It's got the body of the 1953 Le Mans winner, but has it got the soul?
By Mike Duff / Thursday, September 2, 2021 / Loading comments
When is a classic not a classic? It’s an existential question raised by a chance to look over the new, official Jaguar C-Type up close for the first time. The ‘Car Zero’ prototype you see here is as spectacular in the metal as it looks in the pictures, but it is also arguably too perfect.
The original C-Type was a racer designed around the simple priority common to all competition cars of that era: to reach the finish line and then pretty much fall to pieces. They were made from the thinnest and lightest possible metal, painted with brushes and hit with hammers until parts fitted. They were functionally beautiful, especially when they won important events, but if an original car was to pass through a time portal and sit next to the 2021 version, the differences would be very obvious. The factory racer would probably look a bit scruffy and thrown-together.
That’s because, like Jaguar’s earlier Continuation models, the new C-Type is built to a standard far beyond the car it is copying. Fetishistic attention has been paid to the quality of its modern paint finish and beautiful Bridge of Weir leather trim, as well as the precision of its panel gaps. Seen up close, it really does feel like one of those ultra-precise video game renderings brought to life in the way that everything is just so. The car that won Le Mans in 1953 did undoubtedly carry six spare sparkplugs screwed into the sill next to the driver’s seat, but it seems unlikely that the holes were really tapped to line up with such military exactitude, or that the heads of each plug were carefully turned to the same angle.
The attention to detail plays a large part in justifying the seriousness of the Continuation’s seven-figure price tag, of course. The changes that have been made have all been carefully considered, including the one to use heavier gauge metal than that of the original cars. “Buyers don’t want their cars to bend if somebody leans against them,” as Jaguar Classic boss Dan Pink puts it. Similarly, the modern water-based paint finish is both technically superior but also legally necessary for a newly build car.
No potential buyers seem to have been offended by the gentrification process. Indeed, Jaguar Classic’s original plan to build eight when the car was first announced in January has now been revised upwards to “no more than 16”, doubtless on the back of demand.
But it does mean that the Continuation is a different proposition to one of the originals. Period cars were built to the considerably greater tolerances common at the time, and the survivors have all evolved organically throughout seven decades to the point where all will now be different. Yet beyond the choice of exterior colour and trim, the new Continuations will effectively be clones, each built to the specification of a carefully created digital CAD model. They will have the body of an (optimised) original, so will have to go and earn their own patina.
That will happen, at least for some. Jaguar Classic acknowledges that some Continuations will be locked away in private collections, but others will be thrown into racing. The Continuation has been designed for competition with various tweaks to give FIA historic homologation. These include a new rear cross member to allow harnesses to be securely mounted (the original cars pre-dated belts), and cars will also be sold with a bolt-in roll hoop that, although removable, will be appreciated by anyone driving in anger. Other safety changes include an FIA-spec fuel tank lining, fire extinguisher and a battery kill switch. Non-competition tweaks include a smaller steering wheel (many drivers struggling fit around the original’s huge helm) an electric cooling fan and a ‘dynalternator’, which contains modern guts within an original dynamo housing.
Yet the basics are all correct, of course. Jaguar chose to replicate the 1953 C-Type rather than the original 1951 example, or the less successful 1952 ‘long nose’, as it was the ultimate example of the genre, and scored a famous one-two finish at that years Le Mans 24 hours. That means a 3.4-litre version of the XK straight six engine fed by three Weber carbs and making a claimed 220hp. Choosing the 1953 car as the basis also means the Continuation can get the non-anachronistic fitment of the original’s cutting-edge application of disc brakes; the ones that year’s C-Type raced with. Jaguar’s early system worked with a gearbox driven pump to create operating pressure rather than a servo, the Continuation having a carefully recreated version of this, too.
Jaguar Classic’s officially sanctioned take on the C-Type is also a reminder of the bitter court battle the company has fought over the famous model in recent months. Earlier this year, the company won a legal victory over Karl Magnusson for copyright infringement when the Swede built a replica of C-Type. There isn’t room here to go into the full story, but basically JLR claim Magnusson was running a commercial business, he says that he dropped plans to build more than one when Jaguar’s lawyers first got in touch. But Jaguar also sent a cease-and-desist letter to at least one UK-based creator of C-Type replicas. Are we getting close to George Orwell’s prediction from Nineteen Eighty-Four that “he who controls the past controls the future”?
“The shape of the C-Type is protected and any company that is looking to reproduce those and sell them as full bodies, that does infringe our intellectual property,” Dan Pink says. “What we’ve been clear on is that any customer who is looking to fully restore a car back to specification, that doesn’t infringe intellectual property.”
While there are dozens if not hundreds of earlier C-Type replicas out there, built to varying standards, Jaguar seems determined that there won’t be any more. So if you want a new C-Type, the Continuation and its £2m-ish price looks like the only option.
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