- The story of the XJ13 -
By 1955, it was becoming clear that the XK series engine that had brought so much motor racing success to Jaguar was becoming less competitive, particularly at Le Mans. As a result, it was decided to build a completely new engine that would be a race winner.
This was conceived as a 5 litre V12 unit which was intended to be suitable for use in a road car after it had been proved at Le Mans. It was to be installed in a mid-engined sports racing car and work on the chassis and body started around 1960. the placing of the engine in the centre of the car was intended to bring 2 benefits. First, the bonnet line could be lower so as to improve aerodynamic efficiency. Second, the change in weight distribution provided opportunities for improved handling.
However, during this period, the company's attitude to racing had changed and so progress on the new model was slow. As a result, it was not until 1966, that the car was built and ready for testing. It might have been possible to use it to contest Le Mans in 1966 or 1967, but any thoughts of doing so were put aside by the merger between BMC and Jaguar - the move that created British Motor Holdings.
The future was far too uncertain to allow the company to mount a major racing programme and so the XJ13 was put to one side for several months.
It must have provided a continuing source of frustration, sitting in the corner of the factory, yet the coompany was worried about there being any possibility of news of its existence leaking out. At the time, the six cylinder E-Type was very successful. It seemed likely that potential E-Type customers would delay their purchase if they knew of the existence of a mid-engined, V12 machine and so Sir William Lyons instructed that the car was not to be circuit tested.
Norman Dewis was Chief Development Tester for Jaguar and he recalls that his boss, Bill Heynes, suggested that the car should be given a run in spite of Sir William's instructions. "He thought it was a shame to have the car sitting there and not take it out so he suggested that I should take it to MIRA one Sunday morning. He also said that if Sir William found out about it, I would be on my own.
So, early one Sunday morning, the XJ13 was taken to the Motor Industry Research Association test centre near Nuneaton.
The maximum speed achieved that morning by the XJ13 was 175 miles an hour on the straight with the car lapping at 161.6 miles an hour - an unofficial lap record. Dewis was summoned to Sir William's office some days later. Sir William chastised him in no uncertain manner for disobeying his orders., but he could see that Dewis was enthusiastic about the car and demanded to know what the result of the test had been. Two weeks later, the XJ13 returned to MIRA for another test session, this time with Sir William watching. Norman Dewis remembers that although the performance was good, the handling needed a great deal of development work. Sir William told him that development could go on, but only at weekends. For the next twelve months, the team spent Sundays at MIRA, working on the handling of the car.
In order to check on the way it would perform on a real racing circuit, the XJ13 was subsequently run at Silverstone and achieved creditable times when compared with the racing cars that were competing then. Even so, it was not really fast enough to be a Le Mans winner without considerably more work and Sir William Lyons was still following his maxim of not entering races unless he knew he could win. The problem was that to have completed the necessary testing and development work, Jaguar would have had to divert effort away from the production cars, so the XJ13 was put away once again.
According to some, this was a sad decision since it is believed that the car could have been capable of beating the GT40 on which Ford lavished so much money. But the work put into it was not for nothing. Many of the lessons learnt in developing the engine were incorporated into the V12 unit that was introduced into the E-Type in 1972. That link was not lost on the publicity people and they decided to use the XJ13 in the opening sequences of a film to announce the new V12 E-Type.
On the 20th January, 1971, the XJ13 was once again taken to the Motor Industry test track near Nuneaton, this time with a film crew recording the event. The car was driven past the camera at high speed to produce a dramatic opening shot for the film.
Norman Dewis remembers the day well "We spent the whole day on the high speed circuit and in the afternoon, the film people said that they needed just one more shot. This involved another five laps of the track." The car was taken out again and this almost brought about the end, not only of the car, but also of the driver. Travelling at high speed on the banked circuit, the load on the wheels was dramatically increased by G forces. it proved to be too much for the rear, offside wheel which collapsed under the strain.
This happened while Dewis was driving near the top of the banking at 140 miles an hour. It began to career off the banking towards the infield and Dewis remembers turning off the ignition and crouching down under the scuttle. "I clipped one of the barrels on the infield and then the car turned end over end twice before rolling twice," recalls Dewis. "Fortunately, when it stopped, it was on its wheels and so I was able to get out and wait for help to arrive." The car was a complete wreck.
Under normal circumstances, that would have been the end of the story, with the car being broken up for scrap. By some chance, it was in fact returned to the factory and stayed in a corner for almost two years before the decision was taken to restore it.
Fortunately, the wooden formers that had been used to build the original body had survived. Abbey Panels, the company that had made the original body panels, were able to fabricate new ones and the restored body began to take shape. The wheels were a different story, however. Two of them had been almost completely destroyed in the accident and the patterns used to make them had been scrapped. Eventually, it was found that the damaged rims could be removed and replaced with a modified outer section from a Concorde undercarriage. Today the car still remains in the museum and is still awe-inspiring for a lot of Jaguar enthusiasts!!
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