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Jaguar celebrates the 60th anniversary of its dominance at Le Mans, opens new Classic facility

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Jaguar C-type, XJR-9, and D-type on display in Coventry. Photos courtesy Jaguar Land Rover.

In 1957, Jaguar D-types finished first, second, third, fourth and sixth in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but perhaps more remarkable was that not a single Jaguar entered failed to finish the storied test of endurance. To mark the 60th anniversary of the brand’s sheer dominance on the Circuit de la Sarthe, Jaguar is planning events throughout the summer, beginning with a display of classic Jaguar racing cars at its new Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works facility in Coventry, England.

Jaguar was no stranger to the top of the Le Mans podium by the 1957 running. In 1951, Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead drove a C-type to victory on the Circuit de la Sarthe, and two years later, a C-type driven by Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton won the race (while two other C-types finished second and fourth). In 1955, the win was credited to the D-type driven by Mike Hawthorn (who many blamed for causing the horrific crash that killed Pierre Levegh and 83 spectators) and Ivor Bueb, while a second D-type from the stable of Ecurie Francorchamps finished third. The following year, 1956, Ninian Sanderson and Ron Flockhart drove an Ecurie Ecosse D-Type to victory.

It was 1957 that proved most memorable for lovers of the leaping cat. A D-type from the Ecurie Ecosse team, driven by Flockhart and Bueb, finished first, followed by a second Ecurie Ecosse D-type driven by Sanderson and John “Jock” Lawrence. The final podium spot went to a D-type from the Equipe Los Amigos team, piloted by Jean Lucas and Jean Brussin, while the fourth spot was occupied by the Equipe Nationale Belge D-type raced by Paul Frère and Freddy Rousselle. In case this performance wasn’t impressive enough, a fifth D-type, entered by driver Duncan Hamilton (who shared driving duties with Masten Gregory) ended the race in sixth position. Jaguar had not only swept the podium, but accounted for five of the cars in the race’s top-six.

Le Mans, 1957 – the race-winning D-type of Flockhart and Bueb.

In 1958, Jaguar’s reign at Le Mans ended with a whimper, thanks to a change in regulations that limited maximum engine size to 3.0-liters, prompting Jaguar to withdraw. Not a single D-type finished the race, though five were entered by privateer teams. It wasn’t until the XJR program of the 1980s that the brand would return to endurance racing, and in 1988 a Jaguar XJR-9LM driven by Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries and Andy Wallace ended the six-year winning streak of the Porsche 956 and 962. In 1990, Jaguar won again, this time in an XJR-12 driven by John Nielsen, Price Cobb and Martin Brundle, while the XJR-12 of Jan Lammers, Andy Wallace and Franz Konrad finished second.

Marking the opening of the new 150,000 square foot Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works facility in Coventry, Jaguar will have on display a C-type, a D-type and an XJR-9. All three are on loan from the Jaguar Heritage Trust collection, which has a permanent home at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon. In September, five D-types (including the car on display, plus several of the cars from the 1957 Le Mans race) will drive from the new Classic facility to the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace, taking place from September 1-3. Planned stops for the caravan include Silverstone and the headquarters of the automaker’s newest racing effort, the electric-powered Panasonic Jaguar Racing Formula E.

Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works.

The Jaguar Land Rover Classic facility includes a dedicated showroom plus a 54-bay workshop for service and restoration of models out of production for 10 or more years.  It will also house the Reborn program, which sells as-new restored examples of the Land Rover Series I, Range Rover Classic and Jaguar E-type, while offering owners of these vehicles the opportunity to have their vehicles rebuilt to original standards by the manufacturer. Beginning in September, visitors can tour the facility to witness the resurrection of classic vehicles, while also receiving a behind-the-scenes view of the 500-plus vehicles contained in the Jaguar Land Rover Classic Collection.

The Jaguar Land Rover Classic brand, which also extends to parts for its vintage models, was established in March of 2016. The brand plans on opening a second facility in Essen, Germany, later in 2017.