After a gap of more than 60 years, a very limited-edition production of the competition-slaying Jaguar D-Type is underway
THE 24 HOURS of Le Mans is the granddaddy of all endurance races. It’s where second-rung carmakers are separated from the all-time greats. In the basket of the latter is Jaguar, which had an enviously successful run in the 1950s.
Jaguar had a healthy habit of building cars that began life as racecars and were then adapted to become road-legal cars as well. As a result of its racing bent of mind, aerodynamics and sheer power were always at the forefront of its design and build brief.
The C-Type, for example, had a lightweight tubular frame and, revolutionary for its time, also boasted of disc brakes on all four wheels. That meant racers could drive it at the very edge of its limit before stepping on the brakes at the last moment as they entered a corner. One of racing’s most important tenets is not only how fast you go, but also how fast you scrub off that speed.
The C-Type won the Le Mans in 1951 and then again in 1953. But with Ferrari and Mercedes furiously chasing down Jaguar, it was time to build a successor.
Enter the D-Type. While the C-Type was a venerable racing machine, one of its biggest flaws was that it wasn’t able to go flat-out in the long straights of Le Mans, especially the infamous nearly-6km Mulsanne Straight. Malcolm Sayer, a former aircraft engineer, was drafted to work on the design of the D-Type and was tasked with making it more aerodynamic than the C-Type.
Instead of a tubular steel frame as found in the C-Type, Sayer opted for a monocoque construction made from sheets of aluminium alloy. The fuel-filler was placed behind the driver’s seat, and in a move that referenced aeroplanes; the fuel was stored in the tail of the car.
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