C-Types, D-Types and E-types are all on the Jaguar tasting menu – along with the ‘moderns’
Mike Newall’s first experience of driving a Jaguar C-Type was at midnight during a Le Mans Classic qualifying session in the ’90s. The closest I’ve been to driving one was an unsuccessful attempt to force my 6’4″ frame behind the wheel at the first Jaguar Heritage Experience Day at the Fen End test track yesterday.
A trio of passenger laps at Jaguar’s newly-acquired Fen End test track with Mike at the wheel was the consolation prize for my failed attempt to fit on the driver’s side. This was hardly a disappointment – Mike won his Le Mans Classic class with a C-Type this year, so he’s obviously got the hang of it.
For my own Heritage Driving Experience, I was forced to ‘make do’ with a ham-fisted attempt to master the Moss gearbox fitted to the Jaguar Heritage D-Type. My couple of laps were accompanied by the intermittent blaring of its extraordinarily awful-sounding horn, inadvertently operated by my right knee wedged against the bulkhead… but at least I was in it! (And was one of the few D-Type initiates who got the car off the line yesterday without stalling, a fact that I’ve determined is worth recording for posterity.)
I blame the diminutive proportions of Jaguar test-pilot Norman Dewis for the cramped cockpits of the early cars. Not to his face, obviously, even though he turned up yesterday with other luminaries including Sir Stirling Moss and Jodie Kidd to help celebrate the inauguration of the new Jaguar Heritage driving programme.
Instead we had a very interesting chat about how the XJ13 racing prototype was destroyed at MIRA when one of the experimental magnesium alloy wheels fragmented halfway around the banking in 1971. Apparently the memory of the incident is still fresh. “Oh yes, it’s there like a photograph,” says Norman, who famously escaped unscathed, but also recalls the long wait for help sat the side of the MIRA test track with the crumpled wreck of the car in the field behind him.
“When help turned up, the car drove up slowly and somebody said ‘are you all right Norman?’ I said ‘yes, but where have you been!’ It turns out they’d all heard the engine stop and just assumed I’d run out of petrol…”
It’s the stuff of legend, of course, but it’s all part of what makes the Jaguar Heritage driving experience so special. The lucky handful of punters who have signed up as the first Experience customers will be able to see the XJ13 at the Fen End facility where it’s on temporary display along with the other nine cars in Jaguar’s ‘Perfect 10’ collection.
Meanwhile, having proved myself at the wheel of the D-Type (or at least proven my ability to fit behind it), I turned my attention to the other Heritage cars on offer yesterday.
A racing Mk2 was always going to be a highlight, particularly an ex-Coombs racer campaigned with the registration number ‘BUY 1’ by Roy Salvadori and Graham Hill. And yes, I do like turning up to my job on Mondays…
You can feel the fever of Jaguar’s Heritage collection too. This year’s sessions are all booked out, but if you head over to their website you can sign up for sessions next year – so it’s definitely worth including details on your letter to Santa. The Le Mans experience in particular looks like a perfect ‘taster menu’ of cars very few people have ever had the chance to do more than dream about.
Oh, and you’ll also get the chance to have a go in some of the ‘moderns’ too, which – unless you’re already familiar with 500bhp+ of supercharged Jaguar on track – is an experience not to be sniffed at either!