Simanaitis Says

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By 1953, JAGUAR had a real success story in its C-Type. This British racing sports car was introduced in 1951 and won that year’s Le Mans 24-hour race in its first time out.

The next year, Jaguar worried about Mercedes-Benz and its 300SL being prepared for Le Mans. Jaguar countered with modified aerodynamics to increase the C-Type’s top speed, though all it achieved was engine overheating.

By 1953, the problem was rectified and C-Types dominated Le Mans, the Jaguar team placing first, second, and fourth. One of American Briggs Cunningham’s C-5Rs precluded a complete Coventry podium. And, in August 1953, R&T got a phone call from up-and-coming Missouri driver Masten Gregory.

Masten Gregory, 1932–1985, American race driver, in Formula One between 1957 and 1965. Known for his fearless approach to motor racing, Masten survived to die in his sleep of a heart attack. This Image from Motor Sport magazine.

Masten made a deal with R&T: If his C-Type made it through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park racing, the magazine could have it for a test. Indeed, Masten and the car won the Guardsman Trophy Race, his second significant win in what was to be a most successful career.

Masten in C-Type No. 58 proved triumphant dueling with Jack Armstrong’s Cad-Allard at Golden Gate. This and other images from R&T, August 1953.

“The most important thing to note about this test,” R&T wrote, “is that the car came to us exactly in the condition in which it finished the race, including the optional axle ratio of 3.92.” Befitting Le Mans intent, the standard C-Type rear axle was 18-percent longer-legged at 3.31.

Masten’s short-course ratio benefited his car’s 0-60-mph performance of 6.6 seconds and quarter-mile average of 15.25 seconds. Its estimated top speed of 141 mph compared with the C-Type Le Mans cars’ 150+ when fitted with the 3.31 ratio.

R&T also assembled acceleration data on the entire XK series, including those from other sources. Note, for example, the British C-Type data reflect a Le Mans rear axle.

XK Jags were powered by a classic long-stroke inline-six displacing 3442 cc. Contrasting with anything considered a “square” design, the XK’s bore was 3.27 in., its stroke 4.17 in.

C-Type 3442-cc long-stroke inline-six.

Long-stroke designs have a rich tradition in Britain, at least in part because of an arcane taxation scheme. Such engines are known for their low rev limits (even the “modern” C-Type’s was 5700) and prodigious torque (note R&T’s “Off scale” for the C-Type’s Tapley Meter readings).

The C-Type’s interior contrasted with starkly finished competition counterparts. Note the carpeted surfaces and door pockets. I’ve ridden in a C-Type; and while I have new respect for folks driving one in Le Mans endurance stints, it wasn’t utterly uncomfortable.

Concluded R&T: “All in all, it’s difficult to criticize anything on the XK-120 C. Designed as a competition car, it achieves that purpose quite well. If it falls short of the comfort features which we maintain to be the prerogative of all sports cars, it can only be blamed on the intensity of sports car competition which, unfortunately, begins to overlook the original definition of a sports car—’suitable for both competition and everyday driving.’ ”

Count on R&T, 1953, to convey John R. Bond’s purist view. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

One comment on “JAGUAR C-TYPE

  1. Skip
    November 27, 2017

    One of the most important and iconic cars of all time as far as I’m concerned. Have you seen the video footage of Lofty England explaining why the front ends were modified for ’52? He takes a very dim view of Moss, who insisted on a higher top speed to beat Mercedes. Moss went around Lofty to make his case directly to Lyons. I suppose England was right – the process was shunted and a high price was paid. But I couldn’t help but cringe at the high-minded criticism of Moss.

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This entry was posted on November 26, 2017 by in Classic Bits and tagged , , , .
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