Jaguar C-Type


The Jaguar C-Type put Jaguar on the world's racing map, and that put Jaguar on the A-list of serious sports car lovers everywhere.

Encouraged by the showing of only moderately modified Jaguar XK 120 roadsters at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1950, Jaguar launched an all-out assault on LeMans in 1951.

Jaguar C-Type racecar
The Jaguar C-Type twice won the 24 Hours of LeMans
in the 1950s, propelling Jaguar into the big
leagues of sports car performance. See more Jaguar pictures.

The weapon of choice was the Jaguar C-Type, technically, the XK 120C. The "C" was for competition.

 

The Jaguar C-Type retained a number of stock XK 120 parts, but the production twin-cam 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine was tuned for 204 horsepower, and the car got a new space-frame chassis, redesigned suspension, and fresh aero bodywork.

The Jaguar C-Type won its very first race, igniting Jaguar's run of five legend-making conquests of the French classic in the 1950s.

In a way, the origins of the Jaguar C-Type rest with something that, according to legend, William Lyons said one summer's evening in France in 1950. He said "Yes."

Actually, we can suppose he said something more like, "Right, then, let's have a ruddy good go at it!" His British sporting blood was up, you see. He'd just spent 24 hours watching a trio of his still-new XK 120 "Super Sports" roadsters competing in the LeMans "Grand Prix 'Endurance," the greatest sports-car race on earth.

They were virtually off-the-shelf street cars with only minimal racing modifications, and the entire program was no more than an investigation. Yet two cars had finished. That was honorable and encouraging. One of them had shown the potential to win. That was ... exciting, exciting enough to authorize something as unnecessary as it was grand: a full-scale attempt on outright victory the following year.

Under usual circumstances, Lyons was cautious, even wary, of formal participation by his factory in motor-sports competition. He saw more to lose than to gain.

Jaguar Cars, Ltd. was doing well, building up a following, making a profit. More orders had come in already for the sleek, spectacular, sensual XK 120 than could be filled for a very long time. Yes, mass production had just started on the steel-bodied version, and the impatience of the customer list was finally beginning to be sated, but the car certainly didn't need any boosting.

Nor, really, did the company. Jaguar's reputation was now established. A fine new modern sedan was about to be launched, the Jaguar Mark VII, with the same superb XK engine so widely desired in the sports car. It could scarcely fail.

No, there might have been many sound arguments made against spending money and man-hours to risk a very public loss on a venture as precarious as an endurance motor race. Happily, William Lyons had no need of harking to any negative counsel. Jaguar was his company. He could jolly well have it do as he pleased.

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Jaguar C-Type Origins

Going racing at LeMans must have pleased most of the people on the staff of Jaguar leader William Lyons. As was Lyons himself, many staffers were motor sports enthusiasts and had some personal experience at it.

His chief engineer, William Heynes, was keen on racing and dabbled in it as occasion permitted. The firm's service manager-cum-racing team manager, Frank "Lofty" England, had a deep background in the sport. There were others. In a careful, scientific, low-key sort of way, Jaguar Cars, Ltd. was something of a hotbed of auto racing fervor.

Jaguar XK 120
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
Modified Jaguar XK 120 road cars (shown here)
proved fast and durable on the track and led to
creation of the C-Type, or "competition" version.

Yet the ambition was kept on the firm reins of judgment. Lyons agreed to go racing only when he saw his company could field a successful effort. Every step, though driven by emotion, was securely planted on logical methodology.

When Lyons invited the world to watch an XK 120 exceed 132 mph on a section of Belgian highwy near Jabbeke in May 1949, his henchmen first took great care in private to be sure the thing could be done.

Similarly, before the identical car and two of its fellows were entered for the 120's first circuit race that August, Lyons himself participated in preliminary testing. When the Jabbeke car won at Britain's Silverstone racecourse, it was no real surprise.

