The 1950s and 1960s were triumphant decades for Jaguar. Sir William Lyons’ team of engineers and designers at Jaguar led revolutions in body, engine and brake design. Engineers under Bill Heynes, augmented by the talent of chief test driver Norman Dewis, produced a competition variant of the XK120—the XK120-C, Type-C, or Jaguar C-type. The C-type won an unexpected and crushing victory at Le Mans in 1951. Works C-types went on to take first, second and fourth at Le Mans in 1953. Their drivers—Stirling (now Sir Stirling) Moss, Peter Whitehead, Peter Walker and others became household names.
Powered by the legendary XK engine, racing Jaguars such as the magnificent D-type continued to win at LeMans even after Jaguar no longer entered works cars.
Famous privateers such as the Edinburgh-based Ecurie Ecosse, founded by David Murray and a training stable for some of the world’s greatest drivers, and the American Briggs Cunningham team won at Le Mans, Sebring and many other celebrated racetracks. Short nosed production D-types took to the streets in the form of the exquisitely elegant XKSS, known best in America for one twice owned by Steve McQueen. The XKSS has quite justifiably been called the world’s first supercar. Sadly, production of XKSSs was cut short by a disastrous fire that destroyed the nine XKSSs still in production, leaving a total of only 16 originals ever made.
HISTORY • ART • EXPERIENCE
Then, in March 1961 Jaguar stunned the auto world by revealing the E-type in Geneva. At the hands of drivers such as Graham Hill and Ray Salvadori, the E-type won its fair share of races. It was, however, considerably heavier than the new Ferrari 250GTO. Even with its greater power the E-type could not beat the prancing horse. So the alloy lightweight was born, in a series of evolutions including the E2A prototype raced by Briggs Cunningham, Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen. One of the most famous of all the lightweights was the Lindner/Nöcker low drag, all alloy E-type.
A most remarkable feature of all the great racing Jaguars has been the highly effective and beautiful combination of form and function. The sheer beauty of the D-type assumed its form because Malcolm Sayer, as a designer imported from the Bristol Aircraft Corporation, understood the importance of aerodynamics for high speed race car performance.
Earlier, Jaguar had developed the disc brake concept that first attracted scorn from some manufacturers but quickly became a far more efficient system that others had to emulate.
In all these respects, Jaguar was way ahead of its competition. Design leadership persists to the present under revered designers such as Ian Callum. It is also what contributes to the exquisite aesthetics of all the great Jaguar sports cars, from the XK120 to the C-type, D-type, E-type, XK13, XK180, XK220 and modern F-type. It is hard to focus on the remarkable engineering of these creations without also being seduced by their elegance and truly magnificent appearances.
This is the reason so many celebrities have simply had to own one or more Jaguars. It is the reason why both men and women are entranced, even before hearing the splendid roar of the Jaguar exhaust or feeling the air running through one’s hair on a swift drive down a country road, through the Blue Ridge mountains, or down the Pacific Highway.