Jaguar Sports cars: A C-D-E-F Guide… By Richard Aucock
The F-Type is far from a flash in the pan for Jaguar. It’s been doing this sports car stuff for years. And Teamspeed was lucky enough to sample all three alphabetic predecessors of F at the Goodwood circuit recently. From the passenger seat, admittedly – but given the rain and the fact these cars are all priceless, we deemed that no bad thing…
They’re priceless because they’re amazing, with the C-type kicking the Jaguar sports car story off in 1951. Essentially a racing version of the iconic XK 120, work on the ‘XK 120 C’ project was started in 1950: the following year, it won Le Mans (how’s about that for instant success). There was a stutter in 1952 due to overheating issues but it was back in 1953 to scoop the 24-Hour crown once again. That’s why prices of even the baggiest models are now nudging $1m… The C-type
Sat on the Goodwood pit wall admiring it, I can confirm the Malcolm Sawyer-designed racing car is as beautiful in the metal as it seems on screen. The starting point of the lineage is simple, sensuously sculpted, smooth and slippery: quite sublime. Even better from inside too, where I sit, slightly cramped and very honoured. This, see, is Fangio’s old car, now part of the Jaguar Heritage Racing team that’s won this year at the Monaco Historique, Nurburgring AvD Oldtimer GP and Goodwood Revival.
The last time I was on track at Goodwood, I was in a McLaren MP4-12C. The time before that, I was in a Jaguar XKR-S. So how strange it was to be enjoying the bizarre comfort and measured dignity of a C-type out on the famous circuit. This, see, will be a complete headrush to modern car drivers – it’s soft, supple, friendly and seemingly without anything like the bite of current sportscars, despite itself being a racing car.
That corner you can see far ahead? The driver will already be sawing at the wheel to set the C up for it, front and rear of the car slipping and crabbing and nibbling all the time at the tarmac. I’ve now felt why oldtimer drivers are constantly grappling with the wheel – it’s because the car is constantly pattering at the road surface, like a scurrying ant. Once in the corner, this sawing intensifies and, even on the exit, the driver must remain busy if the car isn’t to understeer, oversteer or do one of the myriad other deviations it warns you of.
Here’s the thing, though: the car DOES warn you, all the time. Even as a passenger, I could feel this. At first, this lack of bite and purchase on the road surface felt ghostly to me, like we were driving on ice. The only bit that felt confident was braking – well, the C-type did pioneer disc brakes on competition cars…
But then, I made the connection between steering wheel inputs and the sensations I was experiencing just before. Then it clicked – this is simply a car that wears its heart and its handling characteristics on its sleeve. About which it shouts about, loudly. The D-type
I wasn’t sure what this taught me about the F-Type, other than the fact it was beautiful and priceless and iconic. And so to the next in the lineage, the D-type. Pioneering monocoque construction, this is an original aero icon, from its driver fairing with shark-fin rear to the half-faired rear wheels. Also note the aero-tuned oval air intake, something that would become a Jaguar sports car icon signature finally evolved by the F-Type but not without much internal debate…
Even lighter than the C-type (weighing under 900kg, remarkably), this 285bhp D-type has the most awe-inspiring 3.4-litre straight six engine roar, whose additional intensity over the C-type was heightened by the fact your passenger-riding correspondent was sat so damn high. A selfish racer designed around its driver, passengers are an afterthought here, which is why the Jaguar team boss warned me to duck down on straights. This was a 170mph car at Le Mans: my head did risk being wrenched off.
But with the noise and the rain and the flurry of driver inputs from my right, I really didn’t mind. Simply being in a Jaguar that won Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957 was enough. Lest we forget, this beautiful and iconic car had a shape so cleverly designed that it actually produced active downforce at high speed. Jaguar’s sports car heritage was about smart engineering as well as elegance, then – even if I was ruining all Sawyer’s work by poking half my torso right across the aero path… The E-type
Then onto the daddy. The elegance of C and the technical brilliance of D came together brilliantly in the 1961 E-type. This car needs no explanation. It is perfect. I need say no more.
Other than… well, that this was the most thrilling ride around Goodwood of all. Driven by Jaguar Heritage Racing star Alex Buncombe, this car has won Class A of the E-type Challenge and, from the moment the 23 year old roars out the pits, it’s not hard to see why. Does he hustle it? Does he drive it like with the intensity and measured brutality of a modern GT racer, rather than a decades-old heritage car? Does he make it feel ever-electrified as it’s driven constantly on the edge, nibbling and darting just fractions on the right side of the limit? Does he ever. And it’s brilliant.
This is the car that took me sideways onto the straights, four-wheel drifting though corners and into the fastest parts with a nose-led directness simply unmatched by the other cars. To Alex, this isn’t a heritage car, but just another racer, which he wants to drive as rapidly as possible. Which is so brilliantly, excitingly refreshing compared to the usual meandering heritage drives, you can’t imagine. The F-Type, the past and the future
It takes us perfectly onto the F-Type. Alas, no passenger rides in this, simply sits-within and plenty of ogling. So where does it sit within this Jaguar sports car lineage? Well, naturally, the most far removed are C and F: the old car looks tiny, skeletal, next to the new F, although still apparent are the pronounced wheelarches and muscular rear haunches that characterise all Jaguar sports cars.
The D-type has more attitude. It is much wider, this time with too much body for its wheels rather than too little. The fabulous aero aid is obvious, but the contradictions of the aero even more so: fairing in the top of the rear wheels is fine but leaving the bottom half so exposed surely counters this? No matter, though: it’s still a stunning car, the most space age of all four here (and that’s despite the F-Type’s modernity).
Which takes us onto the sublime E-type. Perfectly proportioned, pretty, friendly, warm: a supermodel you can’t help but love to be friends with rather than just look at. Alongside which, the F-Type is..?
Well, it has similar confidence on the road, a similar rightness of proportions. The lines are subtle, more delicate in depth than the E-Type but, front end apart, still strongly demonstrating less is more ideals. The rear end is currently my favourite, whose bold undercut is strongly resplendent of the E-type but with a modern edge that is already wonderful. The way doors blend into prominent rear arches is arguably even more pleasing than the E-type, bordering on D-type for drama.
The nose defines the E-type. How does the F-Type compare? In images, middlingly: the bumper looks overburdened with cooling slots and, thus, overaggressive. That’s a trick of 2D, though. In the metal, Callum’s graceful subtlety shows through. You need three dimensions to take in and appreciate the car’s gentle curvature and tightly-packed proportions. Less is more here: that less doesn’t always come across so well in images shouldn’t put you off the F-Type. C, D, E and F?
But the crunch question still remains: is it worthy of the name? Is it a deserving successor to the E-type? That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a call we can make today. The E-type is an icon and you don’t get to be an icon overnight.
What we can say is that the F-Type is everything it needs to be – modern, well proportioned, carrying family lineage without being retro. That last bit is crucial: Jaguar could have made a car heavily influenced by the E-type but, as the C-type and D-type prove here, that wouldn’t be a genuine Jaguar sports car.
They, it seems, look forward, rather than back: modern-contemporary rather than remixing the past. How successful the F-Type is here must thus be judged not now, but in a few years’ time. As the lineage proves, it’s got quite an act to follow. Do you reckon it’s up to it?