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.

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Jaguar D-Type Origins

Speed didn't just win races. Speed sold cars. Jaguar had been speed-conscious since 1949 and the very launch of the XK 120, whose model number promised that many miles per hour.

The first public demonstration of the sports-car's performance on that closed superhighway near Jabbeke in Belgium in 1949 was devoted to proving the promise, and the stripped-down 120 actually went 132-plus on that occasion.

That was with the original 160-horsepower twincam XK six-cylinder engine. Four years later, in April 1953, a 180-horsepower XK 120 roadster equipped with bellypan and small wind-screen demonstrated an impressive 141.8 mph at Jabbeke. The same car returned the following October, albeit much more highly modified, and test driver Norman Dewis vaulted it to the astonishing velocity of 172.4 mph.

This astounded even Jaguar's own people; privately, they admitted they'd have been happy with 155.

But on hand that same day was another Jaguar that went 178.3 mph. This one was a virtual streamliner, a very small, very smooth egg-shaped car whose single driver's seat was capped by a tiny plastic bubble taken from a sailplane. It was even more advanced under its eggshell, for the chassis was not a steel-tube space-frame, as on the C-Type, but a stressed-skin structure, or mono-coque largely made of magnesium sheetmetal.

Though never formally announced as such, there were enough rumors and, subsequently, official evidence, to be sure this car had originally been intended for the 1953 LeMans race.

But it is just as clear that Jaguar's sour experience of 1952, when the "droop-snoot" C-Type body was rushed to race without sufficient testing, led to second thoughts about this new experimental design. It thus stayed at the factory, deemed either unready or in some other way unsuitable for the 1953 event.

But as often happens with such cars, it was pressed into service as a research vehicle and covered many thousands of miles on various test tracks before finally being revealed at Jabbeke in streamliner form. We can also be sure that it greatly helped Heynes and company in designing what did appear as their next LeMans car.

One other interesting prototype was secretly built and tested in this period, though it was more of an unofficial sideline and led to less. William Lyons, whose company was basically founded on his sense of style, was always experimenting in full-scale with various body ideas.

Possibly to help himself come to grips with true streamlining, a big change from the more traditional forms he'd long since mastered, he spent much of 1953 playing with a vehicle along the lines of a racing sports car like the C-Type.

Looking very aerodynamic, it had a low, rounded nose and a sleek, unbroken torpedo profile leading to a tapering tail. All four wheel openings were enclosed with spats ("valences" in Jaguar parlance), and the driver sat behind a small cowl and curved plastic aeroscreen. So far, so avant garde. And indeed, tests carried out by Dewis that September indicated drag was about 15 percent less than the contemporary C-Type's.

By that stage, Lyons seemed to have been thinking of setting some sort of speed record with his hobby car, for one of the tests involved filling the rear axle with soap as a low-drag lubricant. The project was soon abandoned.

The prototype was an interesting sideline, but unfortunately the overall visual impression was of a very ungainly contraption, with tall and wide fender lines giving a thick-in-the-middle look, and a seat mounted so high that the driver stuck out comically. Around the factory, Lyons' strange beast was known variously as "Bronco" or "The Brontosaurus." It was probably the ugliest thing he ever did.

No, the correct path toward the future was shown by Heynes' speedy-looking magnesium egg. Out of it in the spring of 1954 emerged the immortal D-Type.

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Jaguar D-Type Design

Naming the new racecar the Jaguar D-Type, of course, implied a simple follow-on to the Jaguar C-Type, whose name indicated the "competition" version of the XK 120.

However, in a way characteristic of the often-shifting logic behind Jaguar model nomenclature, the new racer became known as the D-Type even before its chassis numbers were given the suggestive prefix XKD. But the "D" might easily have stood for "departure," because in many ways, that's just what the D-Type was.

The finished Jaguar D-type was wider and lower than the Jaguar C-type.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar D-Type was wider and lower than the
C-Type and at 1,930 pounds, 10 percent lighter.

Certainly, basic layout and much hardware were carried over from the C-Type. An XK six-cylinder engine still resided in front and drove through a four-speed gearbox to a live rear axle. Front suspension remained independent, and there were all-round torsion bars and telescopic dampers.

