Image credits: © Jaguar.

1952 Jaguar C-Type

Jaguar, a company that had never built a competition model, brought their new and un-raced C-Type to Le Mans, the highest level of international motor racing, where they beat the best teams and fastest race cars in the world. During the company's domination of the LeMans event in the 1950s, the C-Type won twice, and few sports-racing cars have achieved such legendary status.

After World War II, the Jaguar Company focused its efforts on building a high-performance luxury saloon, a sports car was an afterthought. The phenomenal success of the forth-coming Jaguar XK120 was completely unexpected by Sir William Lyons and the team at Browns Lane, whose post-WW2 focus was the MKVII Saloon. With the new DOHC straight-six engine, it occurred to Lyons that a sports car versions with the engine could outperform nearly anything else in production at the time. Additionally, a limited run of these halo cars would provide Jaguar the opportunity to fine-tune its new masterpiece before committing it to the scale of production necessary for the MKVII.

The new XK engine was an aluminum-alloy cylinder headed, dual overhead camshaft, 3.4-liter, seven main bearings, straight-six. The 'X' represented 'experimental' while the 'K' was for the 'K' series. The 'XK120' was in reference to its estimated top speed of 120 mph. The development team was headed by William Heynes and aided by Walter Hassan and Claude Bailly. With the help of twin SU carburetors, the 3.4-liter engine delivered 160 horsepower which was sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed gearbox which was bolted directly to the engine.

A styling revolution was happening in Italy and the United States during this time, as manufacturers were beginning to introduce their first all-new post-War products. Stylists such as Raymond Loewy and Pininfarina were creating modern designs with full-width bodies and integrated fenders. William Lyons was inspired and led him to create this timeless design. Drawing inspiration from around the globe, Jaguar created a design with sensuous curves, wind-cheating angles, and an elegant stance. When equipped with the new XK engine, the 120 mph estimates were found to be inaccurate, as an XK120 (chassis 670002 - the second example built) in Jabbeke Belgium would achieve a top speed of 132.6 mph in May 1949, setting a production car record. It achieved a 126.448 mph over the flying mile with hood and side screens erected, and 136.596 mph in stripped form. That same car was raced a few months later and won the Daily Express production car race at Silverstone where it was piloted by Leslie Johnson. Peter Walter was second in a sister car. Soon the XK120 won its first laurels in the world of rally, courtesy of Ian Appleyard driving chassis number 660044. The first production, chassis number 670003, was delivered to Clark Gable.

The decision to create the XK120 was made just six weeks before its introduction at the Earls Court Motor Show of October 27th. They began with a fully equipped MKV box-type chassis with 1ft 6in removed from the middle. Wishbones and torsion bars comprised the front suspension while transverse leaf springs and a live axle were used at the rear. Twelve-inch Lockheed drum brakes were placed at all four wheels, and the steering was by recirculating ball with a telescopically adjustable steering column. The brakes were prone to fade so some examples were fitted with Alfin (ALuminium FINned) brake drums to help overcome the fade. The coach built, aluminum paneled body structure on ash framing mounted on a steel chassis that was chosen since Jaguar did not expect to sell more than 200 examples in the first year.

The euphoria the Bronze XK120 show car received immediately prompted Sir William Lyons to rethink his initial plan for hand-building a few hundred Roadsters. In the end, production spanned five years with Roadster, Fixed Head Coupe, and Drophead Coupe body styles, and a total production volume of 12,055 examples. The model spawned the XK140 and 150, both of which were successful in their own right. The XK engine was equally successful with the basic design helped power a whole range of Jaguars right up until the late 1980s.

After 242 aluminum-bodied examples were created, a new all-steel paneled body was developed in conjunction with the Pressed Steel Fisher Company, which retained the appearance of the coach-built original while differing in minor external details. Aluminum doors, bonnet, and boot lid were retained.

