Off radar

The Fallen Stars
Jaguar XJ13

Superstitious. Why?

Photo credit: Jaguar, Wheelsage

What happens when a manufacturer who has become a symbol of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with no less than five victories to its name, feels that its production car business is showing some alarming failures?

The year was 1963, the last victory of the magnificent D-Type Jaguar dated back to 1957. There was only one card left to play: go back and win again.

The XJ13 at Le Mans. But only for an exhibition before the 2016 Le Mans Classic

In Coventry at the beginning of 1964, the engine was already on the test bed. A 60-degree V12 with a 5,000cc displacement. Regulations allowed for larger engine sizes – in 1966 Ford would win with a 7,000cc! – so the traditional 6-cylinder that brought so many successes was reinterpreted, coupling two together to form a new V12 cylinder power unit.

On show at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the XJ13 showcases the careful pursuit of aerodynamics

The designer didn’t change though: it would still be Malcolm Sayer, the creator of the Jaguar C-Type and D-Type, to pen the new car, now with a mid-mounted engine. Important drivers such as the World Champion Jack Brabham, David Hobbs and Richard Atwood were involved in the development, and in 1966 the first – and only – XJ13 was finally ready. 

This is the model – the famous D-Type – that the XJ13 should have displaced. Mission impossible, given the timeless beauty of the original

Even without wishing to mention superstition, that number didn’t bring good luck: the car, as beautiful as it was promising in performance, encountered two overwhelming obstacles: first, the company changed ownership with the hope of a relaunch. Second, the organisers at Le Mans announced the return to more restrained engine sizes, limiting the future to 3,000cc. Theoretically, there was still time but such an important investment for just a few years competing with Ferrari and Ford did not seem reasonable.

The powerful 5.0 L DOHC 60 Degree V12 engine originated from coupling together two 6-cylinder engines from the D-Type

And the XJ13? It gave its V12 engine to the Jaguar E-Type as well as lending itself to commercials. Much less than it would have hoped for. Today, it resides at the Jaguar Museum but it is never far from the news, which is why we remember it here: there are various “recreations” out there that every now and then show up at the auctions. The last one to appear changed hands for close to 500 thousand dollars. At least that’s some consolation for a shattered dream.

The pure and uncompromising cockpit with the steering wheel still in traditional wood. Note the gearbox located on the right
Today the XJ13 is considered one of the 10 most beautiful and important Jaguars in history. Too bad it never got to race
The rear perfectly recalls the soft lines of the famous D-Type. Only one detail is missing: the characteristic fin of the headrest