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Jaguar C-Type

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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