The C-Type Sports Racing Car
Sir William Lyons watched as a team of XK120s competed at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1950, and while the cars performed admirably (with one finishing in the top 12 and Leslie Johnson's care spending considerable time in 4th place), he recognized that further development work on the chassis would be necessary in order to be truly competitive. Thus began the C-Type Project, with the 'C' representing 'Competition').

Lyons and engineer Bill Heynes were convinced that a more aerodynamic and lighter body with modified XK120 mechanical components had a strong chance of vying for outright victory. Development promptly commenced, starting with a new lightweight tubular space frame, one of the very first applications of the technique in sports car construction. The XK engine was given a new cylinder head, racing pistons, an un-muffled dual exhaust system, and high-lift camshafts, bringing the motor's output to 200 horsepower. The rear suspension was redesigned with additional positioning links to cope with cornering at speed. The new exquisite and aerodynamic coachwork was the most visual change, with the fluidic and curvaceous design jointly developed by William Heynes, R J (Bob) Knight, and later Malcolm Sayer. The XK120 had been created in a mere six weeks and it seems fitting that the first three C-Types were hand-built in only six weeks. These were the first purpose-built race cars for Jaguar specifically designed to win at Le Mans.

Initially known as the XK120C (again, C for competition), the C-Type debuted at Le Mans in 151 with a team of factory-sponsored cars. Oil line issues sidelined two of the three entries (the cars driven by Stirling Moss and Jack Fairman, Leslie Johnson and Clemente Biondetti), with the car driven by Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead taking the overall victory, something that a British car had not done in nearly twenty years. A privately entered Jaguar XK120 owned by Robert Lawrie and co-drive by Ivan Waller finished in 11th place. The race-winning car had won convincingly, 77 miles ahead of the 2nd place finisher, and set the following records: fastest lap speed of 105.232 mph, 24-hour speed record of 93.495 mph, and greatest distance traveled in 24 hours at 2,243.886 miles.

The XK120 had created a sensation upon its debut and the C-Type followed in its footsteps, with demand soon outpacing production. They were sold for approximately $6,000 each which was about double the price of an XK120. A total of 53 C-Types were built, 43 of which were sold to privateers in the United States.

Jaguar returned to Le Mans with the C-Type in 1952, with modifications to the aerodynamics to increase the top speed in response to reports about the speed of the Mercedes-Benz 300SLs. The rearrangement of the cooling system made the cars susceptible to overheating, and all three C-Types retired early from the race. The car driven by Peter Whitehead/Ian Stewart and Tony Rolt/Duncan Hamilton blew head gaskets, and the Stirling Moss/Peter Walker car that had the only full-sized radiator hurriedly fitted, lost oil pressure after a mechanical breakage.

Future testing revealed that the cooling system alterations, an undersized water pump pulley, inadequately sized tubing, and the distance of the header tank from the radiator, had caused the overheating more than the aerodynamic changes. The changes to the body shape, however, had reduced downforce to the tail resulting in directional instability at speeds exceeding 120 mph.

In preparation for the 1953 Le Mans race, the C-Types received thin-gauge aluminum bodies, thinner gauge steel for some of the chassis tubes, a fully synchronized gearbox and triple-plate clutch, an additional upper link to the rear axle, lighter electrical equipment, a rubber aircraft bag fuel tank bladder, disc brakes, and three DCO3 40mm Weber carburetors replacing the original H8 sand cast SU units.

For the second time in only three attempts, the Jaguar C-Type won at LeMans, with the winning car driven by Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt averaging 105.85 mph, which was the first time Le Mans had been won at an average speed exceeding 100 miles per hour. The C-Type also placed second and fourth.

The three C-Types that contested the 1953 LeMans race were chassis number XKC 051, XKC 052, and XKC 053, and were among the final examples constructed. They were the only lightweight C-Types built by the factory and were the first disc-brake-equipped entrants to ever contest Le Mans, being the only cars so outfitted among the 1953 field. This setup proved to be quite significant in the race's outcome. Chassis 051 had finished first, 053 in second, and 052 a few laps behind in 4th. Chassis number 052 had been tested by Norman Dewis in preparation for the racing, and wore number 19 during the race, and was piloted by Peter Whitehead and Ian Stewart. Stewart concluded the driving duties at the end of the 24 hours, with 052 completing 297 laps with an average speed of nearly 167 km/h. Briggs Cunningham's C5-R prevented a 1-2-3 by the Coventry team by finishing 3rd.

