Jaguar’s back catalogue is filled with an exhaustive selection of iconic cars, with those boasting of motorsport success alongside the usual Jaguar virtues of style and speed are among the most desirable available. The D-Type is at the firm’s sporting peak, and as a result stands as one of the most iconic and desirable cars the firm has ever produced.
The stunning body wasn’t simply designed for aesthetic purposes, though. The D-Type was intended for competition use, and it had a hard act to follow. Following on from the C-Type - itself a double winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans - the D-Type’s body was designed with a minimal frontal area to reduce aerodynamic drag. Straight-line stability was improved thanks to the distinctive fin, which ran from behind the driver’s head to the rear of the car.
The lightweight monocoque chassis clad in aluminium panels kept weight comfortably below 900kg, and while much of the suspension and braking systems were shared with its predecessor, a new dry sump lubrication for the engine helped to boost handling by lowering the car’s centre of gravity.
A combination of aerodynamic efficiency and the 250bhp 3.4-litre straight six engine enabled the D-Type to hit a top speed of 172.8mph at its 1954 debut at the 24 hours of Le Mans - over 12mph higher than its rivals from Ferrari could achieve. Though mechanical troubles confined it to a second place finish on its Le Mans debut, changes for the following season onwards resulted in three consecutive Le Mans victories, plus a win at the Sebring 12 Hours, firmly stamping its place in motorsports history.
Which one to buy?
A total of 87 D-Types were produced over four years: 18 were factory-run examples, 53 were sold to privateers, and 16 of the more road-biased XKSS ended the production run. There are many convincing replicas and a few less impressive kit cars on the market too, if you can't quite stretch to an original.
Cars produced in 1954 are known as the ‘short nose’ models. After experience gained from the D-Type’s first year at Le Mans, Jaguar stretched the nose by 191mm to improve stability. Engine capacity increased from 3.4 to 3.8 litres, courtesy of larger valves and a redesigned cylinder head. Along with the introduction of a mechanical fuel injection system to replace the carb-fed fuel system, power increased by about 50bhp, with total output standing somewhere in the region of 300bhp.
The XKSS gained a number of changes to make it more agreeable to live with away from the track. A second seat was fitted beside the driver (plus access to it via a second door), while a full windscreen, side windows and folding hood (at the expense of the rear fin) improved practicality. The interior was trimmed in leather, and bumpers were fitted front and rear. 25 examples were originally intended to be produced, but the final nine were destroyed in a factory fire, and with it much of the original tooling was lost.
Jaguar Classic has actually announced that it is planning to build the ‘missing’ nine vehicles, following on from the six continuation cars that it built in 2015. The new cars will be built at Jaguar’s ‘Experimental Shop’ in Warwick, utilising modern techniques and knowledge gained from the Lightweight E-type program. Just like the original 16 XKSS models, each one will be entirely hand-built – to the original specifications
Performance and specs
Engine 3442cc inline six
Power 250bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 242lb ft @ 4000rpm
Top speed 175mph
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
● With a car so rare and exclusive, almost every example will be able to boast such a detailed history that there shouldn’t be much to worry about from a buyer’s point of view
● Any car capable of winning at Le Mans three times in a row is going to be pretty solid mechanically. If you do intend to give your car a serious workout, it’s worth knowing that 1954 models were known to suffer from fuel filter issues – troubles which arguably cost them victory in 1954
1954: D-Type entered for competition to replace the C-Type
1955: Modifications for the second year of competition included a longer nose and an increase in engine capacity to 3.8 litres
March 1955: D-Type takes victory at Sebring 12 Hours
June 1955: takes first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory
June 1956: privateer-run Ecurie Ecosse D-Type wins 24 Hours of Le Mans
June 1957: Ecurie Ecosse take a 1-2 at Le Mans, with D-Types taking five of the top six places at the finish
March 1957: XKSS released, with more road-biased set up and accommodation
1957: Production ends
Owners clubs, forums and websites
● www.jaguarownersclub.com – Jaguar Owners Club
● www.jec.org.uk – Jaguar Enthusiasts' Club
● www.jaguarheritage.com – a wide-ranging resource which maintains archives containing technical publications and chassis numbers for Jaguar’s historic models
Summary and prices
Sales for such a rare vehicle are few and far between, so predictably values are very high whenever an example finally becomes available. The current record value at auction for a D-Type stands at £3.03million, for a 1955 car initially bought by Australian Privateer Bob Stillwell. Other values in recent years stand at approximately £2.58million in December 2013, £2.4million in March 2015, and £2.05million in 2010.
All of these prices were recently eclipsed at the 2016 Monterey auctions, as the 1955 Jaguar D-Type – which won Le Mans in 1956 – sold for $21,780,000, the highest price ever paid for any other British car at auction.
Words: Alex Ingram