Despite the overwhelming success of the Jaguar C-Type at Le Mans in 1953 – where C-Types finished first, second and fourth – Jaguar designed and developed a new car to maintain its supremacy on the track. The car was purpose-built with a specific goal from the outset: to continue to win Le Mans for Jaguar. Appropriately called the D-Type, it quickly became famous as one of the most successful Le Mans racing cars of all time, considered by many to be the ultimate sports racer of the 1950s.
As related by marque expert Terry Larson in the March 2008 edition of Sports Car Market, while Jaguar designer Malcolm Sayer was directed to maintain a stylistic resemblance to the XK 120 with the C-Type, he was allowed to make full use of his background in aerodynamics and aviation on its successor. As a result, the D-Type was “often referred to as an ‘aircraft on wheels’ with an all-enveloping body, a hump behind the driver’s head and a tail fin for high-speed stability.”
The D-Type’s cutting-edge design was based on a central monocoque-type body structure, with a front sub-frame supporting the engine, front suspension and steering system, while the rear sub-frame mounted the rear axle and suspension. The engine was initially a 3,444 cc six-cylinder variant of the basic DOHC XK design with dry-sump oiling, producing 275 bhp. The dry-sump oil system greatly benefited the D-Type’s handling by allowing the engine to be placed low within the front sub-frame, which also allowed for a much-reduced frontal area to enhance high-speed air penetration, in addition to providing more reliable engine lubrication.
The gearbox was a four-speed, fully synchronized design. The front suspension featured independent torsion bars and unequal length wishbones, while a live axle setup, trailing links and a torsion bar brought up the rear. Disc brakes were fitted both front and rear. Finally, the engine and chassis were covered in a lightweight, aerodynamic body shell.
The resulting D-Type was first entered into the 1954 Le Mans 24-hour race with a four-car “works” team, including the prototype. Despite problems with fuel system contamination, the D-Type driven by Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt fought back heroically, finishing just one lap down behind the winning Ferrari. The D-Type returned for 1955, with the “long nose” variant powered by a large-valve engine, which placed first overall with legends Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb sharing driving duties. In 1956, just one of the three works entries finished, placing 6th overall. However, the private Ecurie Ecosse team prevailed to take first place overall, with Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson at the wheel.
Jaguar may have retired from “works” racing after the close of the 1956 racing season, but the D-Type, in the hands of privateers, achieved the D-Type’s crowning glory in 1957, taking five of the top six places, including first and second overall achieved by Ecurie Ecosse. Despite this illustrious record, the D-Type was rendered obsolete by rule changes limiting engine displacement to 3.0-liters for 1958.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.
275 bhp, 3,800 cc dual overhead camshaft in-line six-cylinder racing engine with wide-angle cylinder head, three dual-choke Weber carburetors, independent front suspension with unequal length wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar, rear suspension via live axle, trailing links, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90.6".
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel