Rebirth of Jaguar’s XKSS

Posted by: Xavier Kwan onDecember 2nd, 2016


Jaguar, a British multinational car company based out of Whitley, Coventry, England, is most commonly associated with luxurious and sophisticated automobiles. The company also has a long standing lineage in motorsports stemming back to the 40’s when it was building some of the finest and fastest production vehicles in the world. Without a doubt, some of the classic moments of motorsport success for the company would have to be their dominant performance at Le Mans 24 Hours in the 1950’s. Beginning with the C-Type which claimed victories in 1951 and 1953, then succeeded by the D-Type winning in 1955, 1956 and 1957 which later led to the development of the XKSS.

The aforementioned Jaguar XKSS was commissioned as a road-going version of the Jaguar D-Type racing car. At the end of 1956, Jaguar took a brief hiyatus from motorsport. They were left with a number of completed and partially completed D-Types which had no purpose at the time. That is until Jaguar decided to convert the D-Type remains into road going versions for an American market which was eating up anything foreign and high performance at the time. Minimal changes were made to make the D-Type road legal, but it is worth our effort to spend a little bit of time to relive the master piece which was the D-Type.

Jaguar produced the D-Type for racing between 1954 and 1957. What set the D-Type apart from its predecessors was the use of then bleeding edge technology in engineering and design taking influence from the aviation industry and leveraged aerodynamic efficiencies to create the ultimate racing machine. The cockpit section of the car was designed of a monocoque construction where the chassis was integral to the body. The body was designed in an elliptical shape which helped to reduce drag. Tube frame construction was used in the front subframe which structurally integrated the engine, steering assembly and front suspension.

Jaguar’s chief engineer, William Haynes, also brought in a dry sump oil system which helped to reduce engine height which provided both better weight distribution and helped with the aerodynamic shape of the front of the D-Type. Furthering the use of aerodynamics by reducing underbody drag helped drive up the top speed of the D-Type. Later, to control for high speed stability, a fin was added behind the drive to improve on downforce. Refinements to the front end of the car which lengthened its nose, and an integrate headrest fairing and rear fin further improve aerodynamic efficiency and helped to improve top speed once again.

Much of the engine design used in the C-Type was carried over to the D-Type. The earlier models used a 3.4L engine which was later replaced with a 3.8L in 1957. However, due to Le Mans rule limitations for race engines to 3.0L, the D-Type went down in engine size for the 1958 year. The smaller displacement engine never seemed to achieve the reliability of the outgoing larger displacement engines which put a hamper on Jaguar’s race performance. With the new racing rules, the D-Type never again achieved a podium finish at Le Mans.

D-Type production numbers are estimated at 18 factory team cars, 53 customer cars, and 16 XKSS versions. At the end of its racing career, Jaguar had enough parts left to convert 25 D-Types into road going XKSS. As fate would have it, on February 12, 1957, a fire broke out at the manufacturing plant which destroyed nine of the 25 cars leaving only 16 XKSS ever to be produced. That is until this year when Jaguar announced that they will be completing the original production order and finishing off the 9 D-Type conversions. XKSS versions will have a second seat, passenger-side door, side windows, full-width framed windscreen and windscreen wipers, trimmed interior, folding hood, and bumpers. The modern day versions will mostly be the same as the originals, albeit with some minor updates such as improved brake lines, and ethanol-resistant materials for the fuel tank. It is worthy to note that Jaguar acquired an original D-Type engine block to make new castings, and even reproduced a steering wheel which would be period specific.

The rarity and exclusivity of owning a brand new XKSS is next to none and they are expected to be tagged at £1 million per unit.

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