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Jaguar C-Type


Jaguar C-Type Wins LeMans 1953
The Jaguar C-Types roared into compeition at the 1953 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans. Come Saturday afternoon, the C-Type driven by Sterling Moss passed a brutal, big 4.5-liter Ferrari for the lead on the fifth lap, only to pit with fuel-system troubles. But Jaguar drivers Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, driving on adrenaline, took up the slack.

Jaguar C-Type
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar C-Type's second LeMans win, in
1953, made Jaguar a force to be reckoned with.

There ensued an hours-long battle at tremendous speeds, during which Hamilton ran into a bird that smashed half his aeroscreen on the way to making his nose hurt as much as his head. But the cars and crew from Coventry basically ran the expensive, exotic competition into the ground.

At four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, Rolt/Hamilton came across the finish line first, with Moss/Walker second and Whitehead/Ian Stewart fourth. The winner's average speed was a new record, 105.85 mph.

This was epic. A second triumph on the very ground made holy to every Briton by five Bentley victories (1924-1930) positively cemented Jaguar's stature in the sports-car world.

To make sure the world-at-large knew about it, the company's ever-alive publicity department had the bright idea of sending a telegram to the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II and leaking it to the press. It read:

THE JAGUAR TEAM HUMBLY PRESENT THEIR LOYAL DUTY TO HER MAJESTY AND WISH TO ADVISE HER THAT IN HER CORONATION YEAR THEY HAVE WON FOR BRITAIN THE WORLD'S GREATEST INTERNATIONAL CAR RACE AT LE MANS, FRANCE, YESTERDAY.

The recipient was good enough to have her private secretary reply in kind:

THE QUEEN WAS VERY PLEASED TO LEARN OF THE SUCCESS OF THE JAGUAR TEAM. PLEASE CONVEY HER MAJESTY'S SINCERE THANKS TO ALL MEMBERS OF IT FOR THEIR KIND AND LOYAL MESSAGE.

But the C-Type was now finished as a factory racer, though it would continue for several years as a popular and effective weapon in the hands of owners all over the world. It was even used by several people as a real "Super Sports" street car.

Among them was none other than Dr. Giuseppe Farina, the Alfa Romeo Grand Prix ace. Two others were staffers at The Motor, which in late 1952 sent them off in a C-Type for the obligatory (and immensely enjoyable) Continental road test.

This was a 200-horsepower production racer with two SU carbs, 8:1 pistons and a 3.31:1 final drive ratio. "Unladen kerb weight" was given rather casually as "20 cwt." or 2,240 pounds, and the front/rear distribution was supposed to be precisely 50/50.

To the test team's surprise, they found enough room to stow their belongings in the hollow body either side of their seats. To their relief, they found the rush of air over the screens kept rain out of the cockpit (a valid excuse to keep the right foot down). To their satisfaction, they found the car was entirely happy in slow-speed traffic and on wet Belgian paving blocks and tram rails.

Yet, this genuine LeMans racer would cruise comfortably at 120 mph, would rip on up to 135 any time the opportunity presented itself, and when given a long-enough clear road would top out at a timed average of 143.7 in rainy conditions described as "very adverse."

At such uncommon velocities the car tracked absolutely true, although above 130 there was "a curious sense of becoming faintly airborne."

During a moment of dry weather, this Jaguar C-Type went 0-60 in eight seconds flat and covered the quarter in 16.2 at 90 mph. Overall gas mileage worked out to 13 per U.S. gallon. The price in English pounds was 1,495, pre-tax. (U.S. list price was $5,860.) That was a bit stiff for journalists in those days, but all in all they allowed as how they'd be happy to use the racing Jaguar as everyday transportation.

It was a "thoroughbred," they said, "a docile and tractable machine completely without temperament." Their 500 miles of hard driving in Europe was "a great and memorable experience." Sigh.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

  • Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cats.
  • How Sports Cars Work: Get the lowdown on hundreds of fantastic sports cars from the 1940s to today.
  • Classic Cars: Learn about the world's most coveted automobiles in these illustrated profiles.
  • Ferrari: Learn about every significant Ferrari road car and racing car.
  • New Jaguars: Reviews, ratings, prices, and specifications on the current Jaguar lineup from the auto editors of Consumer Guide.
  • Used Jaguars: Reviews, recalls, trouble spots, and more on pre-owned Jaguars starting with the 1990 model year. From the auto editors of Consumer Guide.