Car Restoration Projects
Jaguar Continuation C-Type
‘Continuation’ replica historic vehicles are becoming big business. The Jaguar Continuation department behind the revivals of the XKSS, E-Type Lightweight and D-Type has turned its sights to the 1953 Le Mans winner.
The Continuation C-Types are being built at the Jaguar Classic Works ‘dream factory’ in Coventry. Complementing the use of the same authentic techniques and build methods as the original, the C-type Continuation is the first Jaguar Classic car to be fully reproduced using 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) for modern engineering excellence.
Durability testing and FIA-approved safety systems ensure each car is track-ready.
So, why was the 1953 C-Type chosen for Continuation immortality?
On its first attempt in 1951, the race-specification C-type became the first Jaguar to win the hallowed 24 Hours of Le Mans, breaking previous winners’ speed and distance records in the process.
The car combined the running gear of the contemporary, road-proven Jaguar XK120, with a lightweight tubular frame designed by Jaguar Chief Engineer William Heynes and an aerodynamic aluminium body, jointly developed by William Heynes, R J (Bob) Knight and later, Malcolm Sayer.
Both the XK120 and C-Type had independent, torsion-bar front suspension, but the XK120’s leaf springs and lever-arm shock absorbers were replaced by the C-Type’s torsion-bar, trailing-arm and Panhard-rod rear suspension, with telescopic shock absorbers.
The 1951 car was strong, but the 1952 C-Type had to compete with the new Mercedes-Benz 300SL on the long straights of the Circuit de la Sarthe. It was given more aerodynamic bodywork, but the changes had an adverse effect on airflow though the engine compartment and the C-Types all suffered from overheating.
The company had been racing C-Types for only two years, but it had already set a high standard for itself and took the failures personally.
For 1953, Jaguar came back with an even faster C-Type that cooled optimally. It also had Weber carburettors instead of SUs and debuted Dunlop-designed disc brakes that were previously tested before the 1952 race.
It made the C-Type the first-ever car equipped with disc brakes at Le Mans, then, 24 hours later, the first-ever car to win Le Mans with disc brakes.
The 1953 car was not just a little bit faster, either. In 1951, the C-Type winner covered an impressive 2243 miles in 24 hours. The 1953 winner covered 2540 miles on the same track in the same time, becoming the first-ever overall winner to eclipse an average speed over 100mph.
The Jaguar C-Type’s story ends there, because Jaguar was ready to debut its iconic D-Type one year later. Only 53 C-Types were built, 43 of which were sold to private owners, mainly in the USA.
The D-Type retained the C-Type’s conquering powertrain and running gear, but had a monocoque ‘tub’ body that was stronger and lighter than the C-Type’s tubular frame.
The company won Le Mans three more times with the D-Type in its golden age, then two more in the Group C era of the late 1980s.
Jaguar C-Type in Ecurie Ecosse livery – Eagleash
While the 1951 C-Type is the company’s first Le Mans winner and the D-Type is still the car racing fans associate with the name ‘Jaguar’, the 1953 C-Type’s world-beating feat makes it perhaps the most significant of the company’s seven overall Le Mans winners.
That’s why, in 2021, 70 years since its breathtaking beauty and brawn burst onto the world’s racetracks, Jaguar restarted production on a strictly limited run of 1953-specification, hand-built C-types. 3
The majority of the original C-Types that were produced throughout the 1950s were customer cars, built to the specifications of the 1951 car. That leaves so few 1953 cars that even the best surviving examples are too rare to vintage race at anything but the year’s most significant events.
The Jaguar C-Type Continuation prototype, however, completed more than 1000 miles of high-speed testing to ensure it can be driven as intended the day it is delivered. Hopefully, owners will drive them many, many days after that.
The Continuation models will allow discerning owners to get behind the wheels for Jaguar Classic Challenge racing, track and closed-road use.
The C-Type Continuation
Created with unparalleled attention to detail and craftsmanship, each C-type Continuation reflects the 1953 Le Mans-winning works team car specification, including its 220bhp, 3.4-litre straight-six engine with triple 40DCO3 Weber carburettors and revolutionary disc brakes that contributed to its record-breaking triumph.
The 3.4-litre straight-six engine takes nine months to construct and aligns to Weber carburettors that are all meticulously refurbished by a single technician to an exacting standard. The Plessey hydraulic pump on the gearbox is also in-period.
Famed for its progressive design and aerodynamic shape, the 1953 C-Type’s unbeatable performance on the track was aided by iconic air-intake technology, combined with a thinner gauged lightweight aluminium body.
The 1953 C-type’s engineering innovations set the tone for the whole industry: most notably the first use of pioneering disc brake technology, developed in partnership with Dunlop. The new braking system provided the prolonged resistance to fade required for speed and distance racing.
The original Lucas rear-view mirror was sourced, as part of a relentless pursuit of authentic components. This complements the three-quarter Brooklands race screen, original-spec’ Smiths clocks and gauges and surrounding switches.
One of 12 exterior heritage colours is matched with racing seats finished in one of eight leather hues. Enhancing the Continuation story, the Rexine covering on the dashboard and side panels is from the last roll of the original material available.
When new, the car sold for about US$6000, or aorund twice the price of an XK120. In an article in the June 2003 issue of Autocar magazine the value of a ‘genuine, healthy’ C-Type was estimated as Stg£400,000, and the value of the 1953 Le Mans winner was about Stg£2 million.
Various makers around the world, including New Zealand, have made replicas that range from Stg£40,000.
A C-Type once owned and raced by Phil Hill sold at an American auction in August 2009 for US$2,530,000 and another C-type was sold at the Pebble Beach auction in 2012 for $3,725,000.
Shortly after that, an unrestored C-Type that raced at Le Mans sold for Stg£5,715,580, during the Grand Prix Historique race meeting in Monaco.
In August 2015, an ex-Ecurie Ecosse Lightweight C-type, chassis XKC052 and the second of only three works lightweights, driven by Peter Whitehead and Ian Stewart to fourth at the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hour, fetched US$13.2 million at auction in California.
How do those prices compare with the cost of a current-build Continuation C-Type? A Jaguar executive would not give us an exact figure, but told us that previous Jaguar Classic Continuation cars have typically cost between US$1.3 and US$2.7 million.