Jaguar’s chief engineer William Heynes said that until he went to the 1950 Le Mans race, he had “never seriously contemplated designing a car for racing.” Then he watched Leslie Johnson push his more or less standard XK 120 as high as 3rd until the clutch failed.

William Lyons watched the race with Heynes, and Johnson’s performance was enough to convince Lyons of the car’s potential: Jaguar was going racing, with the aim to win Le Mans in 1951.

Work began on the prototypes in autumn 1950, and the XK 120C-the C stood for “competition”-became known as the C-type Jaguar. Three C-types lined up for Le Mans in 1951. An oil pipe flange failure eliminated two cars, while Peter Whitehead and Peter Walker took the victory a staggering 77 miles ahead of the second place finisher. Jaguar would win Le Mans five times in the 1950s.

Three months later, in the Tourist Trophy, C-types came 1st, 2nd, and 4th. Stirling Moss rounded off the C-type’s debut season by winning at Goodwood in September. Works cars and privately owned C-types had won numerous races in Britain by the end of 1952.

Delivery of production C-types to the United States began in August 1952, and the cars made their mark in the hands of Sherwood Johnson, John Fitch, and-most notably-Phil Hill.

Chassis number XKC007 was delivered to New York on August 1, 1952, to its first owner, Charles Hornburg, Jaguar’s West Coast dealer, based in Beverly Hills. Hornburg had convinced William Lyons that competing in America would increase sales, and XKC007 was the very first C-type to arrive in the U.S.

The Jaguar C-type Roadster was driven straight to Elkhart Lake for the last-ever street race on the 6.5-mile Wisconsin circuit, held September 6-7. Hornburg hired Phil Hill to race XKC007, with George Weaver driving a second C-type Roadster, XKC009. Hill took the victory, Phil Walters’s Ferrari was 2nd, and George Weaver 3rd.

Phil Hill recalled the arrival of XKC007 in America. “It was a big moment. These cars were not just a replacement for the XK 120. People expected these cars to be a darn sight better. The 120 was ‘gee whiz’ in ’49 and still ‘gee whiz’ in ’50 but by ’51 they were passé. I was just in awe of the C-type when I first stepped into it. The steering was light-almost scary light. It was the first car I ever drove that had a really precise feel about it-it really felt like a racing car.”

XKC007 was purchased by noted C- and D-type expert Terry Larson in 1986 and completely restored. At the time, the original head was not installed, but it has since been reunited with the car and is included in the sale. The current owner has shown the car at concours events since 1993 and achieved many 100-point scores and first places in the Jaguar Club of North America competitions. This 1952 C-type Roadster was awarded the Best Sports Car Award at Meadow Brook in 1996 and was Second in Class at Pebble Beach in 1997.

The glorious C-type Jaguar presented here would grace all the great historic events of the world and could surely be a race winner once again. Phil Hill described this car as “the most tractable go-to-the-store-type sports racing car I have ever driven.”

SCM Analysis

Detailing

This 1952 Jaguar C-type Roadster sold for $2,530,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s auction in Monterey, California, on August 15, 2009.

“Liquid-smooth puddles of aluminum alloy…” While not an opening line, that quote from Burt Levy’s
acclaimed novel, The Last Open Road, is the auto aficionado equivalent of “Call me Ishmael.” In our case it was Levy’s fictional mechanic Buddy Palumbo’s reaction to the first time he ever saw a Jaguar C-type.

The early 1950s was a time when the standard street sedan, whether in Europe or America, cut either a plain or a brutish figure. As for the more potent machines, of course there was always Ferrari. But most red-blooded Italian cars were quite over the top. The cars coming from Britain included such potent but awkward creatures as the Healey Silverstone and the Allards. By contrast, the C-type was the epitome of understated elegance and remains one of the purest examples among automobiles of the marriage of form and function.

