Jaguar C-Type & Jaguar D-Type - Victors of Le Mans 60 Years Ago

  • Jaguar Heritage

Once upon a time, the famous British manufacturer Jaguar was winning a lot at the 24h Le Mans. In total, Jaguar scored seven overall wins at Le Mansfive of them in the 1950s and two more in 1988 and 1990. The victorious cars about 60-odd years ago were C-Type and D-Type. This is a story about these cars.


The Jaguar C-Type (also called the Jaguar XK120-C) is a racing sports car built and sold from 1951 to 1953. A total of 53 C-Types were made. The racing car was based on the road-going XK120 with a 3.4-litre twin-cam straight-6 engine which produced between 160 and 180 bhp. The racing version (letter C in the name means Competition) was originally tuned to around 205 bhp. Later versions were boosted to 220 bhp. The C-type used a lightweight tubular frame and aerodynamic aluminium body, designed by Bob Knight and Malcolm Sayer.


1951 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jaguar C Type, leightweight chassis type

1951 24h Le Mans – Jaguar C-Type won in its first attempt


Le Mans victory in first attempt

The C-Type scored its first Le Mans victory in its very first attempt. The factory decided to enter the 1951 edition of famous 24-hour race with three cars, with driver pairings of Stirling MossJack Fairman, Leslie JohnsonClemente Biondetti and Peter WalkerPeter Whitehead. Two cars retired due to lack of oil pressure, Walker-Whitehead was the only factory entry to finish and they won with an 11 laps advantage ahead of Pierre Meyrat and Guy Mairesse in a Talbot-Lago T26 GS. A privately entered XK120C, owned by Robert Lawrie and co-driven by Ivan Waller, also completed the race, finishing 11th.

In 1952, Jaguar modified the C-Type’s aerodynamics in order to increase its top speed. However, the consequent rearrangement of the cooling system made the car prone to overheating. All three factory-entered cars retired from the race. Driver pairings were Peter Whitehead – Ian Stewart, Tony RoltDuncan Hamilton and Stirling Moss – Peter Walker.

Sir Stirling Moss, Jaguar C Type, international classic racing, type, page, book

Sir Stirling Moss pictured in 2012 with the C-Type he raced 60 years before

First car with disc brake to win Le Mans

In 1953 C-Type was the dominating carscoring 1st, 2nd and 4th place for the Jaguar factory team. The car was lighter than all previous versions and the power was boosted to 220 bhp, but the most significant change were disc brakes. It was the first car ever with disc brakes to race and win at Le Mans. The winners were Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt, with an average speed of 105.85 mph. It was the first time famous race had been won by a car with an average of over 100 mph. The second placed crew were Stirling Moss and Peter Walker and fourth placed were Peter Whitehead and Ian Stewart.

Following its 1953 success, the next year Jaguar arrived with three brand new Jaguar D-Types. These were so new that they hadn’t even been painted when they got to Le Mans. However, in their limited testing, the Coventry marque beat the lap records by five seconds. The driver pairings were Peter Walker – Stirling Moss, Peter Whitehead – Ken Wharton and Tony Rolt – Duncan Hamilton.

Jaguar C Type, Jaguar D Type, lightweight chassis type

C-Type and D-Type raced together at 1954 24h Le Mans

Great battle against Ferrari 375 Plus

The race was marked by the great battle of Jaguar D-Types against Ferraris 375 Plus with 4.9 V12 engines. In terms of handling and agility, the Jaguars were at the top of the class, but the Ferraris were quicker by far in acceleration. The winners of the dramatic race, despite rain showers and a lot of retirements, were Ferrari’s Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant ahead of Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt in #14 Jaguar D-Type. Two other Jaguar factory crews retired, but Ecurie Francorchamps’ Jaguar C-Type, driven by Roger Laurent and Jacques Swaters, finished in fourth place.