Doing so well at LeMans the following June was a little surprising, but only a little. By then, the XK 120 had begun to prove itself not only fast but durable. And the three cars entered in the 24 Hours were prepared with care and common sense. No attempt was made to squeeze more power out of the engines, or to abandon what had been working in other respects.

Bumpers were stripped off, and the cars did have the low, narrow aeroscreens and form-fitting bucket seats offered as racing accessories. But all ran without the belly pans used at Jabbeke, and their aerodynamics were further compromised by pairs of auxiliary driving lights.

To preclude the real chance of the long, rear-hinged hoods blowing open at speed, the mechanics added leather straps. Quick-action caps were installed on large, 24-gallon-Imperial gas tanks (28.8 gallons U.S.) that replaced the standard 14-gallon ones (16.8 U.S.). Since these took up most of the trunk volume, spare parts and tools were stowed in the only remaining vacant space, the passenger seat.

The greatest departure from stock specification had to do with brake cooling, which was going to be important for minimizing fade at the ends of the long, long LeMans straights.

Rather than buy aftermarket Al-Fin drums, which Jaguar feared might crack in such hard service, the team chose to try to increase cooling airflow by sandwiching discs with small vanes between the normal iron brake drums and the steel disc wheels. For good measure, they also drilled strategic air holes into the drums themselves.

All three cars started well, and mixed it up with the leading pack for some time. At the end of the first hour, the white 120 driven by Leslie Johnson was holding fifth place. He and his co-driver, Bert Hadley, continued pushing as hard as they could all night, and actually worked up to second place overall by noon the next day.

At that point they were lapping at a speed that by the finish could have reeled in the leading car, a 4.5-liter Grand Prix-based Talbot. However, in their concern to avoid overheating their brakes, which still were prone to fade despite the modifications, they were downshifting the transmission too brutally.

With just under three hours left in the race, their clutch center tore apart. Johnson's roadster coasted to a helpless stop within sight of the pits. The other two cars were driven more conservatively, and though neither was trouble-free, they did keep running and came home twelfth and fifteenth.

It's unlikely the Talbot team would have let the Jaguar beat it to the checkered flag. But to the men from Coventry, it was obvious their cat had all the inherent heart and muscle needed to win this race.

If what amounted to a stone-stock street sportster could lap at almost 97 mph, just 5 mph short of the lap record established by a Talbot GP car wearing lights and fenders, just imagine what the mighty XK engine could do in a proper racing chassis.

Heynes may well have shown some quick calculations and sketches to the Old Man during the race. Anyway, in the heady flush of euphoria soon afterwards, Lyons said "Yes."

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Jaguar C-Type Chassis

Work on what would become the 1951 Jaguar C-Type did not begin immediately. First, the Mark VII sedan had to be finished, introduced, and sent properly down the production line.

There were also a number of people racing and rallying the Jaguar XK 120 whose needs had to be attended to. But in the autumn, Heynes and his backroom boys finally turned to the joyous job of designing their LeMans car.

Jaguar C-Type clay model
The Jaguar C-Type's wind-cheating body,
shown here as an early clay model, was designed
by aircraft aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer.

Cars, actually. Realizing the magnitude of what he'd agreed to, Lyons set in motion a less-ambitious backup program. In case his trio of radical racers wasn't done on time, there would be a trio of cars that looked a lot more like XK 120s, albeit with lightened street-car frames and handmade magnesium bodies.

These so-called LT bodies were built but never had to be used at LeMans. They wound up on standard chassis in the hands of privateers.

With the primary race car the basic idea was to "repackage" as many standard XK 120 components as feasible into a smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic bodyshell. But the racer would be no simple hot rod. It would represent a thorough, rigorous application of cold science.

The team began as would any of us, with thumbnail sketches. One of these, perhaps by Heynes himself, survived to be published by Philip Porter in his Jaguar: History of a Classic Marque.

