PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.
Are you familiar with the D-Type Jaguar?
It was designed specifically with winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in mind. In 1954, when it made its debut, it very nearly did so – finishing a close second. In 1955, the D-Type returned, and this time won the race. In 1956, it won again – and again in 1957. When it finally was retired from racing, it had left an indelible mark.
The D-Type was surely among the most esteemed and respected of all Jaguar models ever made – and the most rare. Only a few dozen privateers got their hands on a D-Type.
What brings all this to mind?
A reader sent in a link today to a list prepared by the website GTSpirit.com of what they believed the ten top-selling classic cars would be at the 2013 Pebble Beach auctions (held the week of Aug. 14-18) in California. It was a great list, and hard to argue with many of their choices. I love the stories behind these cars, and one of the best tales is attached to No. 6 on the list: A 1955 D-Type Jaguar, to which the auctioneer, RM, attached a pre-sale estimate of up to $5 million.
Here, quoting liberally from RM’s catalog description, is the D-Type’s harrowing, labyrinthine tale. I promise it has a happy ending:
“Chassis number XKD 530 offers a tale that is surely as intricate and fascinating as any surviving D-Type. One of the 54 examples produced for privateer customers, this car was dispatched from the factory on February 13, 1956, finished in British Racing Green, as confirmed by its Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Certificate,” RM notes.
It was first sold to a tennis player on Finland’s Davis Cup team.
“As factory documentation reportedly demonstrates, [the player] sought to avoid excessive duty on the import; therefore, he instructed Coventry to make the car appear used, so that it would not be subject to new vehicle tariffs. To this end, the factory brushed the pedals to make them appear worn, replaced the steering wheel with a used one, and adjusted the odometer to misleadingly reflect accrued mileage, among other measures.”
The tennis player proceeded to race the car half to death. He even put spiked tires on it and used it as an ice racer! When the poor machine, then painted blue, finally needed major repairs, he decided to see if he could turn it into an XK-SS. To that end, he had a local shop manufacture and install some new body parts, including a long tail fin! More modifications followed, but none of the changes seemed to slow the car down; in fact, in 1961 it showed up at the Leningrad Grand Prix in Russia, and won the Formula Libre class (probably the only D-Type ever to race in the Soviet Union).
But in 1966, the tennis player was finally done thrashing it, and he sold it to a collector in England.
“It showed the symptoms of wear expected from such hard use, and the body had been modified [again!] to an open two-seater cockpit with a truncated tail,” RM noted. “As rebuilding the original body was deemed to be too prohibitively expensive…” the new owner removed the damaged body and tried to “salvage as many original chassis components as possible.”
The owner “separated the chassis tub, mounted all-new bodywork in the factory long-nose style, and fitted the car with the wide-angle headed D-Type engine that had originally been used by the Cunningham team. The separated monocoque body, the original engine, and the gearbox were put aside and eventually sold, around 1984, to [another] historic racer, who repaired the coachwork and mounted it on an all-new chassis that mostly consisted of various original Jaguar factory components.”
Okay, so now the original car had been made into two different cars, both stamped with the chassis number XKD 530, with a bunch of other replacement parts thrown in. A controversy gradually emerged as to the proper identity of each car, and which was, in fact, the authentic original car. Fact is, neither of these Franken-Jags was worth much in their respective sorry states.
So, how does this story have a happy ending?
“It seems difficult to rectify the situation,” wrote one D-Type collector to another in 1995, “unless some benevolent person should decide to purchase both cars, exchange the front subframes and the legal documents, resulting in only one single car claiming to be XKD 530.”
That’s essentially what happened. In 1998, a collector acquired one of the cars. In 2002, he acquired the other. Then he had both cars meticulously disassembled, and all the various parts and pieces identified and catalogued, and assigned to the correct chassis. In 2003, this amazing reconstruction was completed when the original, fully restored monocoque was lowered onto the original chassis frame; the bolt holes were a precise match.
For the first time in 35 years, the whole car was back together.
And now what you had, despite the long, convoluted, tortured tale of XKD 530’s amazing life, was probably the most complete, most authentic, best documented D-Type in creation – original engine, transmission, chassis frame, monocoque body, and even brake calipers.
So that is how a pure-bred cat, who became a mongrel, got its pedigree back.
July 30, 2013