XK120 C-type Jaguar racing historyFrank Raymond Wilton England was master minding Jaguar´s racing programme in the 1950´s before becoming Assistant Managing Director. After Sir Williams Lyons retired he became Managing Director. He remembers the beginning of the C-type´s racing history.
Thoughts of making a competition version of the XK120 came to Bill Heynes when he and I went to Le Mans in 1950 to watch the 24 hour race in which three privately owned (if works prepared) XK120 cars competed. The performance of those cars, plus the fact that at that time no one had produced a properly aerodynamic-shaped car and that the opposition lacked any really up-to-date sports racing vehicles, convinced us that using the reliable standard mechanical units in a tubular chassis with an aluminium, aerodynamically shaped body would, if ready for the 1951 race, stand a good chance of being successful.
It took some months to convince Sir William Lyons that such a car might win but late in the year, and after the MK VII was launched, he agreed.
Meanwhile Bill Heynes had set out his plans for the design of the car and obtained the services of Malcolm Sayer who came from Bristol Aircraft who would design an aerodynamically shaped body for the new car. The layout of the tubular chassis frame was first done by Bill Haynes as a model using matchsticks!
AT that time the staff of the engineering design office numbered 2 with a similar number in the experimental department. Walter Hassan, the experimental departmental engineer, had left and gone to Coventry Climax as chief engineer in 1949 and, to help out, I had agreed with Bill Haynes that he could have my London service representative, Phil Weaver, to act temporarily, Phil Weaver, to act temporarily as exp. shop superintendent (a function that Hassan had also covered.) Weaver was still with the engineering department when he retired a few years ago!
It is interesting to note that since 1945 the staff mentioned had re-introduced the pre-war range of cars (with certain engine modification since the six-cylinder engines were being built by Jaguar instead of Standard), produced a left-hand drive version of those cars. They also designed and introduced a single helical gearbox, designed and built the XK engine, and designed and made a complete new chassis with independent front suspension plus the MK V saloon and DHC which used this and the XK120 roadster with aluminium body, then with steel body, then fixed head and DHC versions, and the completely new MK VII.
BUILD AND TESTING
The development of Bill Heynes´ design was carried out by Claude Baily, Bob Knight and Tom Jones with Malcolm Sayer doing the body design. The engine development on the test bed was done by Jack Emerson who, in the 1920´s had been an ace motor cycle engine tuner and himself set a number of records at Brooklands as well as riding in the TT races (see the “Guinness Book of Records”!).
The cars were built under the supervision of Phil Weaver at the Swallow Road premises and first car was tested in early April 1951 by Ron Sutton (Soapy) at that time the exp. dept. tester at MIRA (the Motor Industry Research Association´s facility then called Lindley an old airfield), and having only the perimeter track and one of the runways available for testing. That test showed little wrong apart from loss of oil from the gearbox breather, easily dealt with by having a stack pipe fitted. Soapy then left to join Alvis as their fighting vehicle tester, which having had that job at Daimler before he came to Jaguar; a replacement was not found until 1952 when Dewis joined Jaguar.
So meanwhile I, who with my having become involved with racing and rallies with the XK120, and had also become the competition manager in addition to running the service organisation, then took on the job of testing the car. This was done at the weekends and in the evenings, with Peter walker and Peter Whitehead coming up to MIRA quite frequently from Leominster and Reading in the evenings to do much of the testing without ever asking for any payment, their only reward a fish and chip meal with me!
The test programme showed few problems — initially the times speed through the lights on the runway straight, relative to the power output, was not what Bill Heynes expected and was found due to oil build-up on the sump baffle (readily cured) and an oversteer problem overcome by suspension adjustments; but nothing really serious.
All the drivers who were to drive at Le Mans except Bionette had short driving periods at MIRA or Silverstone where some of the testing was carried out. Nearly all the tests were made with the first and second cars built, the third car being finished only the week before we left for Le Mans.
ENTRIES AND DRIVERS
Moss, Walker, Johnson and Whitehead had all driven XK 120s in the UK races and Biondetti in the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia, and their ability was known to us, while Moss said he would like Fairman, who had not previously had a Jaguar connection, to drive with him.
The cars were entered as XK 120C models as private entries in the names of Moss, Walker and Johnson, this being so that if they were a failure it would not reflect too badly on Jaguar!
The drivers were not paid anything but got any prize or bonus money they won! Since we did win they were treated quite generously by (Sir) Williams Lyons.
