To Be Continued: Jaguar Continuation Cars

On World Cat Day, we look to England - where Jaguar recently unveiled the C-Type, the next of its Continuation Cars. Driving it is an adventure of the unforgettable kind. One of the reasons for this is how incredibly uncomfortable it is to sit in a Jaguar C-Type or E-Type Lightweight. But not only that. It's also a lot of fun.
Text Roland Löwisch
Photo Jaguar Press

People change. At any rate, they must have been smaller in the past. Or perhaps they were just more tolerant, more impervious to pain, more determined. That certainly must be the case with the 1950s racing drivers who squeezed themselves into their stock-bodied Jaguar racers to hurtle around in circles at full throttle for hours on end, primarily at Le Mans. My legs fall off after just three laps, or fifteen kilometers, on Jaguar’s Fen End proving grounds near Birmingham. At least they do in the new C-type, the latest model in the British manufacturer’s continuation series.

Am I writing in riddles? Okay, perhaps this topic needs a little introduction. Strictly speaking, a continuation car is a brand-new classic, built exclusively by the original manufacturer according to the original standards and specifications using original tools and materials, usually in a limited production run. Anything else is an authorized or unauthorized replica.

Today, continuation cars are primarily a British affair. Take the Lister Knobbly, for example. The Knobbly, originally manufactured by the Lister Motor Company, which was acquired by Lawrence Whittaker in 2013, is famous for its distinctive curved body design. The cars are built to the exact specifications of the 1958 model, ready-to-go with racing chassis and FIA/HTP accreditation. The continuation Knobbly is available with either a 4.6-liter Chevrolet Corvette V8 or a 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine.

For Jaguar, with its racing history, continuation cars seemed like an obvious way to go – prompting the Brits to remake pretty much all of their most iconic race cars, like the C-type, D-type, XKSS and Lightweight E-type, selling them as brand-new period-correct sports cars, cleverly sidestepping the problem of meeting modern street-legal standards.

»Replicas« like this are bound to attract fans as well as critics. The latter consider these automotive reinterpretations to be nothing short of rubbish, arguing, among other things, that they undermine the brand’s history and devalue the expensive originals. The grandmaster of automotive history, Goodwood owner Charles Gordon-Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond, had even banned Jaguar’s first continuation car from driving at his estate.

The automakers themselves have little understanding for such doubts. As Stephen Horscroft, Senior Operations Manager at Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works, says, “These cars can’t hurt the brand at all. With our continuation models, we are extending the brand, keeping the history alive for future generations, producing in such small numbers that we do not damage the authenticity or value of the originals.”

»Replicas« like this are bound to attract fans as well as critics.

Jaguar’s idea of reviving its racing history, at least in new-old continuation cars, is attributed to a brainstorming session where the task was to figure out how to make money, provide employment and celebrate the company’s history. That’s where the idea of the 1963 Jaguar Lightweight E-type was born, a car that became the first complete re-creation by Jaguar Land Rover’s fledgling Special Operations team.

And here’s the full story: In 1963 Jaguar had planned a production of eighteen Special GT E-types with 300 hp each. An eager employee immediately assigned eighteen chassis numbers for the cars. Good thing, too, because in the end only twelve were actually built (eleven still exist today, each worth around £10 million). And the remaining six could be delivered a few years later, couldn’t they?

And that’s how, in 2014–2015, the new-old Lightweights were born – each with an S in the chassis number, homologated for GT races and, like the originals, more than 100 kilos lighter (around 1.1 tons) than the standard E-type Roadster they are based on. All cars feature an all-aluminum monocoque, an aluminum hardtop, a roll cage and an aluminum engine block with a wide-angle cylinder head and dry sump lubrication. The Lightweight E-type owes its reputation in part to its frequent use as a wedding car for the likes of Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Roy Salvadori and Briggs Cunningham.

In 1963 Jaguar had planned a production of eighteen Special GT E-types with 300 hp each. An eager employee immediately assigned eighteen chassis numbers for the cars. Good thing, too, because in the end only twelve were actually built.

At the time, no two of the Lightweights were alike – not necessarily because of the optional equipment, but rather because of the range of quality expectations of the craftsmanship of the time. Nevertheless, Jaguar’s management had decided not to use any other materials or mounting methods, even for the six newly reissued cars. After all, this was the only way the brand-new classics could meet FIA homologation for historic race cars. Still, modern technology was used as well: Digital scanning allowed unprecedented symmetry of the body halves, so that all two hundred and thirty parts are a perfect fit. Only about 0.5 percent of all parts used are actually old, such as the transmission bell housing and parts of the differential.

