Thursday 20th February 2003


XJ13 REPLICA

PetrolTed drives a very special replica of one of the most gorgeous Jaguars ever

There aren't many cars that can induce a permanent grin even as a passenger. The Jaguar XJ13 is one such beast however. Whilst I haven't had a chance to sample the real one, a high quality replica still induced muscle ache in my cheeks yesterday.

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Racing Green Cars always have an interesting collection of classic Jaguars to accompany the modern conversions that form a large part of their business. When they received a call from a gentleman with a four year old XJ13 replica for sale, they expressed the same enthusiasm you or I would. When they set eyes on the car however, it was even better than they hoped.

The Original XJ13

The XJ13 is one of the most stunning Jaguars ever made and some one argue that it's also the most beautiful. Developed in the sixties to take Jaguar to Le Mans and give the GT40s a run for their money, the original XJ13 boasted over 500bhp. A mid mounted five litre V12 with twin cam heads provided the power to match the looks and not surprisingly is said to be a blisteringly quick car. 

The merger of Jaguar with BMC created a distraction from the racing goals, and budgetary considerations resulted in the Le Mans plans being sidelines. The car was left with an uncertain future.

The development of the new V12 needed to be kept a secret as the six cylinder E Type was selling well and news of a V12 might jeopardise sales if buyers were to hold out for a V12 version. For that reason, Sir William Lyons instructed that the car be kept under covers until its future was more certain.

Naughty Boy

Going against those instructions, Chief Development Tester Norman Dewis felt the need to give the XJ13 a blast around MIRA one Sunday morning. Dewiss set a new unofficial lap record at the facility topping out at 175mph!

Sir William got to hear of his exploits and his infectious enthusiasm for the project won Lyons over and he let Dewiss continue development of the car at weekends. Further work went on, but it wasn't enough to ensure that the car could win if entered at Le Mans so the project was once again put on ice.

The development of the V12 hadn't gone to waste however. A detuned derivative of the new engine was put in the E Type for launch in 1972. In preparation for the launch a TV crew was sent to MIRA to film Dewiss giving the car a run. The footage would be used to launch the V12 E Type.

Disaster!

They filmed all day and then the crew asked for one final drive by. Dewiss flew past on the banking at 140mph when disaster struck. The offside rear wheel collapsed sending the car hurtling into the infield. The XJ13 rolled end over end before coming to a halt on its wheels. Miraculously, Dewiss survived but the car was in tatters

The car was rebuilt - with different wheels and some cosmetic changes - and remains one of the most iconic, and valuable cars Jaguar have built.

It remains the property of Jaguar and an offer to buy for £7m was turned down in 2001.

A handful of companies have produced XJ13 replicas over the years but this car is one of only two built by one enthusiast for whom quality triumphed above all else.

The original XJ13 was of monocoque construction whilst this replica uses a more conventional space frame chassis on which the aluminium body has been mounted. That deviation from the original design does little to detract from the overall product however.

Fit 'n' Finish

Despite this car being only the second one built, the fit and finish is exemplary with the fit of the panels shaming many specialist manufacturers of today.

A stock 5.3 litre Jaguar V12 was used, with the only changes being ram air intakes. The V12 is a marvelous unit, with torque seemingly available in endless amounts from low revs right to the red line.

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Whilst you might think of the V12 as being a smooth, refined unit, in this installation the smoothness is somewhat lost on you as the 300bhp motor barks out of its short exhausts creating that 'classic racer' noise right behind your ears.

It's a noise that other motorists yearn to share too. Guiding the XJ13 replica along the Surrey roads it was a joy to see people pulling out of the way and winding down their windows just to experience the car blat past them at full chat.

Wassat?!

Those curvaceous lines and unique appearance make it an incredible head turner even when stationary, but when gliding through modern traffic, everyone does a double take.

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Driving the car takes some concentration. After firing it up (and trying not to just listen to the engine), manoeuvring the car around is the next challenge. Visibility in the miniscule rear view mirror is like watching traffic through a spy hole, whilst the wing mirror proves pretty much ornamental.

Staying ahead of other cars is the key to ensuring there's nothing on your flanks as you make progress - and the V12 certainly helps in that respect as it's not difficult to leave everything in your wake. The only bar to progress is the gear box. It's a ZF 'box but the linkage is a bit fiddly and it takes some practice to engage the right gears on demand.

Boot it

Once engaged however, planting your right foot brings on an intense experience of V12 bark, wind rush and forward motion. It's a stunningly capable engine and 300bhp is enough to make the car extremely rapid. A 500bhp version would be insane!

For what is pretty much a one off car the chassis is extremely impressive. The footprint on the road is very secure, much like some very competent modern cars. The mid mounting of the engine obviously helps with the balance of the car, which feels spot on too. That said, it's not a car you'd blast down twisty B roads. The steering requires constant concentration as it's very sensitive and prone to the slightest camber in the road. This car's strength lies in eating up sweeping bends and devouring straights.

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All too often replicas suffer the fate of being classed as kit cars. Often of course they are available as kits, but for those people who build complete and detailed replicas it tarnishes their image unfairly. This car demonstrates just how good a replica can be. This beautiful example of British eccentricity - complete with permagrin - is available for £80K, a price that reflects amount of effort invested in its construction.

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Author: PetrolTed