Jaguar's iconic D-type Le Mans car is a classic for the well-heeled few: recent sale prices have exceeded £350,000, and with a race-winning provenance the price can easily top £1million. Few people ever get to drive one at all and still fewer get to drive them the way they were intended to be driven, on a race track.
But now Revival Motorsport, based at the Mallory Park race track in Leicestershire, is building D-type look-alikes and running a race series based around them – promising all the thrills of racing the real thing but without the worry of bending a piece of priceless history.
John Arnold and Justin Fleming are the two men behind the Revival ‘re-creations’. Arnold has been involved with motor sport for 30 years, most recently with his own historic race preparation business, Brooklands Motorsport, and he is also an MSA race instructor. Fleming has been racing successfully in the Proteus Powered by Jaguar Challenge and has provided the financial backing for the company, which is offering a series of race packages. You can buy your own car for around £40,000 and spend another £35,000 for a full season, or you can ‘arrive and drive’ at a race for £1700, or less if you commit to several races. Currently eight cars are signed up for the racing series and about a dozen have been built – some of them for road use, where road tyres and more passenger-friendly windscreen arrangements are fitted.
The Revival D-types are constructed in a completely different way to the original cars, with a Kevlar and glassfibre body on a tubular steel chassis instead of the D-type's stressed-skin 'tub'. Both cars, of course, use versions of the long-running Jaguar XK engine. D-type engines, with triple Weber carbs and dry-sump lubrication, were ultimately 3.8-litres and about 285bhp. The Revival cars use 4.2-litre engines from Series 3 XJ saloons, prepared by Rob Beere and fitted with Webers and old-style cam covers for that period look. The replicas need the 20bhp power advantage the larger capacity gives them, though, as they weigh in some 10 per cent heavier than the older car.
Some of that weight is accounted for by the use of E-type independent rear suspension rather than the original D-type’s rather unsophisticated beam axle. If anything the Revival machines’ more sophisticated rear suspension should give them a handling advantage over the real thing.
A tiny door gives access to the Revival D's cramped cockpit. There's a wood-rimmed steering wheel, smaller than that of a real D-type, an alloy-topped gear-lever controlling five ratios (D-types only had four) and a simple black-crackle painted metal dash with recalibrated Jaguar V12 instruments and unlabelled switches. You might expect a big red starter button, but instead the engine is fired by twisting a tiny Wilmot Breedon key in the dash. The big straight-six fires instantly and settles to an even tickover.
In the bumpy pitlane the Revival D-type bounces you about in the seat, but it still imparts a feeling of impressive solidity with no rattles or squeaks. Out on track it changes direction neatly – there’s no lurch of the body to suggest inadequate damping or anti-roll bars that are too stiff – but this is a big, heavy machine that needs a classic slow in, fast out style.
That dainty-looking wood-rimmed steering wheel needs your arms and shoulders, not just your fingertips. Braking is hard work, too, because the system has no servo assistance. Despite that there's curiously little feel, making accurate braking more difficult. On the up side, modern brake materials and big Lynx discs at the front mean there’s little danger of fade.
The XK engine has plenty of mid-range torque, flattering the driver: even if you're caught in thr wrong gear, the Revival D still bounds forward with a glorious straight-six bellow from an exhaust that ends level with your ears, but on the passengers side of the car. At high speeds the exhaust note subsides, and all you can hear is the wind buffeting your helmet.
This is a serious car: don’t be fooled by the idea that it’s ‘just a replica’ and therefore nothing more than a jumped-up kit car. This is a serious tool, capable of 0-60mph in well under five seconds and a top speed in excess of 180mph. It's great fun, but it isn’t a forgiving, modern, hot hatch. It responds to skill, and demands respect – just like the D-types of old.
2003 Revival Motorsport D-type Specifications