For us Jaguar enthusiasts, we are often drawn to the form and function of these classic automobiles. Driving that first E-type was definitely an experience with that impressive cockpit and iconic bonnet. But Jaguar has also been at the forefront of racing, notably LeMans right up to today’s Formula E. Heck, I even joined an organization because of their association with Jaguar Racing (HSBC). We won’t talk too much about that era of racing.
Starting in the mid-1930’s with the SS100, Jaguar motorcars have commanded a spotlight for racing. For the most part, there has been a triumphant Jaguar in every decade of racing. In the late 1940’s and into the early 50’s, the Jaguar XK120, represented the marque very well in racing. It served primarily as a test bed for Jag’s 3.6 litre XK six-cylinder engine. At a top speed of 120 mph, it was considered the fastest production car in the world. The XK120 took Jaguar’s first official race victory at the 1949 One-Hour Production Car Race at Silverstone. Steel-bodied XK120s made the finish on Jaguar’s Le Mans debut in 1950.
One year later, the new XK-120C (C-Type) came into being under the direction of aircraft engineer Malcolm Sayer. The suspension geometry and “wind cheating” bodywork allowed Sir Stirling Moss to break a record to take the first of eventual seven victories at Le Mans in 1951, nine laps clear of the field. In 1953, the use of disc brakes and more aerodynamic bodywork allowed drivers to deliver first, second and fourth place with an average speed of 105mpg.
Of course, Mr. Ferrari was busy developing his own winning formula during this time. Hence, the development of the Jaguar D-Type, lighter and faster than the C-type. Once again designed by Malcolm Sayer, the D-Type is considered one of the strongest and most successful sports cars ever built. It’s use of the then unheard of semi-monocoque chassis, disc brakes and a rubber fuel tank was gaming changing in 1954. Ferrari’s greater traction in the rain meant the 1953 drivers missed equaling their 1953 victory by a single lap, but from then-on, the D-Type dominated. Between 1955 and 1957, a hat trick was sealed.
It was several decades until Jaguar emerged again to race on the world stage. It was the Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) engineering firm, who modified and ran the Jaguar XJ-S in the European Touring Car Championship and James Hardie 1,000 series in the 1980’s. With success in the British and European Touring Car Championship and Dakar already to its name, from 1982 to 1985 the team successfully contested Jaguar’s V12 GT car. In 1983, the team came second in the ETCC, before Walkinshaw himself took the Championship in 1984. From 1986 onwards, the TWR team moved on to the World Sports Prototype Championship in the successive Jaguar XJ-R models. By 1988, the XJR-9, in the hands of the TWR team, saw huge success in both the World Sports Prototype Championship and IMSA concurrently. Another XJR, this time the 1990 edition, finished 1-2 at the 1990 24 Hours of LeMans. The average speed 126.78 mpg!
By 2010, the next generation of Jaguar racing was in the works, based on the XK-R. The racecars were designed as a joint effort between the American racing team RSR and Jaguar’s Advance Design Studio, which was headed by Jaguar’s chief designer Ian Callum. Making its debut in Atlanta in 2010, it was Jaguar’s official return to racing after a significant departure.
In October 2016, Jaguar returned to racing, becoming the first premium manufacturer to join the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E Championship street racing series. TCS Racing finished runners-up in the ABB FIA World Championship – the most successful so far. In 2022, the Jaguar TCS Racing team has brought home solid 25 points in their championship campaign. How times have changed from those early XK120 days….electric vehicle racing.
If you’re interested in a great history of Jaguar racing, you should consider ordering the DVD, Victory by Design – Jaguar version (check Amazon). The late, great race driver Alain De Cadenet takes you through the history of Jaguar racing by driving each of the cars. Alain truly puts these cars through their paces in a very entertaining way. RIP Alain, raconteur and bon vivant.
Next stop Monterey Car Week where Bonham’s Quail Auction will feature one of the most important early racing Jaguars – a 1963 E-Type Lightweight Competition. This one was owned and raced by Briggs Cunningham. There were only 12 of these built with aluminum alloy bodies and hardtop. There was no estimate given for this rare automobile. Can’t wait to see it in pole position!