Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Built between 1955
, the Jaguar D-Type was a racing success and, as it had done with the previous "C-Type", Jaguar were to release a very limited number of "Production D-types" - although nearly all were used for racing rather than as street vehicles. The D-Type's engine incorporated an asymmetric head, larger valves
and a newly designed "long-nose" body.
The designers were rewarded with an immediate race track victory at 1955 Le Mans
, however this was unfortunately overshadowed by the worst accident in motorsports history. Some three hours into the race, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR collided with a Austin Healey, plunging the hapless Austin into the grandstands.
The crash and ensuing fire killed the Austins driver and over 80 of the spectators. Mercedes-Benz immediately withdrew the remainder of its team, even as Sterling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio
were leading the top D-Type by more than two laps. Mike Hawthorn
and Ivor Bueb, who were piloting the Jag, went on to a rather hollow victory.
In fact, Mercedes were to withdraw from motor racing altogther until 1988
, when they joined forces with the Swiss Sauber team in the Sports Prototype Championship, then lining up on the grid with its partner AMG in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM). The following year (1956
were to suffer mechanical failures, however the marque was somewhat rescued by the privateer team "Ecurie Ecosse".
One of their two D-Types, driven by Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, were to again bring a D-Type to the Le Mans victory podium - for the second year in a row. Although Jaguar were to leave racing at the end of 1956
, private teams would continue to enjoy success driving the D-Type. At the 1957 Le Mans
, D-Types were to finish first, second, third, fourth and sixth! A great success, but without the arch rival Mercedes-Benz perhaps not terribly suprising. In all, some 42 production D-Types were built, and the 1957 Le Mans
remains as its greatest moment.
The D-type has always had its accolades. Each one had its unique number on display, via a bright brass plate riveted to its scuttle. Each D-type was driven hour after hour at MIRA: some of them as much as 1200 kilometres before Les Bottrill, the test engineer, considered them sufficiently close to perfect to be handed over to their owners - and whether they raced them or used them as road cars - that was up to them. Many Jaguar aficionados believe, and with some justification, that the D-type was the height of Williams Lyons'
and Malcolm Sayer's achievements. The visual splendour of the car extended beyond its alloy bodywork.
If you were to undo the straps and tilt the one-piece bonnet forward you would be looking at a mass of shinning alloy: the firewall, the cylinder head
and its cam covers, the fat Webers and their gleaming trumpets, the radiator and its separate header tank, the oil cooler, the dry sump's catch tank and its big flip-top cap. Even a cursory glance was enough to let you know you were looking at excellence, purposefulness, brilliant engineering. The beautifully sculpted wishbones, clean as polished con-rods; none of the usual pressed metal or welded up tubing. Such an intriguingly built car too, with a rigid central monocoque shaped around the driver and theoretical passenger and ending behind them just as abruptly as it began ahead of them.
A tubular steel frame (magnesium alloy in the first works racers of 1954
) shaped like a broad-head arrow bolted up under it and extended forward to allow the engine to perch, cocked over eight degrees to the left, between its arms. It also carried the suspension
and the bonnet. The rear suspension
simply fastened up to the strengthened rear bulkhead, mere inches behind the driver's back, and the rear body panel (very unstressed) was bolted on to it too, hiding within it the twin flexible fuel tanks that provided a total capacity of 170 litres, and the spare wheel. The springing
front and rear was by torsion bars, two working with the lower wishbones at the front, and one big transverse one, fastened at its centre, at the rear. Upper and lower steel plate trailing links (the lower pair connected to the torsion bar) located the live rear axle, and they too were in torsion during cornering.
A central A-bracket controlled the axle's lateral movement, and the telescopic dampers (acting on the lower trailing links) tilted forward and inwards to mounts on two upright box section members fixed to the bulk-heat. The four-wheel disc brakes
were largely as they had been for the C-type Jaguars, but rid of the faults that plagued them in the early days, and servo assisted. The rack and pinion steering
was much the same as it was for the XK 140
that was a contemporary of the D-type.