It clearly shows the essential elements of the final car: wheelbase reduced by six inches to 96, a 40-gallon (48 U.S.) fuel tank mounted over the rear axle and extending into the tail, and a spare wheel laid horizontally under the tank extension. The driver perches just ahead of the rear wheels, his body flexed a bit to nestle between there and the engine, which is carried well aft of the front-wheel centerline.

After a series of trial constructions in paper and wood -- even broomsticks, said Heynes years later -- and a lot of tedious math in that pre-computer era, the racer took form in a beautifully logical way. As had been hoped, many stock parts were deemed suitable, but as many were replaced with special fabrications.

The chassis was now a nest of steel tubes ranging between one and two inches in diameter, all welded together to make up a very strong but light "space-frame." Additional strength came from incorporating some sheet-steel panels in the firewall and rear bulkhead, making those structures virtual monocoques.

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Jaguar C-Type Suspension

The chassis essentially ended just behind the cockpit, with the rear axle hung off the back on trailing links. These links were attached at their forward ends to the springing medium, which was a single transverse torsion bar, fixed in the center so it acted like two separate bars.

The advantages of this design were lighter weight, more positive location of the axle, and elimination of the inter-leaf friction that constituted an unpredictable damping force with the road going 120's conventional semi-elliptics. Instead of the lever-type shocks at the back of the street car, the competition model used telescopics.

Jaguar C-Type
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar C-Type's suspension was designed
to save weight and provide sharp handling.

One other interesting innovation appeared at the rear. To help prevent wheelspin in this era when limited-slip differentials were rare, Jaguar designed a torque link that mounted atop the right side of the axle, leading forward.

Normally, in a conventional beam axle, the pinion gear has a tendency to "climb up" the ring gear. This creates a lifting moment that reduces the weight on the right-rear wheel, allowing it to spin just when engine output is highest. That's why powerful cars with this type of rear suspension and no limited-slip often leave just one black streak of rubber when scorching away.

Jaguar's novel link was placed and angled in such a way as to counteract this lifting force and press the right-side wheel back down onto the road. Of course, it also located the axle in a rotational sense, thus reducing any tendency to tramp or judder on acceleration.

On the original design, this link was A-shaped and had the additional duty of locating the axle laterally against cornering forces. At 51 inches, rear track was wider by an inch compared to the street car.

At the front, the control arms, longitudinal torsion bars, and transverse anti-roll bar were at least similar to those on the XK 120, though the geometry was a little different, while at 51 inches, the track was the same.

The steering was completely different, a rack-and-pinion system replacing the street car's box-type recirculating-ball mechanism. This was adopted mainly in the interest of better road feel, but it also brought a quicker ratio, and thus faster helm response.

The brakes were still iron drums all around, but at the front was a self-adjusting mechanism to take up wear as it occurred. This prevented the disconcerting long pedal travel that would build up in early XK 120s in sustained hard braking.

Wheels were knock-off wire types of the same 16-inch diameter as the road model's, but the rims were an inch wider (six inches in all), made of aluminum, and mounted Dunlop racing tires.

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Jaguar C-Type Body and Engine

The Jaguar C-Type bodywork was entirely new. It was a simple low, rounded envelope designed to cheat the wind as well as that black art was then understood.

In fact, the shape was owed to a professional aircraft aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer, making the C-Type one of the few Jaguars that would not be styled by Bill Lyons. The reason, as Bill Heynes joked years later, was that the boss was away on a sales trip to North America during the critical weeks -- which also allowed the work to be done in record time.

Jaguar C-Type front
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar C-Type was sculpted to cheat the wind.

This body was purposeful in other ways. A single right-side door bespoke the no-frills, pure-speed intent, and the entire nose section pivoted up on front-mounted hinges for easy engine access pitside.

A passenger seat was provided, but it was only a hard, token affair high atop a toolbox, and getting into it demanded a careful climb over the door-less -- and fragile -- aluminum body-side. There was no trunk (no need for it), but a trap door was set low down on the tail for spare-wheel access.

