Jaguar’s prolific wins at Le Mans tally up to an impressive 7 outright victories, with the last one coming in 1988 via the XJR9 Group C ‘Silk Cut’ racecar. After Jaguar pulled out of competitive Motorsport in 1955 (following the horrific crash at Le Mans where 83 spectators were killed), it became the duty of various privateer teams to honour and preserve the Jaguar name, occasionally with unofficial support and assistance from Jaguar themselves.
The XJ13 of 1966 was essentially Jaguar’s attempt to return to competitive racing with a fully-fledged works racecar and was built specifically to race against the Ford GT40 and Ferrari P4 at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours race. Yet, rather sadly, it never even made it over to France – rule changes for the year capped engine capacities at 3 litres and the XJ13’s V12 was a snip under 5 litres.
Designed by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, whose previously impressive creations included the C-type and D-type, the XJ13 was a race car through and through with styling taking a backseat to aerodynamic efficiency. In the case of the XJ13 though, it was a stunning creation of a flowing, aggressive sculpture where operative begets brutal elegance…
The whole project itself was overseen by techinical director Bill Heynes and noted engine designer Claude Bailey, who both shared a passion for seeing Jaguar return to racing after over a decade’s absence. The main highlight of the XJ13 project was its monstrous V12 engine – a quad-cam, 5-litre beast exerting 502 bhp. The 1248-kg XJ13 was extensively tested in ’66 by Jaguar’s legendary test-driver, Norman Dewis, at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) and managed to set a new lap-record time on the MIRA circuit, helped along by hitting 175 mph on the straights alone.
As testing and tuning wore on though, the XJ13 was deemed unlikely to prove competitive against the Fords and Ferraris of the day (not least because of the engine-cap regulation change as well) and the entire project was eventually abandoned into a corner of the Jaguar factory. Though, not all was lost during this exercise, as lessons learned during the development stages of that brutal V12 eventually trickled down into the road-going versions – an engine constant within the Jaguar line-up from 1971 – 1996.
It wasn’t to be the end of the story for the XJ13 though. After sitting for 4 years under a dustcover, the car was rolled out to MIRA in ’71 to be driven by Norman Dewis for a promotional film. Dewis was blasting past the cameras at speeds of 145 mph when the rear offside wheel broke away under load, sending the car into a series of dramatic somersaults before it finally came to rest. Amazingly, Dewis emerged alive and intact, the car not-so much. Despite the overwhelming wreckage, the XJ13 was rebuilt and its beautiful body panels were lovingly re-created by Abbey Panels.
To this day, the lone XJ13 (there was only ever 1 built) remains one of the most stunning racing cars ever (and never) produced. It was simplicity and beauty resulting from the burgeoning aero-knowledge of the day and a reminding testament to those that designed with their pencils and dreamt with their hearts…
**Nice on-board clip here from the Motor Trend folks…
**And a beautiful short film documenting the inspirational importance of the legendary XJ13 when Jaguar was recently tasked with creating their gorgeous CX-75 concept supercar.