Front radiator, rear rubber-bag fuel tanks and spare tire, rack-and-pinion steering, disc brakes and lift-up nosepiece were all familiar, well-tested competition concepts.

But the engine had a dry-sump lubrication system, adopted partly to cure the oil-surge problems sometimes experienced with C-Types and partly to reduce the engine's height.

Also equipped with a smaller flywheel and three-plate clutch, the revised powerplant mounted nearly three inches lower, which not only allowed a lower hoodline for minimizing drag but also lowered the center of gravity for consequently improved stability. To make room for the trio of Weber carburetors in a physically smaller car, the entire engine was tilted eight degrees to port.

Output was now 250 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, according to documentation released on the car's announcement, though subsequent information downgraded that by 5 or 10 horses and 200-300 rpm. But more powerful the D-Type engine definitely was, thanks to 9.0:1 pistons, new cam timing, larger intake valves, and a more aggressively tuned exhaust system. Torque came to 242 pounds/feet at 4000 rpm.

Continuing the departures was a completely new gearbox with bottom-gear synchromesh for the first time. Rear suspension was modified to provide more positive axle location, and much of the front suspension hardware was new, with that elegant, satisfying look of purpose-built forgings.

The wheels, no longer the familiar old wire-spoke affairs, were a stronger, lighter disc design by Dunlop.

Strong and light aptly described the D-Type's new chassis. Its middle part, where the driver and theoretical passenger sat, was a "tub," a monocoque structure made of folded, riveted and arc-welded light alloy. Jaguar's monocoque was not quite the first-ever application of this aircraft construction technique to auto racing, but it was the-first of significance.

Adding strength to the central spine of the monocoque and completing the chassis forward of the firewall was a space-frame mainly made up from square-section tubes. These were made of aluminum and welded directly to the tub. Gracefully shrink-wrapped around all this lightness was a new bodyshell, the result of much wind-tunnel research by Malcolm Sayer.

Dimensionally, the D was distinctly more diminutive than the C. Its wheelbase was more than five inches shorter, at 90.6. Its front track, at 50 inches, was one inch narrower, and the rear was three narrower, at 48. Turning circle was a foot less, at 32.

Nose to tail, the D-Type body initially measured 154 inches (versus 157), though later it would grow a little longer. From the start the D was a trifle wider, its aerodynamic fenders swelling to 65.4 inches, though that was just 1.9 inches up on the C's maximum width, which was established by its protruding wheel nuts.

But the new car was lower through the body and, in original form, had a windshield for the driver alone, so frontal area was only 12.5 square feet, a useful 9.4-percent reduction from the C's 13.8 square feet.

Drag, which Jaguar measured as horsepower required to maintain 100 mph, was down more than 28 percent (38 horsepower versus 53). Even against the "droop snoot" C, the D-Type was cleaner by 4 horsepower, or almost 10 percent.

The extra slipperiness was apparent on the Mulsanne Straight, where the 1954 D clocked nearly 174 mph, some 14 percent faster than the unstable 1952 car.

As always, numbers for weight are suspect, but a D-Type figure used by the factory itself was 1,930 pounds, about 10 percent less than the C-Type. Distribution was 1,000 front/930 rear, or 51.8/48.2 percent. This was in "dry" condition, of course.

Aerodynamic testing figures published by Jaguar's Bob Berry in Jaguar: Motor Racing and the Manufacturer show a presumably race-condition weight distribution even more nose-heavy, 53.5/46.5. Yet at a speed not specified, but probably 100 mph, this reduced to 51/49. That meant the new car was not only faster than the ill-fated "droop-snoot," it was far more stable, actually gaining effective weight on the back end.

The whole car may have been lifting, but at least the tail wasn't lifting more than the nose. And once a prominent fin was added to the headrest, D-Type drivers reported they could scream along at 170-plus with their hands off the steering wheel. It was restful, they said.

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Jaguar D-Type at LeMans 1954

The Jaguar D-Type facts and figures may seem tedious when presented in raw form, but the connect-the-numbers picture they paint is of a very thorough, dedicated racing department doing its job with scientific seriousness and painstaking precision. Jaguar had gone way beyond the "backyard-special" stage.

The Jaguar D-type's first run at LeMans in June 1954.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar D-Type's first run at LeMans in
June 1954 was unsuccessful, but a win at Rheims
the next month sparked a glittering career.

