Story by Will Silk
Seventy five years ago Sir William Lyons entered the realm of automobile manufacturing from humble beginnings in the English mid lands as a motorcycle side-car constructor known as Swallow. When it came to the launch of the all-new SS 100 in 1935, Sir William wanted a new and evocative name for his company. After asking his advertising agency for suggestions, Sir William chose ‘Jaguar’, and the SS 100 model became the world’s first Jaguar.
The years spanning 1941-1945 were consumed by World War 2, but Lyons was anxious to return to building cars once hostilities came to an end. With the “SS” name discontinued due to its infamous use by Nazi Germany, Lyons selected the name Jaguar and proceeded to carry on operations. The first post war Jaguar of a sporting nature was the XK120, which debuted in 1948. The “XK” represented the marvelous duel over head cam six cylinder engine, with 160 horsepower on tap to propel the XK120 to 60mph in 10 seconds and ultimately to a top speed of 120mph, which was represented in the car’s title by the last three digits. Privateer operated XK120s would first see action at Le Mans in 1950, finishing as high as 12th place overall.
The C-Type would debut with spectacular results upon its first outing at the French classic, with the Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead duo winning in grand fashion that summer weekend in 1951. The sleek cats from Coventry would return with an all out factory backed effort for 1953 which would see Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton take 1st overall followed across the line by the Moss/Walker car for a British Racing Green one-two!
The C-Type’s success at Le Mans was helping Lyons sell his stately saloon cars, all of which benefited from lessons learned from racing for 24 hours in France. The C-Type’s 200 horsepower 3.4L “XK” engine and tubular space frame were cutting edge prototype technology in 1953. However, technology was evolving quickly at Browns Lane in the early 1950s, and this evolution spawned the incredible D-Type.
The D-Type moved into the realm of light-weight alloy monocoque chassis construction and took advantage of engine tuning that was developed during the C-Type campaign. The D-Type also broke into a new world of brake technology, using Dunlop developed disc brakes which quickly gave the green cats an edge at the far end of the Mulsanne Straight where the D-Type would be entering the brake zone at over 160mph.
While Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton managed a fine 2nd place for Jaguar in the D-Type for the 1954 race; the D-Type would return and win in 1955, 1956, and 1957! After 1957’s win in the hands of the legendary Ecurie Ecosse Racing Team, Jaguar would settle in to producing fine, road-going sports cars and saloons, leaving the cat’s racing efforts to privateers throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1980s would see an awakening of the beast from Brown’s Lane, first in privateer form, and by the latter 1980s in full factory trim once more. Having grown board with Porsche’s dominance of the French Classic, Jaguar was assisting Group 44 Racing in America in a new series run by IMSA called GTP. The Group 44 XJR-5 was a mid-engine, closed cockpit, sports prototype with a mighty 6.0L V-12 Jaguar engine mounted amid ship. Headed by the legendary driver/team owner Bob Tullius, and with an incredible driver line up including Tony Adamowicz, Brian Redman, and John Watson; the 1984 Group 44 Jaguar effort looked unstoppable. Both entries eventually retired with gearbox problems, but while they were running they provided Porsche and Lancia with a surprising fight, as Redman even led the race early on. Tullius would recover for 1985 by finishing 13th overall.
The efforts of Group 44 would set the stage for Jaguar to partner with Silk Cut and return for the rest of the decade. Jaguar Sport would be formed in conjunction with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) and along with sponsorship provided by Silk Cut cigarettes, Jaguar would see two more 24 Hour of Le Mans victories added to their tally with the Lammers, Dumfries, and Wallace XJR-9LM winning in 1988 and the Nielsen, Cobb, and Brundle XJR-12 securing Jaguar’s seventh overall win in 1990.