The new year has barely begun when it already promises a possible record sale at the RM Sotheby’s auction in Arizona. One of the most legendary and successful racing cars in automotive history is up for sale. A real Jaguar D-Type with proven racing history, original components and matching numbers and some well-known previous owners. It could become the most expensive classic car in 2021.
The indomitable D-Type
After the Second World War, Jaguar Cars wholeheartedly pursued a tried and tested sales strategy for automobiles: The marketing of civilian sports cars and luxury sedans was to be based on speed and competitive success. First the XK 120 hit the headlines, then the model’s success in circuit racing followed. The XK 120 was then further developed into a sleek C-Type racing car. The victories of the C-Type at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1951 and 1953 showed that Jaguar had invested wisely in motorsport.
But while the C-Type represented a further development of the XK 120, the following machine, the Jaguar D-Type, was a radical leap into the future. With its curves and small, oval radiator grille, the D-Type presented the world with a friendly face; behind it, however, was a powerful racing car packed with advanced technology.
In contrast to its more conventional predecessor, the D-Type used a strikingly modern chassis configuration, at the center of which was a strong, lightweight monocoque body pan that enclosed the cockpit. An XK-type inline-six engine with twin overhead camshafts was housed in a subframe attached to the front of this monocoque; the solid rear axle and rear wheel suspension of the car were attached to the rear bulkhead accordingly. While materials and technology have developed dramatically in the decades that followed, this basic design concept is still used in racing cars and exotic cars to this day.
Other pioneering elements were the four-wheel disc brakes supplied by Dunlop, which were first used on the C-Type, and a compact, smooth body that minimized the frontal area in order to reduce air resistance – an effort made by the dry sump configuration of the XK- Motor and the slightly inclined orientation, which allowed a lower hood height, was supported. Finally, an asymmetrical vertical fin behind the driver’s headrest, designed to increase stability on racetracks with long, high-speed sections (and later added to many originally finless cars, including this chassis), gave the D-Type a distinctive look Profile.
The D-Type was presented in April 1954 and was soon able to record successes in the competition: after winning the Sebring 12 Hours in 1954 and a strong second place in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1954, the Jaguar works team achieved a victory in the 1955 Circuit de la Sarthe; the Ecurie Ecosse won there the following year as a privateer. Racing technology is evolving quickly, however, and given the decline in sales, Jaguar decided to use the existing D-Type chassis to build the very similar (albeit finneless) XKSS road car.
Production of the D-Type and XKSS suffered a severe blow on February 12, 1957 when a fire broke out at Jaguar’s Coventry plant. Five D-Types were destroyed in the fire, as were important tools and materials. The final production figures for the D-type were 17 factory racing cars (including 11 “long-nose” variants) and 54 “short-nose” D-types, which were intended for customers; of the latter, five were lost in the fire and four were dismantled for replacement parts. Two more of these series D-types were later converted to XKSS models.
But despite the Coventry disaster, the history of the D-Type was far from over. Five private D-Types competed in the 1957 Le Mans 24-hour race. The Ecurie Ecosse D-Types repeated their first place from 1956 and even achieved second place. The place of the sleek Jaguar in motorsport history was secured.
Chassis number XKD 518
Delivered on December 29, 1955 to Henlys in Manchester, England, the appearance of the XKD 518 immediately stood out from the already rare D-Type models. Painted red and fitted with a matching interior, it was one of the few D-types (maybe even only two or three copies) that were so equipped when new. One historian humorously suggests that this unexpected paint job was chosen by Jaguar in the hope of gaining a foothold in the Italian private racing market.
Whatever the motivation, the car stayed in England and racing driver Peter Blond became its first private owner – he bought the car for £ 3,500 from a certain Bernie Ecclestone, who took over the car after Henlys couldn’t find a buyer would have. Blond soon used the car in club races and achieved second and first place in Snetterton in June 1956 and another first place in Snetterton in September. Other appearances in the eventful seasons 1956 and 1957 were Aintree, Silverstone, Oulton Park and Goodwood, where Blond took part in the Goodwood Trophy race and was ninth.
Blond sold the car to Jonathan Sieff in August 1957; Sieff continued to drive the car with Blond, with a best finishing second at Full Sutton in July 1958. After the 1959 racing season, Sieff sold the car to Monty Mostyn of the Speedwell Garage, and after a brief period in the hands of John Houghton it became acquired by the racing driver Jean Bloxham. Bloxham brought the car to Goodwood in March and April 1961 and drove a race at Silverstone in May, in which he finished third.
XKD 518 returned to John Houghton around 1962, and was resold to John Coombs and Richard Wilkins around 1967. Under the care of its next owner, Clive Lacey, it took part in the first International E-type Day in Donington Park in 1974. After Lacey, this D-Type was bought by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant.
The car crossed the Atlantic in 1982 after being bought by the American collector George Stauffer, who kept the D-Type until 1996. From Stauffer it went to Chris Cox, then to Roger Willbanks in 1998, before being acquired by Bill Jacobs in 2005. It has been in the collection of its current owner and seller since 2008. Importantly, there are no known disruptions in ownership of the XKD 518 or loopholes in its history, and the car is featured in authoritative make and model texts, including Jaguar Sports Racing Cars: C-Type, D-Type, XKSS, and Lightweight E-Type and Jaguar C-Type. D-Type & Lightweight E-Type Register.
The XKD 518, which was once painted in British Racing Green, has now been returned to its factory red. Inside the remarkably low-lying cockpit, the correct red interior upholstery, which can be found on the seats with lap belts, continues on the transmission tunnel. The two seats of the car are separated by a partition, a feature that was omitted on the XKSS road vehicles; a functional wood-framed steering wheel – all D-types were right-hand drive – sits in front of a number of Smiths instruments. A black tonneau cover provides some weather protection when the car is parked.
Originally built with a narrow windshield and no tail fin behind the headrest, when the car competed regularly, the XKD 518 was upgraded as the D-Type design was refined through competition. Currently the car has a wide windshield, a configuration that can be seen in some contemporary photos; when exactly it received its characteristic tail fin is unknown.
Under the aerodynamically shaped bonnet, which is secured with leather straps, sits the matching-numbered 3.4 liter dry sump engine of the XK (block and cylinder head are stamped with E 2028-9). Fed by three Weber carburettors that breathe through the exhaust mounted on the passenger side, and coupled to a four-speed gearbox, this combination made 245 hp when new. At the rear of the car a full spare wheel is hidden in a small trunk; the fuel cap is also invisible in a compartment behind the driver’s headrest at the base of the tail fin.
Advanced in design and construction and extremely competitive – and at the same time one of the most aesthetically pleasing racing machines ever developed – every Jaguar D-Type is an important and remarkable vehicle. Apart from its unmistakable color combination, the special charm of the XKD 518 lies in its well-documented provenance, which also includes a considerable number of races during this period. In addition, despite his long time on the racetracks, it has survived to this day with its original engine, cylinder head and body. Needless to say, not all competition machines from the golden era of racing were so lucky.
The XKD 518 is a convincing centerpiece for any serious collection of important sports and racing cars and a worthy candidate for classic car competitions at the highest and most prestigious level; it awaits a dedicated owner who is willing to carry on the legacy racers and enthusiasts have built in the decades since this particular vehicle was created.
Photos: © RM Sotheby’s
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