Racing, however, had not yet progressed to the "18-wheel transporter" stage in 1954. So in time-honored fashion, the first Jaguar D-Type, still unpainted, was driven over to France on public thoroughfares for springtime testing at LeMans.

The roads making up the circuit had been closed for a rally, and the time allotted was short, but the new Jaguar managed to avoid the officials with their angry flags long enough to beat the 1953 lap record, set by a Ferrari, by five full seconds. Of course, Ferrari had not been idle over the winter, and its 1954 entry arrived with 4.9 liters of V-12 power.

LeMans that year was plagued by heavy downpours. The three new 3.4-liter Jaguars ran well, better than the cars from Aston Martin, Cunningham, Gordini, Lagonda, and Talbot. Stirling Moss even out-ran the best Ferrari to take the lead and set his speed record down the Straight -- this in the evening, no less, and despite a bout of rain.

But then all three D-Types started misfiring and had to make long unscheduled pit stops to have their fuel systems cleaned. In its scientific zeal, Jaguar had chosen paper-element filters that were too efficient: They became clogged with dust floating in the gas supplied by the race organizers.

With the offending filters torn off, the Jaguars got back up to speed, but this was not going to be their year. Moss lost his brakes at the end of long Mulsanne and retired on the spot. A second car suffered gearbox trouble, then engine failure. The third car, driven by 1953 winners Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt, took an off-road excursion that caused some damage and another delay in the pits.

But this sole remaining D-Type was able to struggle onward, holding second to the Ferrari. A flash of hope came near the end, when the Ferrari balked at restarting during a pit stop, leaving the Jaguar to swish by in the rain and into the same lap. But the Ferrari finally fired and roared back onto the track, just 97 seconds to the good.

The British team tried its hardest, to the point that Hamilton was getting wheelspin in top gear at top speed on the straight in the pouring rain, but the big Italian managed to prevail. The D-Type finished 105 seconds behind it after 24 hurly-burly hours. A privately entered C-Type placed fourth. The D-Type contested two other races in its first year; Rheims was a win, Dundrod a loss.

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Jaguar D-Type at LeMans 1955

Over the winter, Jaguar built new D-Types for the 1955 season. While the basic design was the same, there were important improvements and refinements.

Whereas the 1954 car's central tub and forward space frame had been integral, the two elements were now separate and attached by bolts. This was mainly to make crash repair easier. To make manufacture easier, the front frame was made out of steel tubes, which could be bronze-welded together by journeymen, rather than the argon-arc specialists the aluminum had required. Yet the steel frame was lighter.

The Jaguar D-type at LeMans in 1955.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
After falling short at LeMans in 1954, the Jaguar
D-Type came back in 1955 with more power and
a new nose for improved aerodynamics.

Engine power was up, thanks to a new cylinder-head casting. Both inlet and exhaust valves were now larger, and to get the latter to fit, exhaust-valve angle had to be changed from 35 to 40 degrees from the vertical. The inlet angle remained 35, so the included angle was now 75 degrees, but these were forever known as the "35/40 heads."

Camshaft lift was up an additional 1/16 inch, and cam timing was yet another stage more radical. With retuned intake and exhaust manifolding, output was now 270 horsepower over a nice, broad spread of 5,500-6,000 rpm. To help nail this down out of slow corners, Jaguar installed ZF limited-slip differentials for the first time.

On the outside, the 1955 factory team car looked a little leaner and meaner because the radiator inlet was brought forward 7.5 inches, the better to pierce the air. Brake cooling inlets were added, too. The driver's windshield got more of a wraparound, and the fin was extended more toward the tail.

Frontal area was up slightly, to 12.8 square feet, but other body refinements combined to lessen drag a further 16 percent (to 32 horsepower at 100 mph) and permitted a slight easing in the front-heaviness (to 52.5/47.5 percent) without any change in the at-speed values.

Hindsight is of no more value in racing than in any other part of life, but it would have been better had Jaguar never gone to LeMans in 1955. A tragic foreshadowing of what was to come occurred when William Lyons' only son, John, was killed in a head-on crash with an American army truck on his way to the track.

