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Jaguar C-Type

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.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

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  • 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.