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Jaguar D-Type Short Nose, XKD 515, 1955

  • Among a series that has always been raced and run hard, XKD 515 is one of the cleanest, most original D-Types known. The car retains its original chassis and motor, as well as most, if not all, of its original bodywork. The car was originally purchased by Colonel R.J. "Ronnie" Hoare, who would become better known a decade later as the chairman of Maranello Concessionaires, the official Ferrari importer for the UK. While occasionally raced in period, 515 was not used as an earnest competition device, and therefore survived the tumult of 1950s motorsport with very little wear and tear.
  • In the midst of all the heritage talk of late, there's been mention of Aston Martin as the quintessential British sports car, or even of Morgan as the oldest and truest British sports car. And it's all codswallop. Jaguar, (or Jag'you'are, thank you very much), are the three words that spell sports car for Great Britain. And while others cannot give proper justice to the name of the animal—family: Panthera onca—the mechanical form of this Jaguar is a true masterpiece. In contrast, the Aston Martin DBR1 is formulaic in the continental sense. By clothing a tubular chassis in Romanesque curves and opting for exotic magnesium for the paneling, the DBR1 is something like Scaglietti's take on the W-196R. Not so the D-Type, which is one of few vehicles to feature a firmly British personality, and manage to be revolutionary at the same time.
  • Fast, beautiful, and three times victorious at Le Mans, there is no greater expression of the post-War British sports car. I will defend that statement with the suggestion that the D-Type represents original thinking. In the way of similar things British, the D-Type is like a thoroughbred version of the Mini. Packaged with a tubular spaceframe, bolted to a monocoque, seated with narrow cross-plys, each fitted with discs—it's a very sensual piece. And so the D-Type looks like nothing else because it is built according to a unique formula.
  • The D-Type benefitted from the styling philosophy practiced by Malcolm Sayer—to say nothing of similar contributions by Frank Costin. At least five steady years of racing development benefitted the twin-cam, straight 6-cylinder motor, while a series of high-speed record attempts using purpose-built Jaguars in years prior taught the company a lot about aerodynamics at the upper limit of sports-racing cars. Thus the Jaguar D-Type quickly lept into contention among the best from Ferrari and Maserati, a path paved for all by Mercedes' unfortunate withdrawl from motorsport.
  • In 1954 Dunlop developed a lightweight alloy wheel, much to the advantage of British sports cars from Jaguar and Lister. The entire unit is three pieces. First, the rim is formed of extruded aluminum. Next the centers are formed of pressed aluminum. And finally a steel presser plate fastens the hub and provides a seat for the knockoff. A series of circular cooling vents rounds the perimeter, a pattern reminiscent of BMW 328 survivors in the post-War era, but more particular to Frazer-Nash racers, Bristol cars, and oddballs like the Jowett Jupiter and Healey Silverstone. As practically any source will tell you, inside those new wheels is a set of Dunlop disc brakes, the competitive kicker in an already speedy package.
  • Jaguar's long-time design chief, Malcolm Sayer, came to the company by way of the aircraft industry. Unsurprisingly, the D-Type's central monocoque tub is comprised of light alloy that has been folded, riveted, and arc-welded according to contemporary aviation practices. A tubular section holds the motor up front, while a sparse tail assembly covers the back axle, fuel tank, and not much else. The arrangement makes the car slightly nose-heavy, but the balance settles at full chat. Some nose lift might surface at the limit, though it remains quite easy to drive flat out according to those so privileged to do so.
  • In that world of constant comparisons, the D-Type ethic is about slipperiness at speed, whereas the Aston Martin DBR1 is all about poise. The D-Type's motor is tilted eight degrees to port, lowering the bonnet line, and with it the height of the windscreen and headrest fairing. Upon debut, the D-Type was good for better than 170 miles per hour, and that with its formative 3.4 litre powerplant. Later cars graduated to a factory prepared 3.8 litre unit. Conversely, the more modestly powered DBR1 was good for about 155 mph. To be fair in this comparison, better counterpoint to the D-Type would have been the 3.7 litre Aston Martin DBR2, except that the project was rendered obsolete. (See the following item.)
  • The D-Type would place a close second at Le Mans in 1954, losing out to the 4.9 litre Ferrari 375 Plus of José Froilán González and Maurice Trintignant. The next three years, however, belonged to the D-Type. Built to triumph at Le Mans, no other car had the lightness, the slipperiness, or the sheer stopping power of the D-Type—at least, not all three of those qualities in such abundance. And yet the advantage did not run out, but rather the regulations changed. From 1958 a 3-litre rule was imposed, shifting the game to Ferrari's 250 Testa Rossa, and Aston's DBR1, both of which would have their respective day on top of the podium.

 

Last Updated: Aug 19, 2017