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Musings - Jaguar Racing through History!


By Rick Hartwell

While we all trek through this very odd year, it’s been great to see some in-person activity on both the North American show circuit and locally. Jaguar Clubs of North America (JCNA) have started to resume some Concours d’Elegance events – Wisconsin and Michigan both came back in full swing over the last couple of weeks. Mecum’s Kissimmee Auction was an in-person event, with a smaller audience, but with the same level of enthusiasm. While our beloved Wheels Across the Pond show was postponed to April 2021, we’re still keeping high hopes for our Sarasota-based Concours for October. The South Florida Jaguar Club recently held a Cars and Cigars, pandemic style. Club member Joe Dragon’s downtown Fort Lauderdale hideaway became awash with Jaguars and even a Maserati (it was threatening rain). Great to see everyone in person, albeit at a decent distance.

North America, of course, is not alone in its quest to get back to “normal.” Even the 24 hours of LeMans, postponed to September, will be held “behind closed doors” with a smaller number of cars participating. It makes you long for those heady days of LeMans when Jaguar was commanded the world stage. From 1950 to 2010, Jaguar’s racing history truly was it’s best at LeMans. Let’s not discuss the F1 experience (I still have the model and the scars).

A trip down Jaguar racing history starts with the first racing Jaguar, the XK120. In the years following WWII, Jaguar developed the car that would put the brand on the map. Equipped with Jaguar’s DOHC (dual overhead camshaft) and inline-six XK engine, the XK120 made for a great road racer. Ian Appleyard’s car (with the registration “NUB 120”) is perhaps the most notorious example of the XK120 to ever compete. In 1950, Appleyard competed in the Alpine Rally, an endurance road race that spanned multiple countries through the Alps. He completed the rally with no penalties, winning him the Coup d’Alpes. Around the same time Appleyard dominated the alpine rallies in his road-going XK120, the car’s track equivalent — the XK120C, (commonly referred to as the C-Type) — was making big waves at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The C-Type used the XK120’s running gear, tuning the engine to around 200 horsepower, then mated that with a lithe aluminum body. The first C-Types were ready to race in early 1951, and immediately entered in the Le Mans that year, where Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead piloted one to victory.

In 1952, the C-Types had mechanical issues and were forced to retire. The following year, Jaguar fitted disc brakes to the cars and the C-Types achieved tremendous success: of the four C-Types that were entered in the race, the cars finished first, second, fourth and ninth. In addition to taking first, Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt finished with an average speed of over 100 mph for the race, the first time the feat was achieved.

The C-Type was replaced with the D-Type in 1954, which had a bump in power, a monocoque chassis and a more aerodynamic body. The car was capable of hitting over 170 mph on the Mulsanne Straight and eventually took first at the race in 1955, 1956 and 1957.

Fast forward a couple of decades, Group 44 Racing dominated with its relationship with Jaguar through the rest of the ’70s and ’80s. The racing team saw even more success in SCCA’s Trans-Am racing series in the later half of the ’70s, piloting race-prepped Jaguar XJ-S cars. Bob Tullius, the iconic driver, took the drivers’ championship in 1977 and in 1978 Jaguar won the manufactures’ title thanks to the Group 44’s race-prepped XJ-S.

Group 44’s success with Jaguar in the ’70s ultimately evolved into one of Jaguar’s greatest racing developments. Tullius had the vision of building a mid-engined, Jaguar V12-powered racing prototype. The resulting car was the XJR-5, completed in 1982 and poised to compete in IMSA’s GTP class and later in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While the prototype didn’t take home gold, it showed serious promise, so Jaguar turned it over to the successful British team of Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), who had previously found success racing an XJ-S in the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC). TWR developed its own XJR prototypes for the World Sportscar Championship (WSCC) which it won outright in 1987, 1988 and 1991. The XJR prototypes also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1988 and 1990 — the first Jaguar victories at the race since the D-Type’s last win in 1957.

But the Jaguar racing story didn’t end there. After a 15-year absence from the 24 Hours of LeMans, the racing division of Jaguar sent the Jaguar RSR XKR GT2 to Le Mans in 2010, a first since an English racing team took 28th place recording a DNF in the 1995 Le Mans. Racing team RSR co-developed the new GT model with Jaguar in Coventry. The car made use of a 550 bhp (557 PS / 410 kW) AJ133 5.0-liter V8 engine that gets the car to a 180 mph top speed. The engine is mated to a six-speed transmission, and a CST transverse sequential transaxle from Hewland. Using an aluminum monocoque, and light 18-inch wheels, the car's weight was held at 1,245 kg. While it didn’t take a podium position, it certainly sent a few shock waves into the American LeMans Series in which it raced. A couple of us are lucky enough to own one of the two that were produced - one is in the collection of George Keller of Columbus, Ohio, and the other with yours truly. A fabulous addition to the collection for sure!

Safe driving everyone!

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