It was the final year for C-Type and first year for D-Type. The Jaguar D-Type is a successor of C-Type, however, even though they shared many mechanical components, including the basic Straight-6 XK engine, the structure of the car was radically different. The innovative monocoque construction brought aviation industry technology to competition car design, together with an aeronautical understanding of aerodynamic efficiency.

Jaguar C Type, Jaguar D Type, international sports classic

C Type and D Type shared Straight-6 engine

Aeronautical technology used in revolutionary design

The structural design, revolutionary at the time, applied aeronautical technology. The cockpit section was of monocoque construction, mostly comprising of sheets of aluminium alloy. Its elliptical shape and comparatively small cross-section provided torsional rigidity and reduced drag. To the front bulkhead was attached an aluminium tubing subframe for the engine, steering assembly, and front suspension. The rear suspension and final drive were mounted to the rear bulkhead. Fuel was carried in the tail and the designers followed aviation practice by specifying a deformable Marston Aviation Division bag in place of a conventional tank.

The aerodynamic bodywork was largely the work of Malcolm Sayer. He insisted on a minimal frontal area. To reduce the XK engine’s height, Jaguar’s Chief Engineer William Haynes and former Bentley engineer Walter Hassan developed dry sump lubrication. Reducing the underbody drag contributed to the car’s high top speedfor the long Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans, a fin was mounted behind the driver for aerodynamic stability. For the 1955 season, factory cars were fitted with a longer nose, which lengthened the car by 7½ inches and further increased maximum speedand the headrest fairing and aerodynamic fin were combined as a single unit that smoothed the aerodynamics and saved weight.

1956 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jaguar D-Type

Jaguar D Type at 1956 24h Le Mans

Hawthorn and Bueb won after 1955 catastrophy

After the 1954 debut at Le Mans, Jaguar was ready to confront the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLRs. Unfortunately the 1955 race became the most catastrophic event in the history of motorsport, with Pierre Levegh‘s crash and the death of more than 80 spectators. Mercedes withdrew from the race, Jaguars continued and the D-Type driven by Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb won the race.

In 1956, only one of the three factory-entered cars finished in 6th place. The race was won by Ecurie Ecosse D-Type driven by Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, beating works teams of Aston Martin and Scuderia Ferrari. Jaguar withdrew from motorsport at the end of the 1956 season, but 1957 proved to be D-Type’s most successful year at 24h Le Mans. D-Types took five of the top six places at Le Mans. Ecurie Ecosse won again and took second place as well. Drivers of victorious D-Type, with a 3.8-litre engine, were Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb.

The rules for the 1958 Le Mans race limited the engine size to 3 litres for sports racing cars, which ended the domination of the D-Type. Jaguar developed a 3-litre version to power D-Types in the 1958, 1959 and 1960 Le Mans races but it was unreliable and uncompetitive.

1956 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jaguar D-Type, type, lightweight, contact, page, book, information, number

Jaguar D Type which has won the 1956 24h Le Mans

Fire destroyed unfinished cars

After Jaguar retired from racing as a factory team in 1956, the company offered the remaining unfinished D-Types as XKSS versions whose additional road-going equipment—including a second seat, passenger-side door, side windows, full-width framed windscreen and windscreen wipers, trimmed interior, folding hood, and bumpers—made them eligible for production sports car races in America.

On the evening of 12 February 1957, a fire broke out at Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant and destroyed nine of the 25 cars that were in various stages of completion. This effectively ended the production of the XKSS version.

Jaguar XKSS, Steve McQueen, page, book, information, number, contact, section, photos, lightweight, type

Steve McQueen in his Jaguar XKSS

Loved by racers and celebrities

With 16 XKSS cars total production of D-Type included 18 factory team cars and 53 customer cars, which meant that overall 87 cars were produced. To conclude, Jaguar C-Type and D-Type are cars with a story behind them, and they were loved by racers and celebrities (Steve McQueen was the owner of an XKSS).

With their beautiful bodies and performances that match the looks, those cars are still among the most popular classics and the auction prices of some of them jumped to a few millions dollars.


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