and pulling on the racing harness, drops of rain on the windshield meant this was going to be unforgettable, one way or another…

Considering the number of laps the car had completed, I was impressed at its integrity. Even on public roads it didn’t creak or groan as expected. Tell-tale markings on the body panels were to indicate panel movement caused by structural flexing, yet the shut lines were perfect.

With its polished tarmac in older sections and slick curbs, the Nordschleife is doubly treacherous in the wet. David’s pace seemed almost pedestrian and yet the speedo said otherwise.

After what seemed like two minutes, the 14km board flashed past and the lap was ending. I’d driven the track previously at slow speed and remembered it being more of a journey, we were definitely moving along…

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Epcp 1209 09+jaguars test facility+wet lap Photo 7/10   |   Jaguar's Test Facility - Jaguar’s Den

My Turn!
To our surprise, we weren’t sharing the track with anybody. Members of the public were shooed away and rival manufacturers had pulled down their shutters. This was an extraordinary opportunity to experience the Ring without the distraction of slow coaches and withering motorcycles. It also meant the usual photo and video ban was lifted, as you can see in our online video at europeancarweb.com

Rather than let a group of writers loose, we were split into small groups and would follow ex-racers and experienced Jaguar drivers who would set the pace. We just had to follow his lines.

This is the fun way to discover the Ring, learning from experts with the stern commands of our German guides crackling over the two-way radio like the soundtrack to an old movie.

Our of seven laps, only two were dry, and both were tainted by a comrade unable to maintain the pace. With him moved to the back of the pack, we could finally crack on, completing several kilometers before we slowed to regain our anchor.

Although we never got a full lap at high speed, our racer estimated a lap time equivalent to about 8:30” if we’d been able to string it all together. Not bad for our first time and a huge testament to both his directions and the ability of the cars.

This was even more apparent when the rain descended. There were times you couldn’t see the car or the corner in front of you, yet we kept up the pace (having swapped our slower member for a more skilled hotshoe).

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Along the Antoniusbuche start/finish straight from Döttinger Höhe to Tiergarten we were seeing almost 130mph, peering through the spray to find brake lights and astounded to be doing multiple lap on hollowed ground.

During our two sessions I was able to drive the XKR and XKR-S, both of which demand considerable respect in the wet. The 510hp supercharged AJ-V8 sounds sweetest in the -S model, which was dynamically superior in all aspects. However, I was glad of the traction control and ABS testing that kept us on the black stuff.

While I’d extinguished the driver aids in the dry, I wasn’t foolish enough to trust my luck in the torrential downpours. The electronics gave you plenty of confidence and allowed us to maintain a considerable pace.

Having always wanted to drive the Ring in anger, and always wanted to climb behind the wheel of the XKR-S, my bucket list is shorter than the week before!

The Future
With new models in design, the F-Type announced and a new engine plant under construction in Port Talbot, UK, the future looks sparkly at Jaguar.

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We enjoyed a fascinating lecture from Mark White, JLR’s chief technology specialist for lightweight vehicles, who went into great depth on the benefits of aluminum construction.

He explained that while cars had generally gained 22 lb per year for the past 30 years, they were also safer, stiffer and more refined than ever. However, his task was to reduce CO2 emissions in accord future legislation, aiming to eventually bring the European JLR fleet under 100g/km. The only problem was that his calculations showed cars needed to weigh 1000kg (2200 lb) to achieve this.

He cycled through several strategies to reach the goal, including smaller engines, alternative fuels, reduction of parasitic losses and weight loss.

While switching to aluminum had saved about 40% over steel, he showed how carbon reinforced plastics (CFRP) are almost 70% lighter. And every 100kg saved would equate to 62000 lb less CO2 emissions across the JLR fleet.

The future for Jaguar is in the combination of aluminum and CFRP. And having developed different techniques, the company is able to provide crash protection with aluminum extrusions, overcoming previous heat cycling and bonding issues in the process.

Aluminum is significantly more recyclable than steel, able to accept about 95% recycled material in new cars, compared to 20% in steel bodies. This helps overcome the high price of aluminum, while market volatility is avoided by partnering with smelting plants to ensure supply stability.

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All these measure still mean a C/D segment compact can’t be built cost-effectively in aluminum, but don’t be surprised if the XF replacement doesn’t have a considerable amount of it.

See the video at europeancarweb.com

Save the Ring

Anybody can drive to the Nürburgring and sample the Nordschleife for a few dollars. It’s always been that way, and is what makes the circuit so enchanting – it’s the volkstrack.

However, that opportunity is under attack for several reasons, mostly concerning the development and mismanagement of the area. So if you care about the future of the world’s greatest motorsport adventure, log onto savethering.org and make a difference.

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By Greg Emmerson
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