Wednesday 21st November 2012


£4M CLASSIC ON THE LIMIT...

...in the wet. A masterclass in how to ignore the cost of this Jaguar C-type and just floor it


We say this Jaguar C-type is worth £4m, but it could be worth even more than that. It's not one of the cars that won Le Mans in 1951 or 1953, but it did belong to a chap called Juan Manuel Fangio.

So stepping over that wide body to get into the cramped and low-slung seat is that bit more special, even though we're a passenger and not the driver.

C-type loves to oversteer
C-type loves to oversteer
That's a relief, to be honest. We're at Goodwood and it's slashing it down. Famed Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis has just told us that oversteer on the car is "prodigious" and there's a load of standing water around the track.

On top of that, the tyres are cross plies and there's 325bhp from the 3.4-litre straight six going through the back wheels.

So, good luck Wil Arif, our driver for the next three laps. He's an experienced racer and successful campaigner of this car so he should know what to do but, my god, throughout every bend from a sodden Madgewick and beyond his hands are never still. In the passenger seat we can't gauge the lack of grip, but Arif has to, or it's off the tarmac we go.

As he tells us afterwards, he's constantly feeling for what's happening to the front tyres through the steering wheel: "It's telling me I'm losing grip at the front, then the back end comes out, so I'm sawing the wheel to keep the back end in check."

It's a measure of both how communicative the tyres are and how little grip they've got that he's sensing and catching slides before we've barely felt them in the passenger seat.

Driver Arif looking understandably nervous
Driver Arif looking understandably nervous
His view of the road is from round the side of the wiperless aero screen. To give you an idea of how you low we sit in that aerodynamic body, normally this average-height bloke looks though the steering wheel.

The C-type properly established Jaguar in the sports car hall of fame. Winning Le Mans will do that, but the XK120-based racer is downright gorgeous with it. Even more so when you hear the shape was arrived at purely for its aerodynamic quality. Designer Malcolm Sayer came from the aircraft industry and if he wore a polo-neck we're sure it would have been chunky and cream, not poncey and black.

Back in the C-type and Arif has another problem to deal with: braking. Later C-types pioneered the use of disc brakes but this 1952 car has drums and that's not good.

“One long brake and you'd lock up and overheat," Arif says afterwards. So he's having to pump them into the corner. On top of that, he's got to tap the accelerator every downshift (heel and toeing). Fail to do that and the sudden increase in revs will cause the car to spin, he says.

Fuss-free interior with handy door storage
Fuss-free interior with handy door storage
It all means his feet are as busy at the pedals as his hands are on the wheel. Pump, pump, pump on the brakes. Depress clutch, brake, catch side of braking foot on accelerator, turn, accelerate, slide, catch it, slide, catch it.

“If just boot it, I lose it. The only way to go fast is to keep feeding the power," he says. Once again he's feeling for the grip, trying to use all the prodigious power onto the Lavant straight but constantly fighting. This is proper man driving yet it requires the same levels of finesse and co-ordination dancers must need to skitter across the stage in Swan Lake.

The car was probably set up a bit too stiffly for the wet, but Dewis says the C-type was a handful right from the start.

He began as chief tester at Jaguar in 1952 after coming from Lea-Francis and was asked his opinion on the C. "I said: 'not much, not much'. I said the back to front weight ratio is all to cock."

The huge petrol tank in the boot was causing the oversteer, and to make his point Dewis fabricated a steel bar weighing a whopping 67lb (30kg) and bolted it on the front. "That transformed it," he said, but it was too late for a fancier solution to the bar and Dewis concentrated his know-how onto the D-type, the one with the massive fin behind the driver and a car acclaimed for its handing balance.

This C is a perfect example of that contradiction that often exists in famed classic cars: flawed, but so desirable in looks, heritage and standing that the bad bits are there merely to test that you're worthy enough to drive it.

"It's just such a handful," says Arif, immediately following that with: "It's a lovely car to drive."

Check out the video of Arif's heroic drive here.

 

Author: NickGibbs
Want more PH news like this daily - then signup for the PH newsletter here!