Ahead Of Its Time On Track, Jaguar’s Lightweight C-Type
Photography Patrick Ernzen ©2015 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
In 1952, the Jaguar factory team went to Le Mans with its long-nose and long-tail C-Types…and failed dismally, with all three cars overheating and retiring. This was a tremendous disappointment because the C-types had dominated in 1951, earning Jaguar’s first win at Le Mans.
Having tasted both success and failure in consecutive years, Jaguar returned to the drawing board for 1953.
Back home in Coventry, William Lyons ordered development of the XK-C (‘C’ denoting “Competition”), resulting in a trio of lightweight C-Types that looked much like their 1951 predecessors. Among other advances, these cars featured lighter materials in their chassis, body, and an aircraft-type rubber bag tank to house the fuel. The greatest advance, however, came in the 1953 C-Type’s brakes: these were a new type of disc, jointly developed with Dunlop that gave the Jags an important advantage—especially against the more powerful Cunninghams and Ferraris.
The results were spectacular: the three works Jaguars finished first, second, and fourth, while a privateer C-Type finished ninth. This particular Jaguar was piloted by Peter Whitehead and Ian Stewart, and it finished the race in fourth place, just behind its sister lightweights, one driven by Stirling Moss and Peter Walker that finished second, and the other driven by Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt, that finished first overall.
For the anoraks among you, we must point out that 1953 also marked the first time that a winning car averaged more than 100 mph during the race, with the Hamilton and Rolt C-Type running at an incredible average of 105.841 mph over the course of 24 hours.
Eventually, this car was sold to a private team, and with Jimmy Stewart at the wheel it took multiple wins at Goodwood and, later, several more at Snetteron with Roy Salvadori at the helm. Eventually, no fewer than five Le Mans-winning drivers would race behind the wheel of XKC 052.
Within a few years, the C-types were fading from racing prominence, but they had set the stage for the immensely successful D-types, which would go on to notch three victories at Le Mans. The Works Lightweight C-Type represents both the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, as a bridge between simple engineering solutions and more drastic advances in aerodynamics, braking, and engine technology that the racing world quickly adopted after the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans.