“What's that again?”
The next morning, I drove out to the gated community built around the Pasadera Country Club -- a forceful stone's throw from Laguna Seca -- for a stint behind the wheel. Unlike some of my more fortunate colleagues, I hadn't yet sampled Jag's latest roadster, which meant that the Project 7 would be my driving introduction to the F-Type, as well.
The concept had been fitted with a passenger seat since it was displayed at Goodwood earlier in the summer. After all, it wouldn't do to allow your 550-hp concept car to be tossed around by ham-handed journalists without some adult supervision.
The P7 isn't wildly different from the production F-Type, save for some carbon-fiber bodywork, a cut-down acrylic windshield and that driver's side fairing meant to instantly evoke the D-Types that won Le Mans in 1955, '56 and '57. The paint recalls the Flag blue-and-white color scheme of Ecurie Ecosse, the famed Scottish racing organization who aced the '56 and '57 outings at La Sarthe. The Jaguar-branded Pirellis are an unabashedly rad touch; combining old-time white lines with the boldness of the Idlers-stenciled meats Nakai-san fits to his Rauh-Welt Porsches.
There's certainly something cool about the Project 7, but all the folderol makes it seem like it's perhaps trying a bit too hard to be something it isn't. The Fifties racer that spawned the roadgoing XKSS was impossibly low and relentlessly curvaceous, one of the most organic and lovely racing machines ever constructed.
The F-Type, while a looker in its own right, is a completely different beast. It's a nasty, brutish and short hoodlum wrapped in a Savile Row suit and sent off to Henry Higgins for elocution lessons. "The bloventry in Coventry stays mainly on the doventry." Or something.
It's fantastic just as it sits, and I'm not exactly sure the additions do it any aesthetic favors. That said, any wackiness inherent in the P7's design is of a sinister sort; it's more Great Milenko than Bozo.
Situated in the right seat, the 5.0L 550-hp supercharged AJ V8 -- an engine that stands as one of my favorite powerplants in any configuration -- burbles and bubbles at idle. It's a bit loud, perhaps, but it could be chalked up to the open configuration. In the interest of weight savings and raciness, the convertible top's been completely removed. Drive it in the rain and you'll be a sopping jockey. If you're unwilling to get wet, you'll never be Mike Hawthorn. This car wants you to be Mike Hawthorn.
Relegated to the residential private roads around Pasadera, I plodded along, stabbing the throttle here and there. “Ho dag!” -- a colloquialism I'm often wont to employ on Twtitter -- was pretty much all that came to mind upon each application of the loud pedal. This was the F-Type V8 S exhaust as Sir William Lyons intended. Unfortunately, the Yankee Federales and Her Majesty's Ministry of Excessively Noisy Items deem it unseemly and unsavory.
Unseemly, I can accept, but the sounds are nothing but savory. The Project 7 is lovely at low speed for the same reason the Boss 302 is such a happy-making thing to plod around in. One can play around at or below the speed limit, swapping cogs on a whim, revving the mill in great, glorious glissandos of snarl, snap, crack, whack and gurgle.
If Jaguar doesn't offer the system as an off-the-shelf, “off-highway only” unit (wink, nudge), somebody needs to replicate it. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next week, but certainly, the sooner the better.
Due to the low speeds involved, I can't comment on the car's handling with any authority, but it seemed nicely sorted and I'm generally pretty partial to the way Jag sets its cars up these days. At one point, in third gear at about 35, I quickly rolled about a third of the way into the throttle and the rear end started to waggle under the power. Note that traction control was enabled. I've yet to drive the C7, but the P7 offered everything I want out of a modern Corvette. And hey, Corvettes have a pretty stellar record at Le Mans, too.
If driving the Project 7 did anything for me besides offer the thrill of putting around in a factory one-off, it made me anxious for the F-Type RS roadster that's almost certain to roll out of Castle Bromwich at some point down the line. It'll be nothing if not an open-topped hellion. And if they can figure out a way to sneak this exhaust system past the regulators, it's sure to be a heavenly little monster.