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Jaguar D-Type

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:

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  • 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.