The World's Most Famous In-Line Six
The engine, too, was much as it was for the normal Jaguar
saloons and sports cars; that famous in-line six introduced in 1948 and was still going strong almost 30 years later. But in the D-type, in its 3442cc form, it had a cylinder head
derived from the C-type casting with bigger inlet valves
, cams with pronounced over lap and a complex system of breathers in the cam covers themselves. The three 45mm Weber carburettors, mounted to compensate for the tilt of the engine, over-whelmed its right side; on the left, the two cast exhaust
manifolds with their pronounced branch shaping speared almost straight out from the head, descending to fat silver-ripple flexible pipes that ran to the expansion box mounted along the lower left side of the body
The result of all this, and a fairly modest 9.0 to one compression ratio, was 182kW at 5750rpm and 328Nm at 4000rpm and that power was fed through a four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox that was new for the D-type through a triple-plate, hydraulically operated clutch, the housing of which, with the starter motoring gear, took place of a true flywheel. Jaguar
offered nine differential ratios; most of the production cars left Allesley with what was considered to be the standard ratio - 3.54 to one. And that allowed the car to reach 222km/h at the maximum 5750 revs in top, with 103, 135 and 172. in the lower three. At Le Mans, the D-types used either 2.79 or 2.69 differentials, allowing them to reach the high maximums that took them so often to victory. All of this capability was contained within a car only 3912mm long, 1651mm wide, a mere 800mm high, riding on a wheel-base of 2286mm and weighing just over 862kg ... and costing in 1955 UKú3878.
Behind The Wheel
The D-type cockpit was better for the driver than it was in the C-types - or at least, that is what we have read. Once you had liftied up the tiny door and climbed over the gunwhale, stepping on the seat cushion and then dropped the legs down into the footwell, you were in a metalically snug cubby hole. The perspex screen, attached to the bodywork
by a neat row of bolts, curled around from shoulder to shoulder, rising at its highest to a point just below eye level. The later longnose racers got the more protective full-width screens. The reach to the pedals was good; to the big drilled and rivetted alloy and wood wheel it was about half-way between the very old and the then very new styles, so that the arms were almost straight out but some bent-elbow shuffling was still required.
The curve of the monocoque behind the back provided the lateral support, rather than any sort of formal seat, as there were only the thin pads. The high sill - the side of the tub - pinned you on the right, and the tunnel that covered the transmission
, driveshaft and the central part of the tubular framework locked you in from the left. Tough leather covered most of the tunnel and a strange bulge just ahead of the gearlever that allowed for the starter motor, sitting as it did on top of the gearbox. The gear level itself was strange. Long and capped with a slim piece of machined alloy; and it lay forward at an angle that would make most people mistake it for the handbrake. That was even longer, and mounted on the left side of the tunnel, a fly-off device, which, like most of them, didn't work terribly well.
On the plain, black, metal panel that formed the dashboard, there were two small dials to the right of the steering
column, the lower of the two and the more easily visible, was the temperature gauge; the upper one monitored the oil pressure. On the left of the steering
column there was a huge white-on-black dial that was the speedo
, reading to 210km/h. Above it was a tittle shrouded - and near its lower left edge there was an old-fashioned foot-type dipswitch. And then, hidden under the panel that covered the cockpit but easily visible to the driver (if they glanced down and to the left) was an equally large tachometer
, reading to 8OOOrpm and running, again like the speedo
, from two o'clock around to 10 o'clock. It carried a thin red line at 5750rpm and a tell-tale that indicated any driver indiscretion. There was the small ignition key, a little starter button, and three more for the side, head and panel lights.
An Automotive Symphony
Such was the possibility of flooding the car when starting, thanks to the 6 large carbys, that it was advisable to have a fire extinguisher at the ready. But once the engine turned over, you were presented with an amazing, magnificent snarl from the exhausts. We have been lucky enough to hear it once, on a D-type replica, and dear God, the sound is beautiful. The lucky few that have driven a D-type will tell you the exhaust
beat levels out at a little over 2000rpm, the cams will not be biting hard until the revs reach 3000; but after that there will be a sudden, smooth surge forward.
According to Road and Track figures for 1956, the D-Type could reach 8Omph in well under 5.0sec, and 0-100 mph in 12. And such a pleasant car to drive as well as such a devastating one. Once you're moving the clutch was as satisfying as everything else in the car. A swift, solid stab and it was in and out, working with a gearshift that was light, almost delicate and very mechanical in its feel. You had to shift it very deliberately, as it would wander away from is path unless you took positive charge. Do that, and you had quick, clean changes; and even into first gear there was deft synchromesh, and a lock that would not allow first to be disengaged without the clutch being depressed (a concession to the D-Types requirement for Le Mans races).
The steering was light, and the tiller was a beautiful wooden wheel. Thanks to the rack and pinion the steering
was as positive and precise as that of the engine to the throttle. The brakes
were not outstanding, or at least that is what we have read. But while they were not up to Mercedes standard, they remaind rock solid and conveyed a sense of durability.