In designing the engine, Jaguar drew inspiration from the original 3,868 cc XK that had last powered a D-type to victory at Le Mans in 1957. The power unit is equipped with three Weber twin carburetors and produces 340 hp and a maximum torque of around 380 Nm. This ensures the typical “thump” even in the low rev range of classic Jaguar racing engines. Power is transmitted through a historically correct four-speed transmission, and the chassis with double wishbones up front and independent double wishbone suspension at the rear is also typical of the E-type. The front brakes have been slightly modified, with the 305 mm discs larger than the originals, though there still is no power assist here either.

ut enough talk. Let’s give this original continuation car a spin! The most difficult part of getting into this very flat racer is squeezing yourself into the bucket seat through the standard roll cage. Once inside, however, you immediately get that E-type feeling: very British, very cozy, very quirky. There isn’t much in the way of interior amenities; they are the natural enemy of a lightweight car. Four-point belts, however, are a must. As soon as you activate the ignition and fuel pump, the interior is filled with a magnificent twin overhead camshaft sound – and not only thanks to the lack of insulation. The car features hill start assist to keep the clutch from burning out too fast, but when it runs, it runs. Power is delivered to the rear axle via a close-ratio, fully synchronized four-speed transmission in which all gears can be engaged smoothly without slippage or grinding. And then, on kickdown, the car roars loudly and is a blast to drive. It’s noisy as hell inside, as if the old-style mechanics were trying to hammer the boring modern electric nonsense straight out of the car. The large, magnificent wooden steering wheel demands a firm grip, and the accelerator pedal needs to be operated with some determination. Reason enough to race this work of automotive art over the 2.6-mile test track only with full concentration. After all, you’re juggling €1.4 million worth of aluminum at the limit of what the tarmac will hold.

And that’s where we have the problem I mentioned at the beginning: I still fit behind the large steering wheel, but the latter prevents me from effortlessly operating the pedals – though admittedly my height of 1.80 meters isn’t exactly standard.

My problem: It’s not enough to simply bend the left knee past the steering wheel, you also have to lift your foot to engage the clutch because the pedal is very high and can’t be operated with your heel resting on the floor of the car. Moreover, the unsynchronized transmission requires you to depress the clutch pedal twice – at least when downshifting – and to feed the transmission shaft with revs in between by giving a burst of gas. My right leg fares only marginally better: Of course, you have to squeeze it past the steering wheel on the right in order to reliably operate the disc brakes – the first time these were used in a race car, by the way. Jaguar came upon the brakes, developed in collaboration with Dunlop, rather by chance: Dunlop was a neighbor of Jaguar’s at the time and was actually testing the brakes for use in aircraft. The new braking system provided the longer endurance needed for speed and distance races, and they were more resistant to fading. They also let the drivers brake much later before turns, allowing them to stay faster for longer.

Armed with this technology, Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolts took first place at Le Mans in 1953 with a 200 hp car that also set a new record average speed of more than 160 km/h. Jaguar built only fifty-three C-types at the time, forty-three of which found their way to private owners, mainly in the United States. Seventy years after its first victory at Le Mans, Jaguar decided to reissue eight C-types, though there is talk of upping that number to sixteen – using the specifications of the Le Mans-winning car from 1953, and not the successful 1951 vehicle because it still ran with drum brakes.

The C-type Continuation is the first Jaguar Classic to be fully reproduced using 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD). Alone the 220-hp, 3.4-liter XK inline-six engine takes nine months to build. Customers can also customize their car in a historically incorrect way, if they wish, with a choice of twelve exterior heritage colors matched with racing seats in one of eight leather hues.

That still doesn’t help me sit any better. I probably look like a frog in front of a boiling pot of water – at least that’s how I feel. Possibly the only part of me that assumes a natural posture is my head, and thanks to my helmet, no one notices the deep furrows of concentration on my brow. Despite clutching twice, the gearbox emits a loud bang before every bend. Thankfully, my co-driver – one of the principal developers of this continuation car and, with two thousand test kilometers under his belt, fully familiar with every cog – doesn’t let on how much it pains him to hear. My braking technique is less than optimal as well. The hydraulic brakes react without delay, but they initially exert their force only on the front axle, which is unusual.

But that’s just how things were back then. Today I enjoy the 1953 racing experience mainly on the straight, with noise, wind, mechanics, hard work, fascination and joy. Maybe it’s not for everyone. But it is definitely something if you love red hot classic cars.

→ Read Roland Löwisch's entire text about the Jaguar Continuation Cars in the upcoming ramp #58 "Hot Wheels".

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