Whatever its technical or stylistic merits, the C-type had other attributes deserving recognition. Jaguar designers had but one objective in mind over the winter of 1950-51-to win June’s Le Mans 24 Hours. The C-type did so handily, and the win extended the life of the C-type to 1953 for the Works effort, and well beyond for many customer cars.

The last racer to be driven from the factory to Le Mans

The other enduring memory is that the C-type was perhaps the last Le Mans racer to be driven from its birthplace in Coventry directly to the Sarthe. Other cars have paraded around outside the circuit, but the C-type was the last pure dual-purpose sports car.

The C-type Roadster was also one of the first sports cars to seriously balance power and aerodynamics. The racing C-type positioned Jaguar firmly as a manufacturer of cars equally capable of quick laps or a stylish drive to the theater.

While principal rival Ferrari was engaged in a spiral of increasing engine displacement, William Heynes opted for a more measured response. The lines of the C-type emphasized a reduction in drag, while gas flow gurus Walter Hassan and Harry Weslake tweaked the inline-6 to eke out more power.

The engine’s principal advantage was that it breathed through dual-overhead camshafts. Jaguar was the first large-scale constructor to take this route that until then had mostly been championed by specialty manufacturers. A C-type won Le Mans convincingly in 1951 and a production run of nearly 50 cars followed, with most achieving success at home and abroad. Recognizing the importance of developing the American market, XKC007 was the first of several dispatched to the U.S. in the second half of 1952.

To paraphrase the esteemed philosopher Yogi Berra, 90% of automotive history is half about the people: The late Phil Hill is one of the few Americans who, when associated with a car, can immediately add zeroes to its value.

Hill drove XKC007 from Watkins Glen to California

It is a measure of both the man and the car that after already having raced the XK 120 as well as several Ferraris, he pronounced the C-type Roadster as the first that “really felt like a racing car.” It is a measure of the times to note how the car was used. After an aborted race at Watkins Glen, Hill and photographer Jerry Chesebrough drove XKC007 to California. “We drove long hours,” Hill noted. “The car had a 4.27 rear end and the engine just beat its brains out. We ran on the Dunlop racing tires, and there was no muffler or top on the car.”

Hill won at Torrey Pines and was second at Madera. It was there in Southern California that XKC007 spent most of its later racing days, driven by several club racers for the balance of the 1950s. Apart from installation of D-type heads and carbs for a run at Bonneville, the car was neither badly abused nor neglected until its restoration.

But it is the relationship with Hill that adds the extra spice. He had trained with the factory in an XK 120 and then raced one through 1950. The spell with the racing C-type was a homecoming and a stepping stone toward the balance of his career.

The Hill connection has brought XKC007 extra attention, and a lot of extra money. Of the 54 Jaguar C-types produced, three were scrapped, and another two or three have been altered so much as to render their provenance and value questionable. One was stolen and remains missing. This still leaves an inventory of over 40 examples. Perhaps 20 of these are garden-variety average examples and are well cared for. Their values seem to hold steady in the $700k-$900k range. Another dozen or so have more noted backgrounds in terms of either drivers or race success. Figure a 75%-100% premium for those.

Edge into the $2.5m range for the three existing Works cars, while the 1953 Le Mans winner (although now re-bodied) would fetch a tad more. It seems that the emotions over the still-recent passing of the great American champion were enough to tilt XKC007 into the realm of the exemplary Jaguar C-type. While the buyer may have led a bit with the heart, the head says the market is likely to follow. The other good C-types are now poised to garner a bit more interest the next time around.

The buyer has a concours-ready piece of history, but it should also be exercised with the vigor expected of a lithe but aging athlete. For it is only when we see it in a rally or an exhibition that its flowing lines will evoke that sense of a “puddle of aluminum alloy.” And there, above the whistle of the SU carburetors, you may catch the spirit of a very intelligent, slightly nervous, willowy young man expertly guiding this very car past the competition. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Comments are closed.