The continuation D-type engineering prototype. Photos courtesy Jaguar Land Rover.
Introduced in 1954, Jaguar’s D-type was a revolutionary sports racer built with one primary goal in mind: victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The D-type would take wins at the storied endurance classic from 1955-’57, but rule changes left the car largely uncompetitive in 1958. Production of the D-type ended in 1956, but 62 years later, Jaguar Classic will again offer 25 customers the ability to purchase a new, for-competition-use-only example.
The D-type borrowed heavily from Jaguar’s race-proven C-type, which had won Le Mans in 1951 and 1953. The 3.4-liter, six-cylinder XK engine carried over — wearing a “wide angle” cylinder head with larger valves — as did the Dunlop disc brakes with quick-change calipers. The D-type differed in shape from it’s predecessor, boasting a more aerodynamic form with a smaller frontal area for a higher top speed. More significantly, its construction was ground-breaking.
While the C-type used a tubular frame like most conventional racing cars of the period, the D-type borrowed its construction methods from the aircraft industry, using a central aluminum monocoque combined with front and rear subframes. The net result was a lighter chassis, but one that did not suffer a loss of torsional rigidity. Early D-types were built with lightweight aluminum or magnesium subframes, but in 1955 Jaguar switched to bolted steel components to facilitate crash repair.
Five works D-types were completed in 1954, and the cars may well have scored a victory in their initial outing at the Circuit de la Sarthe, had it not been for performance issues caused by sediment in the fuel supply. Even with this handicap, a D-type driven by Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt finished second in the 1954 race, one lap down to the winning Ferrari 375 Plus. A works Jaguar D-type scored a win in 1955, but the victory was marred by the tragic deaths of 83 spectators, and Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Levegh, in a fiery crash.
In anticipation of customer demand, Jaguar set aside 100 chassis numbers for the D-type in 1955. Privateer buyers included Scotland’s Ecurie Ecosse, which posted wins at Le Mans with their blue and white D-types in 1956 and 1957, as well as American Briggs Cunningham, who, with driver Mike Hawthorne, managed a victory at Sebring in 1955 with a “borrowed” works car. A total of 75 D-type chassis tags were used that year, leaving 25 in reserve.
In 1956, rule changes saw displacement grow from 3.4 liters to 3.8 liters, and the XK engine’s trio of Weber carburetors was replaced by fuel injection. Long-nose bodywork for the D-type, which further improved high-speed stability, was introduced by Jaguar at Le Mans, but by the end of the third quarter the British automaker began to question the amount of time and money spent developing competition cars. To stay on top, Jaguar would need to design a successor for the D-type, whose sales had already slowed to a trickle, and doing so would impact the passenger car side of its business. Faced with this reality, Jaguar ended its involvement with motorsports on October 13, 1956.
To rid itself of the remaining D-type inventory, Jaguar began production of the road-legal-but-track-capable XKSS, intending to build 25 examples. A February 1957 fire at Browns Lane ended these plans, and for decades both the XKSS and the remaining D-types were little more than footnotes to history.
Following upon its success with the continuation E-type Lightweight (six examples built 2014-’15) and continuation XKSS (nine examples built 2017-’18), Jaguar Classic recently announced a continuation series D-type, limited to the 25 chassis numbers remaining from 1955. Customers will be able to choose from short-nose (1955) or long-nose (1956) bodywork, and engine options will include both the Weber carburetor-fed 3.4-liter and the fuel-injected 3.8-liter inline sixes.
The engineering prototype debuted at this year’s Salon Rétromobile in Paris, France, and Jaguar insists that production examples will be faithful to the specifications set by Jaguar’s competition and engineering departments in 1955. Kev Riches, Jaguar Classic’s engineering manager, said of the division’s latest offering,
Recreating the nine D-type-derived XKSS models was hugely satisfying, and an even bigger technical challenge than the six missing Lightweight E-type models, but lessons learned from the XKSS project have given us a head start on the final 25 D-type models. Each one will be absolutely correct, down to the very last detail, just as Jaguar’s Competitions Department intended.
Pricing of each continuation D-type will vary based upon configuration and options selected by the customer, and Jaguar’s policy is to not disclose this confidential information. That said, and in keeping with past continuation models, expect the D-type price to start “in excess of” £1,000,000, or $1.39 million based upon current exchange rates.