Combining revolutionary monocoque construction and cutting edge aerodynamics led to a Le Mans threepeat in the mid 1950’s.
1954 – 1957
24 Hour of Le Mans Winner
1955, 1956, 1957
Designed by Malcolm Sayer
Campaigned by Jaguar, Ecurie Ecosse, Cunningham
The Jaguar D-Type was among the last great front engined prototypes to conquer Le Mans. Designed by expert aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer it replaced Jaguar’s venerable C-Type which had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951 and 1953. The D-Type was a clear step forward and a radical departure from the C-Type due to its groundbreaking aluminum monocoque. Special attention was paid to the car’s aerodynamic efficiency and a dry sump lubrication system was fitted for the legendary XK straight six engine.
The car’s competition debut was at the 1954 12 Hours of Sebring, where Jaguar lent Brigg’s Cunningham a car which Mike Hawthorn and Phil Walters took it to victory. In June at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, fuel starvation issues held Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt to second place, one lap behind the Ferrari 375 Plus of Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant. For 1955 the cars were upgraded aerodynamically with longer noses and a stabilizing fin aft of the driver’s headrest. The main competition that year came from Mercedes, who withdrew from the race following the disastrous incident when Pierre Levegh crashed his 300SLR into the Austin-Healey of Lance Macklin, which set the Mercedes flying into the crowd where it killed 84 people in the worst crash in motorsport history. The race was continued in order to prevent the scene descending into chaos and controversial D-Type of Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb who had played a role in the crash, nevertheless claimed victory.
In the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans the factory team floundered to a lowly 6th place finish, but famed Scottish privateer team Ecurie Eccosse waved the D-type banner as their iconic blue car won the race outright. A feat they repeated in the 1957 race where D-Types finished an astounding 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th places.
The cars also competed in the international oddity; the Race of Two Worlds in 1957 and 1958 when America and Europe’s best competed head to head on the Monza banking.
When the car retired from top level competition Jaguar took the remaining chassis and modified them for the road creating one of the first true supercars; the XKSS. A factory fire destroyed 9 of the 25 road cars, leaving the few remaining incredibly sought after, the most famous example belonged to Steve McQueen who was often seen wringing it out in the Hollywood hills.