THE JAGUAR LE MANS TEAM
On Sunday before Le Mans this team set out from Foleshill with Jack Ererson, Phil Weaver and myself driving the three cars, with John Lea and Joe Sutton, the two mechanics, in a 30cwt Bedford van from the transport dept. carrying the spares.
In those days with no motorways and little traffic we went via Oxford, Henley, Guilford, Reigate to Brighton where we parked the cars overnight at the premises of our Jaguar distributor Moores run by Bill Cannell (later to own with T. Wisdom the ‘C’ type with which Moss won the first race using disc brakes at Reims in 1952). Next morning we left Newhaven on the boat to Dieppe and then drove via Rouen and Alecon to Le Mans. We all stayed in the Hotel de Paris and had the exclusive use of their private garage, although that had no facilities such as a car lift.
Scrutineering took place at the old Tramway Depot and our beautiful new cars made a great impression. Bill Heynes arrived by road in his own car to join the team for the first night´s practice on the Wednesday. The cars performed well, with Peter Walker quickest and below Rosier´s 1950 lap record, but the Johnson/Biondetti car had a plug electrode fall out which damaged all six cylinders and resulted in a major engine rebuild, carried out by John lea in the Peugeot Garage using the lift etc., but not completed in time for the Thursday night practice.
At that time Lucas did not have their headlights approved by the French Service des Mines and, since the regulations required the use of lamps obtained from Marchal in the UK who had assured us that they were the up-to-date competition lamps.
When the drivers reported that they ‘couldn’t see a thing’ I had words with M. Marchal Jun. who said ‘But you do not have the latest lamps’!! These were supplied next morning but to fit them needed new back shells! Phil weaver and I had already reverted to our role as mechanics but Bill Heynes then joined in and made the new backshells.
At Thursday night´s practice the lamps were found to be much better and there were no mechanical problems with the cars, but Moss had a shunt when someone pranged and an over-enthusiastic marshall put out a red flag. When the car in front of Moss stopped rapidly Moss bumped it in the back, slightly redesigning the front of his ‘C’ type. Thus on the Friday another job where I then showed my ability as a sheet metal worker!
Friday night all the cars were running and no problems. I should mention that in those days there was no way out from inside of circuit, so if one had trouble you were stuck until practice finished after midnight.
All the drivers were happy with the cars and the driver pairings worked well, Moss fitted in well with everyone. Biondetti had driven me round the circuit in his car with the roads open and I was able to see how well he understood everything about the car.
After arrival at Le Mans we had been joined by Gerard Leveque the service manager or our distributorship in Paris who not only knew his way around Le Mans and where to get things done, but also acted as our refueller during the race — a great asset since he had been previously connected with motor racing in France and knew the Commissaires, and to have a Frenchman dealing with them and the plombeurs was a real advantage.
We also had the help of Bob Berry and his sister — he was then at Cambridge studying languages and had written to say that he would be pleased to be of help etc. I had replied: ‘Many thanks but we will be taking our own staff, nevertheless call in and see us at the garage.’ As it happened he proved quite useful and he and his sister did the timekeeping during the race. This led to his deciding he would rather work for Jaguar than continue at Cambridge!
Race morning was wet when we drove the cars up to the circuit but it was dry for the start. Moss, Walker and Biondetti started the race and by 8pm were running 1, 2, 3.
The cars, which each held 37 gallons of petrol, were doing over 13mpg and were refuelling every four hours as scheduled. At the first pit stop Johnson asked Biondetti to carry on for another spell which he was happy to do, but later he noticed a sudden loss of oil pressure and nursed the car round to the pits without running a bearing. However, nothing could be done using only the parts and tools carried in the car which at that time was the rule.
Williams Lyons had planned to be there before the start, coming over in the Dunlop plane with Joe Wright, but bad weather in the UK and over northern France caused great problems and he finally arrived after 10pm, finding two of his cars running 1 and 2. But shortly afterwards, by which time the weather was bad with heavy rain, the same trouble experienced by Biondetti happened to Moss.
By then we had realised what had caused the loss of oil pressure. With the remaining car well ahead of the second placed car, we briefed the drivers to keep the rpm down under the level at which there was a slight vibration period which had resulted in the breakage of the oil pump to filter bloc delivery pipe at the flange.
So the race ran out with Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead (who drove the final stint) taking our remaining car, some 45 minutes ahead of the surviving opposition, to a victory, which gave Jaguar tremendous publicity and put the name Jaguar on the map world-wide.
This was a remarkable achievement in the first race for a car designed, built and developed by so few people in so short a time and at a minimal cost.
C-type Commemorative Issue: Vol 4 - No.2