At LeMans for its second year, the D-Type Jaguar faced not only Ferrari with its all-new, 4.5-liter six-cylinder cars, but Mercedes-Benz, back in the sports-car fray with a two-seat, 3.0-liter version of its fuel-injected, straight-eight Formula One car. Aston Martin and, this year, Maserati were contenders, too.

During the first stage of the race it was a Ferrari in front, but it faded after a while, leaving a fierce battle between the Mercedes of Juan Manuel Fangio, who had already won two of what would be five world driving championships, and Jaguar's Mike Hawthorn, a future champion in his own right.

Against the D-Type's disc brakes, the Mercedes 300SLR was deploying an air brake, a large flap behind the cockpit that the driver could hinge up into the airstream to help slow the car for corners. Germany's "silver arrow" was thus able to stay with the green British bullet on the brakes, and it showed superiority through the corners themselves.

But the Jaguar had better dig away from the turns and better top-end on the long straight. Effectively equal around the track as a whole, two of the fastest men in international racing were putting on a real Grand Prix. Inspired, Hawthorn set a lap record at an incredible 122.39 mph.

Then he came up to the pits for his first refueling stop. Trying to save time by not braking until the last instant, Hawthorn swerved right toward the pits in front of American driver Lance Macklin's Austin-Healey. The slower car veered left, into the path of a silver Mercedes coming up behind -- not Fangio's car but that of teammate Pierre Levegh.

The Mercedes launched off the Healey and flew diagonally to the left, over a low embankment into an otherwise unprotected crowd of standing spectators. More than 80 were killed in addition to Levegh. It was the worst accident in the history of motorsports.

All heart was gone from everyone, but, fearing worse confusion if they stopped the race, officials let it continue. The Jaguars lagged, and the surviving Mercedes cars droned on ahead until an executive order was telephoned from Stuttgart to pull out.

Hawthorn and co-driver Ivor Bueb soldiered on around to claim a hollow and very somber "victory," one which Jaguar refused to advertise.

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Jaguar D-Type at LeMans 1956

Racing, like life, continues. Later in the summer of 1955, after the LeMans tragedy, Mike Hawthorn in the Jaguar D-Type and Juan Manuel Fangio in his Mercedes renewed their titanic struggle.

Once again, the Englishman's Jaguar was slightly faster than the Argentinean's Mercedes and set a new lap record at Dundrod. That all came to naught, however, because Moss, also in a Mercedes now, was already ahead, and Hawthorn blew his engine in trying to catch up. At the end of the season, after Fangio had captured his third world Formula One championship, Mercedes announced its withdrawal from all racing.

The Jaguar D-Type with a mandated full-width windshield.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
For the 1956 season, Jaguar D-Types had to
meet new design regulations imposed in the
aftermath of the 1955 LeMans tragedy.

For the 1956 season, Jaguar again fielded a team of new and improved D-Types. These had to meet regulations framed in the aftermath of the LeMans horror aimed at slowing things down, so they had full-width windshields. While that raised frontal area by 13 percent, to 14.5 square feet, Sayer cleverly continued the plastic over the top of the passenger's seat, making a transparent roof that minimized drag on that side.

Another new rule reduced fuel-tank capacity from 45 gallons U.S. to 33.5. Apparently to counter this, Jaguar adopted Lucas fuel injection and set it up for better low-end pickup, not more power. But while better fuel efficiency might have been a benefit, it wasn't evident. Economy was likely served just as much by thinner-gauge metal, so the cars were again lighter than the year before.

Their handling was improved by adding a sway bar to the rear suspension (a tweak first tried at Dundrod) plus a stiffer one to the front. To save time in pit stops, the disc brakes were given quick-change pads.

Another item was tested but not adopted for LeMans: a de Dion rear suspension. The D-Type had been designed specifically for the French circuit with its ultra-long straight, predominantly medium-speed corners and unusually smooth surface, and Jaguar's traditional live rear axle worked well enough there.

On other tracks, though, the D-Type sometimes lost ground through wheelspin out of slow turns and wheel hop over bumps. The de Dion system, then common on Grand Prix cars and some of Jaguar's more sophisticated sports-racing rivals, was a halfway step to full independent suspension.

It retained the basic beam-axle geometry, so that the driven tires remained squarely on the road, but relieved the wheels of carrying the burden of a differential. In back-to-back tests, it seemed to make the Jaguar a little faster around some tracks. It would probably have shown no advantage at LeMans, though, and as a still-new, somewhat heavier design, it was left off.