In contrast to the year before, the XK 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine was treated to a mild hop-up for its 1951 racing chores. Larger exhaust ports served larger exhaust valves, and the camshafts lifted all the valves by an extra 1/16 inch, 3/8 inch total.

New valve springs lifted the designed valve-bounce revs to 6,500, a healthy 1,000 rpm above the peak-power speed. New pistons with solid skirts increased compression ratio to 9.0:1, but the pair of SU carburetors were the regular production items with 13/4-inch bores.

Cold outside air was ducted to the carbs from the nose, rather like the system on the street XK 120 but without the air cleaner. The exhaust manifold remained a casting, but it had different dimensions to suit the higher working revolutions.

There were better crankshaft bearings, and a stronger crankshaft damper. Of course, the flywheel was lightened. The distributor was revamped, too. At 5,500 rpm, the race engine put out about 204 horsepower.

Learning from the Johnson/Hadley failure of 1950, Jaguar engineers installed a stronger clutch with a solid center. While at it, they switched to a different transmission shaft to make it easier to change ratios. The same consideration led them to exchange the road car's ENV rear axle for one made by Salisbury, which offered a greater variety of final-drive gearing.

What to call it? At one stage some thought apparently was given to "XK 150," after its projected top speed. In the end, despite its many departures from the road-going XK 120 (some of which would later be adopted for street use-more "racing improves the breed" from Jaguar), it was still referred to as an XK 120, although a "competition" version: XK 120C. That and chassis numbers beginning with the letters XKC made C-Type inevitable, and it stuck.

Race-ready, the Jaguar C-Type was much lighter than its Jaguar XK 120 street sister, coming to about 2,100 pounds. That was according to figures published by Jaguar engineer Robert Berry in the book Jaguar: Motor Racing and the Manufacturer. It represented a difference on the order of 30 percent.

Whereas the road car carried more than half its weight on the rear wheels, the racer was slightly nose-heavy at 51.5-percent front/48.5-percent rear.

Its body was only slightly smaller in frontal area compared to the XK 120 roadster equipped with aeroscreens, but sufficiently streamlined as to require 22 percent less horse-power to maintain a given speed. In several tests, the original C-Type topped out at nearly 144 mph.

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Jaguar C-Type Wins LeMans 1951

The three LeMans cars were completed only about six weeks before the 1951 event, but that was time enough for Stirling Moss and Jack Fairman to do some testing. They uncovered little that needed changing. Jaguar's first racing job had been done well.

So well that the Jaguar C-Type won its first-ever race, the race for which it had been designed, the most important sports car race in the world, the Vinqt-quatre Heures du Mans.

Jaguar C-Type
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar C-Type in 1951 captured Jaguar's first
victory in the 24 Hours of LeMans.

Beating Allards, Aston Martins, Cunninghams, Ferraris, Nash-Healeys, and Talbots, a Jaguar driven by Moss came from a mid-field start to take the lead on the third lap, and eventually broke the lap record by six seconds, at 105.2 mph. (He later said he could have lapped at 107.) The other two C-Types were going well, too, and in the fifth hour the novice team was running first, second, and third.

But then, two engines were cut off at the knees by broken oil pipes. Greatly worried, management ordered the remaining car to slow down. Luckily, the strongest of the opposition had also faded, and the Jaguar driven by Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead was able to stroke home to victory at 93.49 mph, beating a Talbot by 67 miles. It was the first British victory at LeMans since Lagonda had managed the feat in 1935.

Jaguar C-Types went on to score two more victories that thrilling 1951 season. Moss copped one in Ireland, where he'd won the 1950 Dundrod Tourist Trophy in an XK 120. He triumphed again at the southern England circuit of Goodwood. Three events, three wins for the new Jaguar.

Great plans were laid for 1952. For one thing, a series of production C-Types was made for sale to private owners. And behind the scenes, Jaguar entered a long and demanding program with Dunlop and Girling to develop a racing disc-brake system.