The C-Type proved to be one of the greatest all-encompassing sports racing cars of the 1956s and 1960s, winning at LeMans and racing in the Mille Miglia, Goodwood, and the Monaco Grand Prix. They competed all over the United States, Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, and Sebring, one even ran the Carrera Panamerican. The C-Type brought Jaguar international recognition and was the first-ever competition model from a company that had no experience in international motor racing. It was well-balanced, fast, and breath-takingly beautiful, capable of racing or being driven on the road.

by Daniel Vaughan | May 2020

Related Reading : Jaguar C-Type History

The Jaguar C-Type was produced from 1951 to 1953 with an estimated 54 being produced. After a team of Jaguar XK 120C, the C representing competition, vehicles had an excellent showing at LeMans, William Lyons commissioned a car to be built that could contend for the overall victory. Malcom Sayer designed the aerodynamic body and Bob Knight was responsible for the lightweight, multi-tubular,....
Continue Reading >>

1952 Vehicle Profiles

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information

Chassis Num: 771577

A team of Jaguar XK120s ran at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1950 with one finishing in 12th place. William Lyons realized the cars potential but also the need for better development to become a contender for the overall victory. ....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Chassis Num: XKC055

William Lyons introduced his XK 120 at the 1948 London Motor Show. The war had just ended and the country was ready to resume and reassemble their lives. Lyons underestimated the appeal of the XK 120, as interest and demand for the vehicle skyrocke....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Driven to Victory by Phil Hill
Jaguar developed the XK-120 in the late 1940's. It proved to be fast and affordable, and it immediately began to break existing speed records. From the base XK-120, Jaguar developed the XK-120 C-Type to comp....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Chassis Num: XKC 030

Of the 54 Jaguar C-Types that left the factory between 1951 and 1953, this particular car with chassis number XKC 030, has had probably the longest continuous racing career. From its first outings at MacDill Air Force Base and at the 12 Hours of Seb....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Chassis Num: XKC007

The Jaguar XK120C, where the C stood for competition, quickly became known as the Jaguar C-Type. Many were sold to private race drivers all over the world. This example, chassis number 007, was the first C-Type delivered to United States in 1952. Its....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Chassis Num: XKC 017

'A car that has lived many lives.' Shipped to the West Coast in October of 1951 and delivered through Hornburg Jaguar in Los Angeles to the first owner, Sterling Edwards of San Francisco. Edwards raced XKC 017 all around the California racing scene a....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Chassis Num: 009

Chassis number 009 was one of 53 C-Type's built by Jaguar. It also was one of two 'C' Type's sent to the United States to compete. The European C-Type's won LeMans in 1951 and placed 1st, 2nd & 4th in 1953. It was built for Max Hoffman of New York Ci....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


The Jaguar C-Type is a racing sports car built by Jaguar and sold from 1951 to 1953. The 'C' stands for 'competition'. The car used the XK 120 running gear of the contemporary road-proven model but in a lightweight tubular frame designed with an aero....[continue reading]

1952 Jaguar C-Type vehicle information


Chassis Num: XKC 014
Engine Num: E-1014-8

This Jaguar C-Type, chassis number 014, was supplied through Max Hoffman's in New York to Commander John 'Jack' Rutherford of Florida. It was dispatched from the Brown's Lane Works on October 7th, 1952 finished in Cream with a Suede Green interior, p....[continue reading]

Chassis #: 771577 
Chassis #: XKC055 
Chassis #: XKC 030 
Chassis #: XKC007 
Chassis #: XKC 017 
Chassis #: 009 
Chassis #: XKC 014 

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