One additional interesting Jaguar project at this time was an experimental chassis tub fabricated at least partly in that still-exotic postwar material, fiberglass. This was kept secret and apparently never tried in a race, although a car built around it did appear once in public, Mike Hawthorn driving it through the streets of Coventry for public-relations purposes.

Though nothing came of Jaguar's "plastic fantastic," it was in 1956 that Colin Chapman began developing his all-fiberglass roadgoing Lotus Elite two-seater coupe, which was unveiled in the fall of 1957. It would be another five years before the Chaparral from Texas introduced fiberglass chassis structures into racing.

One of LeMans' slow-the-cars rules for 1956 mandated an upper displacement limit of 2.5 liters for protoTypes, which caused a number of manufacturers not to participate that year. The D-Types qualified as "production" because quite a few had already been made and sold. They thus had the largest engines, and were comfortably fastest in practice. About the only opposition within reach of the factory Jaguars were the Aston Martins, which had been allowed to keep their 3.0-liter sixes, and some privately entered D-Types.

Jaguar's list of opponents should have included itself. On only the second lap, running in the rain, a team driver crashed in the Esses; the resulting melee took out a second factory car. Shortly afterwards, the Hawthorn/Bueb D-Type began to misfire, and lost a lot of time in the pits while the problem was traced to a cracked fuel injector pipe.

The day was saved by the leading privateer team, Scotland's Ecurie Ecosse. Though not quite as technically up-to-date as the factory's British-green machines, its single dark-blue D-Type was fast enough to pull away from a battle with the Astons.

After 24 uneventful but tense hours, Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson brought home another winner for Coventry. The straggling survivor of the factory team wound up sixth.

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Jaguar D-Type at LeMans 1957

Jaguar now had some self-examination to do. In the three years since 1953, when giving up racing was unthinkable, the company's situation had changed.

Then, it seemed incapable of doing wrong. Then, it had a brand-new car all but built. Then, racing's rules had been simple and straightforward, and Jaguar's magnificent XK engine was well suited to them and also still had ample developmental life ahead of it. None of that was true now.

The  Jaguar D-Type won LeMans once again in 1957.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar D-Type won LeMans again in 1957, this
time for Ecurie Ecosse (French for "Team Scotland").

It looked like the time had come to take a break. And that's all it was supposed to be. When Jaguar decided after its dismal 1956 LeMans not to race again that year and to stay home during 1957 as well, it was to regroup for a stronger effort in 1958. No one thought of the hiatus as permanent. Behind the scenes, in fact, evolution of the aging but still effective D-Type continued on behalf of its owners.

The most important of this development work was increasing displacement of the XK engine. Since the early 1950s, several XK 120 owners had tried boring out to or beyond 3.8 liters. The factory now tackled the job properly, revising the block casting to improve cooling and installing wet cylinder sleeves to prevent the cracking sometimes experienced by the homebuilders.
Bore was enlarged four millimeters, to 87 (3.43 inches), which with the existing, long 106-mm stroke brought swept volume to precisely 3780.8 cc (230.7 cubic inches). In ultimate D-Type form, this engine would realize 306 horsepower.

Although never officially more than a good customer, Ecurie Ecosse (French for "Team Scotland") assumed de facto status as the Jaguar factory's competition arm in Europe.

Taking up a parallel position in America was the Briggs Cunningham team, which had been forced by tax laws to abandon the business of building its own cars. Both continued campaigning D-Types, Cunningham winning numerous events at home and the Scots triumphing once again at LeMans in 1957.

The latter was a decisive demonstration of development over design. Because the capricious French rule makers had again changed their minds on the matter of engine size, new and much more powerful cars entered the 1957 event.

Arrayed against the 3.8 D-Types was a 3.7-liter Aston Martin six, V-12 Ferraris as big as 4.1, and a pair of fearsome 4.5-liter V-8 Maseratis. As expected, the most powerful of these headed the Jaguars in practice and the first part of the race.

But, one by one, the bigger cars ran themselves into the ground, and as early as the end of the third hour, an Ecurie Ecosse D-Type was in the lead. And stayed there for the next 21 hours.

