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Aero-Racing: The Jaguar D-Type

November 15, 2011 by Matt

Jaguar D-Type DType

A world-beating 3.8l inline-six engine. Then-radical four-wheel disc brakes. Space-frame construction at the front, monocoque in the rear, with aluminum panels that looked like they had been lifted from a Spitfire. An aerodynamically-refined shape with minimal frontal area. Forget pretenders like the Mercedes 300 SLR and Ferrari 375 MM—the ’54-’57 Jaguar D-Type was the true pinnacle of race car development for its era.

Jaguar D-Type DType

It may be a bit cartoonish, but I can’t think of another car, racing or otherwise, that looks like more of a plane-automobile hybrid, from the rounded body contours mimicking an aircraft fuselage to the tail fin. The latter was critical for stability at the D-Type’s 162 mph top speed, a velocity it hit regularly on the non-chicaned Mulsanne Straight at the 24 Hours of Le Mans—an event it won outright three years in a row, from ’55 to ’57.

The car was an evolution of the successful C-Type, itself a special build of the company’s legendary XK120 roadster. Recognizing the limits of the full space-frame design the C-Type employed, Jaguar engineers took a page from their aeronautical counterparts, fashioning a light-yet-strong monocoque for the car’s rear half while retaining a tubular skeleton for the front, all enveloped in ex-Bristol Aircraft designer Malcolm Sayer’s pioneering, slippery sheetmetal. Powered by a dry-sump version of Jaguar’s proven twin-cam XK engine and arrested by fade-free discs all around, the convergence of engineering excellence took the racing world by storm. And even after the D-Type faded into obsolescence in the late ’50s, its innovations long since having been adopted by other manufacturers, the car would lend much of its design elements—the semi-monocoque chassis, XK engine, aerodynamic focus and disc brakes, among other things—to the acclaimed ’61 E-Type, extending Jaguar’s leadership from the racing to the road car realm. An evolutionary step in the progression from XK120 to E-Type it might have been, but the D-Type’s striking looks and racing success cement it as a icon in my mind.

Filed under: Jaguar, Racing

1 Comment

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