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Jaguar D-Type

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.