At the checkered flag, the Scottish Jaguars were 1- 2; D-Types from other teams finished third, fourth, and sixth. Five starters, five finishers, and Jaguar's fifth victory in the race it had taken as its own highest challenge.

Not that the old-fashioned, small-engine Jaguar that outlasted the newer cars was exactly slow and plodding. One 3.8 D-Type was clocked over a measured kilometer on the Mulsanne Straight at 178.8 mph, the highest speed recorded during the entire race.

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Jaguar D-Type Retires From LeMans

The importance of Jaguar's achievement at LeMans was expressed by Gregor Grant the week after the D-Type had won the 1957 running of the 24-Hour race.

After 1955, a full-width windshield was mandated for the Jaguar D-Type.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar D-Type won LeMans three times in the
1950s, bringing Jaguar's victory total in the world's
greatest sports car race to five in the decade.

Grant wrote in his editorial for Autosport: "Jaguar have now won the endurance classic five times -- in 1951, 1953,1955, 1956 and 1957! -- equaling the Bentley achievements of 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930, and bettering Alfa Romeo's record of four wins in 1931, 1932, 1933 and 1934.

But there is a significant difference; namely, that Bentley and Alfa Romeo, revered names in the sports car world through the years, were also in the most expensive price class, whereas Jaguar are in a far less costly category, selling their cars in many thousands in today's highly competitive medium price markets.

This latest achievement in the world's greatest sports cars race will not go unnoticed by the world, nor will the fact that the superb six-cylinder, twin-overhead camshaft engine of the competition D-Type is basically the same as that in the ordinary 3/2-liter Jaguar saloon...Bravo, Ecurie Ecosse!"

The beautiful blue cars with the white nose stripes went on to other wonderful performances, but the D-Type's day in the sunshine of LeMans had passed. Though at least one was entered every year through 1960, the design was unquestionably obsolete after 1957. And Jaguar never would manage a comeback in 1958. Or, in fact, for decades.

The reasons Jaguar was facing a drought of big-time sports car racing victories were several. Not least was that dangerously conservative view that the passenger-car range needed the full attention of the firm's technical talent.

In truth, there were several new models coming along just then: the XK 150 sports car; a large-engine version of the small sedan; a new large sedan; and even a streetgoing version of the D-Type called XK-SS.

But such rationalization leads to stagnation. Jaguar was a performance-car company, and by dropping back from the cutting edge of the art it risked dulling its entire product line. There was also the inevitable loss of the excellent publicity so far enjoyed, all of it "free."

All in all, Jaguar had gained so much from eight seasons of direct participation in speed competition, 1949 through 1956, that its failure to continue is difficult to justify even on theoretical grounds.

What arose as a practical excuse was a major fire that broke out in the factory during the night of February 12, 1957. Much was saved, however, and thanks to enormous efforts on the part of the entire staff, plus remarkable generosity from corporate neighbors, Jaguar was back to full production levels within weeks.

But the losses included a batch of D-Type/XK-SS cars and most of the tooling to make more. Worse, there was now so much pressure to get the damaged parts of the factory rebuilt and going that nobody could be spared from that priority.

Unlike the situation at some automakers, Jaguar's racing department always had worked side-by-side with the production-line staff; there was, in fact, no distinction between them. Inevitably, after a year or two, it became harder and harder to get back to racing.

Not that the spark went out. Heynes and his colleagues kept up their interest and, from time to time, laid plans for other LeMans cars. For example, in the mid-1960s they built the long-secret XJ13, powered by a new V-12 engine mounted amidships, behind the cockpit. Sadly, it never reached a starting grid.

So the beloved "D-Jag" would remain the pinnacle of Jaguar performance for many years. And its image as such was enhanced by one happy fact: The D-type could be driven almost like a street sports car.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

  • Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cars.
  • 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 D-Type Road Test

One of the first to reveal to the breathless enthusiast that the D-type could be driven almost like a street sports car was John Bolster, writing in Autosport early in 1955.

It came in his driving impressions of the Duncan Hamilton/Tony Rolt car, the very machine that had harried the great 4.9 Ferrari at LeMans the previous summer on the D's debut.

The 1954-1956 Jaguar D-Type was beloved as street sports car by enthusiasts.
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar D-Type was beloved by enthusiasts who
enjoyed the rush of driving a racing car that had
"perfect traffic manners."