The disc brake was not a new idea even in those distant days. Englishman Frederick William Lanchester had patented an embryonic design for his car way back in 1902, and many others experimented with various ideas for both racing and road use into the early forties. Girling and Dunlop were among the pioneers, as were Lockheed, Goodyear, General Motors, and Ausco-Lam-bert in America.

Postwar progress, made largely through liberal borrowing from aircraft technology, prompted Chrysler to offer the Ausco-Lambert "Safety Brake" as an extra-cost alternative to drums on its large, low-volume Crown Imperial sedans starting in 1949.

The following year, tiny Crosley of Cincinnati, Ohio, made Goodyear-Hawley "spot discs" available as a regular factory option for its snazzy little Hot Shot roadster. Alas, these weren't thoroughly tested and suffered frequent sticking from salt corrosion.

A few disc-equipped Hot Shots may have been raced, but it's likely that the first serious attempt at using discs in competition was Harry Miller's radical four-wheel-drive Indianapolis racer way back in 1940.

European motoring writer Jan Norbye, in a 1973 retrospective for Special-Interest Autos, records that the modern disc brake was born in postwar England at the Dunlop Rubber Company: "While Goodyear based its aircraft brake on Hawley patents ... [Dunlop] created its own ... which in turn produced a number of patents for Dunlop. The central feature of the Dunlop disc brake was that both rotor and caliper were fixed in the axial plane. Though needlessly expensive by American production standards, it gave good results. Girling bought a license top produce passenger-car disc brakes under Dunlop patents, and the prototype unit was exhibited at the London Motor Show in Earl's Court in 1951."

Jaguar was among the first automakers to test the Girling disc, which looked very promising, at least according to Norbye's first-hand recollections: "I remember driving a Jaguar Mark VII with experimental Girling disc brakes at Goodwood in 1952. It was very impressive to haul the big sedan down from 110 mph to standstill in about 300 feet with perfect lateral balance."

That was apparently in the dry. Had it been raining, Norbye would surely have commented on the system's wet-road performance: superior to that of even the best drum brakes. It was superior fade-resistance, more than wet-weather efficiency, that made discs advantageous for racing, however.

Though Jaguar naturally wanted this competitive edge for LeMans in 1952, the testing wasn't completed in time, so the brakes didn't make it.

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Jaguar C-Type at LeMans 1952

While the Jaguar C-Type didn't get disc brakes for its 1952 LeMans effort because they weren't fully tested, it did get an improved version of the 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine.

Compression ratio was reduced to 8.5:1 to better cope with the poor-quality gasoline supplied by the French race organizers, and the torque curve was fattened up with larger two-inch carburetors.

Jaguar C-Type
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
Overheating plagued the Jaguar C-Type at the
1952 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans.

The combined effect was better acceleration despite the loss of a single horsepower at the top end. Then, at the last minute, the company decided to run completely new bodywork. It would prove a disaster.

The purpose was sound enough: more top speed. So was the motive: new competition. The instigator was Stirling Moss, just returned from the Mille Miglia in Italy (where he had been race-testing disc brakes, incidentally), reporting that his Jaguar C-Type been blown off by the new Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupe, a car that also would run at LeMans.

Moss pressed his case so emphatically that better judgment was abandoned. Thus were radical new aerodynamic shapes drawn up and built, and the trio of cars went off to France without any testing -- and without any backup in the form of proven cars from the previous season.

There was time enough for practice laps, though, and the new "droop-snoot" Jaguars proved faster down the Mulsanne Straight by some 10 mph, about 153 mph all-out. But there were two problems.

One was the new shape. Low and rounded at the nose, low and pointed at the tail, it not only looked like an airplane wing (in cross-section) but acted like one. The cars wanted to fly. In fact, their rear ends lifted so much that load on the rear tires was reduced by a good quarter, and the drivers came back to the pits ashen-faced to report evil instability. The older body had shown a tendency to lift a bit, but nothing like this.

