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Jaguar D-Type

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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