"'Take her away and enjoy yourself, boy,'" Bolster quoted the jovial Hamilton. "'But don't drive at much over 165 m.p.h. because she's got the low cog in at the moment.'" With that warning, Bolster pressed the button and the dead-cold engine sprang to life, ticking over evenly and quietly.

"The seat fitted Bolster like a glove," he continued. "At first, the pedals seemed small and close together, an impression that vanished almost at once. The steering wheel was also small; in fact, the whole car seemed incredibly low and tiny for a 3-1/2-liter. One sits right down inside the aerodynamic body, and the wraparound windscreen affords such protection that I did not wear an overcoat on that January morning.

"Like all Jaguars," he went on, "the D-Type has a wonderfully smooth engine. It has, in fact, perfect traffic manners, and can be used for shopping without any thought of its potential performance. There is a passenger's seat, but this is normally covered in the interest of streamlining. The steering is light and responsive, the ultra-close-ratio gearbox could not be easier to handle, and the 7 ft. 6 in. wheelbase and 4 ft. 2 in. track add up to a small, nippy vehicle for England's crowded roads."

Comparing the D to the C, Bolster said that the older car's "rear end skittishness" was gone. Despite greater power, wheelspin in the new car was only a problem in bottom gear.

The steering he found to be "light and accurate," and he felt less "busy at the wheel" compared to the C. "It feels a much smaller and lighter car than its predecessor, as indeed it is..." He went on to describe the ride as "fairly firm" at low speeds, but that it smoothed out at the racer's natural cruising gait. The famous disc brakes, he discovered, were as controllable as they were powerful.

"The acceleration is deceptive, because it is just one smooth rush. The exhaust note is by no means obtrusive, and the once-magic century [100 mph] has come and gone before one engages top gear with the gentle pressure of thumb and finger. Then, road conditions alone determine the speed, and mere words cannot describe the sheer ease of the whole performance."

On a cautionary note, Bolster added, "I do not approve of the possession of very fast cars by inexperienced drivers, but I feel that this is one of the easiest of the real flyers to handle. Unlike some of the latest speed models, it does allow some margin for error, and there is nothing tricky about it. Obviously, its full potentialities on a road circuit can only be extracted by the higher echelon of racing drivers, but one's nearest and dearest could drive it through the West End [of London] without demur."

A car so demure that, according to a May 1956 Road & Track report, it could rush to 60 in 4.7 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 13.7.

Bolster apologized for having had no chance to instrument his similar car, but said no figures could convey "the indefinable feeling of quality that this machine imparts. I am in the lucky position to sample many successful competition cars. Although such vehicles always show high performance, it is frequently accompanied by roughness and intractability, plus some odd rattles and the drumming of body panels. The Jaguar, on the other hand, gives that same air of breeding which the XK coupe possesses. It is, indeed, a new conception in sports-racing cars."

This famous article, oft quoted and long remembered, went down in Jaguar lore as the very definition of ideal sports-car enjoyment. Only 87 D-Types were built, and it was very hard to wait for Jaguar to put what it had learned from them into its next generation of road cars.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

  • Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cars.
  • 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.

1954-1956 Jaguar D-Type Specifications

The Jaguar D-Type represented a rare blend of road-racing science and road-racing art. With a speed-conscious XK engine and monocoque chassis largely made of magnesium sheetmetal, the D-Type was the pinnacle of Jaguar performance for many years.

Jaguar D-Type Specifications

Years produced
1954-1956
Number built
71
ConfigurationFront engine; one-door, two-seat
Body style
Roadster
Suspension, front
Independent with torsion bars
Suspension, rear
Live axle with torsion bar
Wheelbase (inches)
90
Track, front (inches)
50
Track, rear (inches)
48
Overall length (inches)
154 to 161.5

Jaguar D-Type Engines

Engine XK-6
Type
I-6, iron block, aluminum head with two overhead camshafts, two valves per cylinder
Displacement, liters/cc
3.0/NA, 3.4/3442, 3.8/3781
Maximum horsepower
250, 265

Jaguar D-Type Performance

Best 0-60 mph (seconds)
4.7
Best top speed (mph)
179

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

  • Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cars.
  • 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.