The other problem was even worse: overheating. Within a few laps of practice, all three cars started boiling like teakettles. And the damage done was apparently permanent, compounded by an evident lack of any spare engines.

Although two radiators were hastily modified before race time, all three cars retired in ignominy just an hour after the start. To William Lyons, it must have seemed the realization of his blackest dreams.

Ironically, the new Mercedes coupe showed nothing like the straightaway speed that Moss had feared. But it won.

As later tests proved, the new Jaguar C-Type's overheating problem was not caused directly by its aerodynamic shape but by insufficient water flow in a new cooling system hastily designed to fit under the drooped snoot. But this, at least, was easily solved.

At that stage of aero-dynamic know-how-and the company's limited resources-the high-speed instability seemed inherent and incurable. It would be another decade before American driver Richie Ginther, during tests with Ferrari, would invent the trim tab, or "ducktail spoiler," to tame such handling quirks.

Jaguar didn't give up its low-drag dreams after LeMans 1952, but it did scrap the droop-snoot and revert to the proven original C-Type body while making a firm resolve never again to go racing in haste.

Later in the year, Moss provided a history-making bright spot by making haste at Rheims to give disc brakes their first-ever competition victory.

That 1952 season saw other successes-and other failures-all with special lessons to teach. The Jaguar team thus contemplated a fourth visit to LeMans with a lot of experience under its collective belt.

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Jaguar C-Type Design for LeMans 1953

The Jaguar C-Types that competed in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1953 reflected Jaguar's growing base of experience with a further increase in power.

There was another change of carburetion, to a trio of two-barrel, 40-mm Webers, which were fed not from the nose but from a scoop atop the hood. These and other alterations resulted in a little more top-end power, for a total of about 220 horsepower, but at lower, safer revs, 5,200.

The extra power gave back half the speed lost to readopting the original body, and the best of the cars was clocked at nearly 149 mph. Even more useful was a further swelling of mid-range power for yet better acceleration.

Additional detail improvements included a stronger crankshaft damper; new, better-sealing piston rings; a stronger but smaller-diameter triple-plate racing clutch; and a water pump and radiator core redesigned for better water flow.

Though the 1953 Jaguar C-Types looked a lot like the original 1951 C-Types, they were more than 50 pounds lighter. Some of the weight-saving came from lighter-gauge frame tubing, some from thinner body metal, some from painstaking detail changes to things like the electrical system. Even the main battery cables were now aluminum, rather than copper, a common aircraft trick.

Also borrowed from aviation were rubber-bladder fuel cells, which were not only safer but lighter and more durable; the previous aluminum tanks had sometimes split in tough races.

Racing breakages also led to a change in the rear suspension, where the axle torque-link, originally A-shaped, was now just a simple bar because it had been relieved of its task of lateral location.

That job was now handled by a more conventional Panhard rod, running from the right side of the axle to a bracket on the left side of the frame.

And then there were the disc brakes. The research and development program had been long, difficult-and sometimes exciting when test drivers would occasionally arrive at a corner with no braking ability at all. But the early problems of pedal effort, pad knock-back (improper seating in caliper), and fluid boiling had finally been solved and the relentless, fade-free power of the servo-boosted disc brake played a major role in Jaguar's second LeMans victory.

The 24 Hours of LeMans 1953 was harder-fought than the contest of two years earlier, the Jaguars facing factory efforts from Alfa Romeo, Allard, Aston Martin, Cunningham, Ferrari, Frazer-Nash, Gordini, Porsche, and Talbot. Little had been expected of the C-Types, not only because of their early retirement the year before, but also because of a string of more recent failures.

The weekend even started on a distinctly unpromising note, officials objecting to Jaguar numbering its fourth, practice car the same as one of its actual racers. That was considered a serious infraction, and the drivers involved figured their car was disqualified.

Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, two of the larger-than-life characters typical of motorsports (particularly in Britain), went off to enjoy Friday night in their own way amidst the giant party that was, and is, LeMans.

