DEC 16th 2015

Famous Five... Big Cats!

With news of Jaguar’s official, factory-blessed return to international motorsport in the shape of an FIA Formula E assault starting in just under a year’s time, comes lots of reminiscing about other works Jaguars that have raced down the years. The Formula E campaign will allow Jaguar to showcase its clever technology, especially as it’s about to get on the electric-car manufacturing bandwagon, but in days gone by the Big Cats relied on brute force for their success, rather than hi-tech trickery, and we celebrate that fact here, with five of our favourites.

5 XJR-9 LM

The low-drag version of the Tom Walkinshaw Racing-built XJR-9 was conceived specifically for the aero-efficient requirements of the super-fast Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans in 1988. The 7-litre V12, Silk Cut-branded beast took a memorable debut win in the great race, Johnny Dumfries, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace giving Jaguar its first victory in the French enduro since 1957. It was an undoubted highlight of a great season for the TWR machines, which in standard XJR-9 trim had won the Daytona 24 Hours, the opening round of the US-based IMSA sportscar series, first time out, and taken six victories in the World Sportscar Championship – enough to give Briton Martin Brundle the drivers’ title.

4 D-TYPE

The slippery-bodied monocoque-chassis sports-racer was the successor to the C-type, which had won Le Mans in 1951 and 1953. Using the same 3.4-litre straight-six engine, later upgraded to 3.8, the car made its debut at Le Mans in 1954 and finished a close second in the hands of ’53 winners Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt after delays to solve fuel-feed problems. A year later, the car’s aerodynamic performance was further improved with the addition of a longer nose. Le Mans victory was assured, courtesy of Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb, albeit with tragic consequences. The faster Mercedes-Benz 300SLRs had been withdrawn after one of them crashed into the crowd – an accident in which Hawthorn had been indirectly involved. The distinctive, fin-tailed D went on to claim two more Le Mans wins in 1956 and ’57 in the hands of the privateer Ecurie Ecosse team, guaranteeing itself a place in the pantheon of great racing sportscars.

3 XJR-14

The last of the Group C breed, conceived for the World Sportscar Championship regulations mandating 3.5-litre, non-turbo engines, this Ross Brawn-penned monster was nothing more than a Grand Prix car with a roof. Using the Ford HB V8 engine from the Benetton Formula 1 car, the 1991 car was light-years ahead of anything else and sadly, only had one season to prove itself before Jaguar took it across the pond to contest the IMSA series instead of what would prove to be the final year of the World Sportscar Championship. The 650bhp machine took three victories in 1991, with a roster of drivers including Martin Brundle, Derek Warwick, Teo Fabi and David Brabham, which was enough to give Jaguar the manufacturers’ crown and ex-F1 racer Fabi the drivers’ title. Fortunately for fans of this incredible Jaguar, an example can be seen competing in historic racing, courtesy of Belgian Christophe D’Ansembourg.

2 LIGHTWEIGHT E-TYPE

Just 12 of an intended run of 18 of these special E-types were built, using aluminium blocks and body panels and close-ratio gearboxes, some with four speeds, others with ZF five-speed variants. The cars were used by privateers to great effect after various modifications, including bigger engines and low-drag coupé bodywork, and are still a competitive force in historic GT racing, particularly at the Revival. Jaguar recently announced that the unmade six cars, using the unassigned chassis numbers and the exact specifications of the originals, will be built and offered to Jaguar collectors. Whether or not they can be truly considered original Lightweights, or continuation versions of the most potent example of a car once described by Enzo Ferrari as ‘the most beautiful in the world’, is a moot point.

1 XJ-S (GROUP A)

The 5.3-litre V12-engined British brute made its competition debut in 1982, prepared and raced by Tom Walkinshaw, whose eponymous TWR empire would later enjoy much success with Group C Jaguars. The car took its first win on the daunting Brno road course in the sixth round of the European Touring Car Championship season, with Walkinshaw and Chuck Nicholson on the driving strength. The car won three more races that year and continued its winning run throughout 1983 and 1984, with Martin Brundle, Enzo Calderari, John Fitzpatrick, Hans Heyer and Win Percy joining the line-up. In the car’s final ETCC season in ’84, Walkinshaw’s four wins were enough to land him the drivers’ title. With TWR switching its ETCC focus to Rover for 1985, while continuing to work with Jaguar on the burgeoning Group C programme, the XJ-S had a final stay of execution in Australia. Walkinshaw had raced in the Bathurst 1000 epic at Mount Panorama in 1984, although he’d been eliminated in a startline shunt. Returning 12 months later, he took pole, led most of the way with team-mate Win Percy, but had to watch the sister car of John Goss and Armin Hahne win the great race in the first year of the Group A era Down Under.

Jaguar XJ13

Those, then, are the Big Cats that really do it for us, but we can’t fail to mention when questioned these other memorable racing Jaguars, even if one of them – the exquisite XJ-13 prototype – never turned a wheel in competition!

C-type – 1950s world-beater

XJ-13 – unique and futuristic one-off

MK1 and MK2 – saloon-racing muscle cars

XJ12C – fast-but-flawed ETCC racer

XJ-S Trans-Am – wide-arched US beast

XJR-5/6/7/8/10/11/12/15/16 – 240mph Group C/IMSA stars

XJ220C – Le Mans-spec production racer

XJ13 image by Anthony Fraser lead image courtesy of LAT

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