Even among D-Types this is a unique car. It is the factory prototype for the machine which set the seal on the Jaguar Le Mans legend, culminating in a hat-trick of victories from 1955 to 1957. With its advanced monocoque construction and beautiful low-drag body, it maximised the potential of the XK engine, offering over 170mph while remaining tractable enough to be driven on the road. Indeed the works cars were driven from Coventry to Dover, onto the ferry, and then down the main roads to the French circuit.
One of the production units of the above prototype fetched £2,2 million at Bonhams auction in 2008, So the valuation of this unit must be staggering.
Although the C-Type had decisively beaten Europe’s best at Le Mans in 1951 and 1953, the threat from Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari made it clear to Jaguar Team Manager ‘Lofty’ England and engineer Bill Heynes that they needed a new car. This was the result – stronger, lighter and faster than the C-type, yet powered by a 270bhp development of the same XK engine. This meant that private owners could easily buy and maintain these cars, which offered a useful back-up to the works team.
This prototype was completed in May 1954, and immediately travelled to France for the Le Mans test session where development driver Norman Dewis broke the Lap record by five clear seconds. Back at Coventry it was used for more development work, while a further three D-types were built for the race itself. In the event fuel contamination sidelined two cars, but the third finished second after a Ferrari. Victories at Reims and Sebring were a promising pointer for the following year, when Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb won Le Mans – Jaguar’s third victory.
In 1956 two works cars crashed and one suffered engine failure, but the honours fell to another D-type of the private Ecurie Ecosse team. In 1957 Ecurie Ecosse brought Jaguar’s total to five Le Mans wins, three of them for the D-type – a world beating sports-racing car, which you could buy from a Jaguar dealer and drive home.