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.