Jaguar D-Type

The Jaguar D-Type, like every racing machine, was a labor of love. But few race cars have been so intensely loved as the Jaguar D-Type.

Much of that arises from sheer physical beauty. Seldom has road-racing science blended so perfectly with road-racing art. But much of the adoration also stems from what this car accomplished for its company and for its nation.

1954-1956 Jaguar D-type.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The voluptuous Jaguar D-Type was the epitome
of road car as racer.

With three straight victories at LeMans -- in 1955, 1956 and 1957 -- the Jaguar D-Type clearly demonstrated Jaguar's mastery of its chosen subject: The very high technology involved in building very-high-performance auto-mobiles.

Curiously, it was a demonstration the company really didn't have to
make. For by all objective measures, Jaguar didn't need to build the D-Type.

On the morning of Monday, June 15, 1953, Jaguar Cars opened for business as the automaker that had just won the LeMans 24-hour sports-car endurance race for the second time in three serious attempts.

This victory by the sleek, dark-green, disc-braked Jaguar C-Type sports-racers had been particularly convincing. The publicity was intense, favorable, and reached world-wide. Jaguar's entire workforce must have arrived that morning with their backs just a little straighter, knowing that their marque had a secure place in both its owners' estimations and automotive history. Even the Queen of England had sent congratulations.

Some automakers might well have stopped there. What more could possibly be proved by going back to LeMans in 1954? Nothing, surely, that was worth the risk of a loss undoing all the good achieved so far.

Withdrawal could have been a simple matter of a press release mumbling something about the need to concentrate on the passenger-car range and applying to it the technical lessons learned in racing for the good of the company's loyal customers.

But not Jaguar, not now. The firm was on too much of a roll, had too many important and interesting problems to solve, and was simply having too much fun. Why, the very name had come to mean high performance. After all, Jaguar had just won two out of three. Quit racing? Impossible.

And in fact, work toward a new competition Jaguar was already well along, with aerodynamics a prime field of investigation.

While the low-drag "droop-snoot" had been a failure in 1952, prompting the original C-Type body to be readopted for 1953, chief engineer William Heynes and aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer had not lost interest in streamlining. Nor could they afford to. LeMans was the centerpiece of Jaguar's racing program, and it placed a premium on top speed.

On the 8.38-mile circuit then in use, the straightaway known as Mulsanne to the English (Les Hunaudieres to the French) was a single blast of wide-open throttle 3-1/2 miles long. The value of "good aero" there was both obvious and substantial. If a car could go just a few miles per hour faster, the time it spent on this one straightaway would be cut by whole seconds. That would be a sizable advantage over rival cars, which would have to really scratch to make up time through the other 58 percent of each lap.

"High speed" in 1953 meant something above 150 mph. Before it overheated, the "droop-snoot" had shown itself capable of about 152 mph along the Mulsanne Straight, some eight mph better than the 1951 car of almost identical horsepower.

In 1953, it had taken substantially more muscle to push the readopted original-body C to a best of 148.8 mph. Streamlining was the way to go, and Jaguar would show the world with the D-Type.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

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  • 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.