But William Lyons managed to mollify the officials with a fine of 25,000 francs, and got the car reinstated. The only remaining problem was the condition of his two wandering drivers, who had not bothered to get any sleep.

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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.

Jaguar C-Type Road Test

Climbing aboard a Jaguar C-Type takes some dexterity, because the single door on the right is very small, and the nest of space-frame tubes makes quite a high sill.

Once seated, space is at a premium, especially fore/aft. The 17-inch, three-spoke plastic steering wheel feels large, upright and close, rather like a yacht's. As in the street car it can be adjusted fore and aft, but in this case a wrench is required.

Jaguar C-Type
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar C-Type has few creature comforts, but
comfort is not why you drive one.

There is no room to recline the bolt-upright seatback, even were it capable of doing so. The footbox does not extend forward of the firewall, so your knees seem a bit too bent. Although the body is almost exactly as deep as the roadgoing XK 120's, there is no frame to sit on, so you feel comparatively submerged.

Looking around, you see a lot more metal than upholstery. For wind and weather protection you rely on a pair of fold-down aeroscreens or, on some cars, a single low sheet of thin plastic. But that's it: No wipers, no top. A heater? It's the big iron stove up front. With the rounded tail full of fuel tank and spare wire wheel, the only possible place to stow any luggage is under your elbows.

This Jaguar, you are forced to realize, is not a car for long-distance comfort. Just long-distance pleasure. The C-Type gives a very satisfying sense of being nestled amongst serious, no-foolin' machinery, stark as an old motorcycle. It is by no means intimidating or unpleasant, just alien to the coddle-the-customer philosophies of conventional automobiles.

Though tuned for racing, the big six-cylinder engine awakes easily at a push on the panel button and has surprisingly good low-speed manners. If you don't ask for too much with the throttle at low rpm, which can set up a stutter, it pulls with almost the same docile strength for which the normal XK is famous.

But where the street engine keeps on pulling that way right around the tachometer-a rush of smooth torque without hump or hollow-the C-Type comes to sudden, vivid life at 3,000. It then eagerly takes full boot. Raucous and racy, the sound from the exhaust becomes pure music, and the engine wants to rush to the redline with joyous abandon.

Perfectly complementing the symphonic nature of the engine are those sculptural curves stretching way out ahead. Driving a C-Type fast is almost like attending a ballet, the eyes feasting along with the ears. While you sit low enough to worry a little about where the corners are in traffic, on the open road this is no problem.

The clutch is light and sweet, and its characteristic long travel is no real bother, but the gearshift at your left has a surprisingly long and lanky travel, and getting it all the way over into the reverse plane (left and forward) takes a practiced backhand whap. And at least when the box has some miles under its synchros, it protests overly quick shifts with irritable grating noises.

By contrast, the rack-and-pinion steering is a pure delight, having that smooth, light, precise feel of perfectly honed vintage machinery. In an opposite way, the car itself feels a bit vintage on the road, somewhat stiffly sprung and a trifle darty over bumps.

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.

Jaguar C-Type Specifications

The Jaguar C-Type was Jaguar's first purpose-built racecar. It was based on the road-going Jaguar XK 120, but modified enough to be considered a "competition" car and earn the C-Type designation. It won the 24 Hours of LeMans twice in the 1950s as Jaguar climbed upon the world's racing stage.

Jaguar C-Type Specifications

Years produced 1951-1953
Number built54
Configuration Front engine; one door, two seats
Body style Roadster
Suspension, frontIndependent with torsion bars
Suspension, rear Live axle with torsion bars
Wheelbase (inches) 96
Track, front (inches) 51
Track, rear (inches) 51
Overall length (inches)
157

Jaguar C-Type Engines

­
EngineInline 6
TypeIron block, aluminum head with two overhead camshafts, two valves per cylinder
Displacement, liters/cc
3.4/3,442
Maximum horsepower
250


Jaguar C-Type Performance

Best 0-60 mph (seconds)
8.0
Best top speed (mph)
149

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.