Revival of the Fittest - Andrew Noakes - Motoring Writer

Maybe you’ve always seen yourself behind the wheel of a Jaguar D-type. That curvaceous, louvred bonnet in front of you and an enormous fin behind your helmeted head as you flash down the Mulsanne straight at 170mph. But if you’re ever to realise that dream you’d better have deep pockets, because the last few D-types sold went for more than £350,000 each. With a racing history you’re looking at a price tag in seven figures. They don’t come up often, either. 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 there is a way that you can get a taste of that experience, and for a much smaller outlay. 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 in one capacity or another for 30 years, most recently with his own historic race preparation business, Brooklands Motorsport, and he is also an MSA race instructor. For the last few years 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 – they’re around £40,000 – and Revival reckons it would cost you another £35,000 to do 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 cars they are building certainly look the part, but under the skin they are very different to real D-types. The differences in fact extend as far as the skin itself, because the Revival D-types are constructed in a completely different way with a Kevlar and glassfibre body on a tubular steel chassis. By contrast the original D-type was built around an aircraft-like monocoque ‘tub’ in an exotic magnesium alloy, with a tubular front subframe carrying the engine and front suspension. 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. By all accounts the original D was a bit of a handful. Jim Clark, for instance, said the D-type he drove early in his career scared him to death. Certainly Jaguar’s focus on making the D rugged and reliable – and capable of going very, very fast in a straight line – meant that handling was less of a prority. If anything the Revival machines’ more sophisticated rear suspension should give them a handling advantage over the real thing.

Not that we had the chance to compare the old and the new back-to-back, sadly (D-type owners who would like their cars featured in CLASSICS should write to the usual address – Ed). Instead, Mallory Park on a cold and overcast winter’s morning gave us a chance to take the Revival car out on the track. The word in the paddock had it that these cars were quick in a straight line, and dependable in the corners as long as you knew what you were doing ­– but that they would bite if you abused their trust.

That advice echoes inside your race helmet as you open the tiny door and insinuate yourself into the driving seat. It’s a good idea to pull the straps of the five-point racing harness out of the way before you settle into the seat, because the cockpit surround barely leaves room for you to grope about to find them. An extra pair of hands to install you in the seat is a big help.

Even though these cars are re-creations not the real thing, you quickly get the feeling that they’re tangibly linked with the Le Mans cars of old. In front of you is a wood-rimmed steering wheel, smaller than that of a real D-type, and ahead of the wheel is a simple black-crackle painted metal dash with recalibrated Jaguar V12 instruments and unlabelled switches. Disappointment looms if you’re expected to fire up the XK engine by punching a classic red starter button: instead you insert a tiny Wilmot Breedon key into the dash and twist it. The Jaguar engine – already warm as the cars have been in constant use on this Revival Motorsport test day – fires instantly and settles to an even tickover.

Slot the short, alloy-topped gear-lever into first and you’re away, the Revival D-type bouncing you about in the seat over the Mallory pitlane’s rough surface but still imparting a feeling of impressive solidity. It doesn’t rattle or squeak, despite the tortuous tarmac that leads you to the smooth surface of the circuit proper.

There’s nothing to be gained by pushing hard on the first lap, and everything to lose. Much better to keep an eye on the gauges, get the feel of the circuit, and let the tyres come up to temperature. Mallory is a short circuit, just over a mile long, and looks deceptively simple. But every corner is memorable: the never-ending right-hander, Gerards, that starts the lap. The Lake Esses at the back of the paddock, trickier than they look and leading you up hill to the incredibly tight Shaw’s hairpin. Finally a tricky downhill right-hander, the Devil’s Elbow, where a mistake can pitch you backwards into the pit wall – but the right line flings you out onto the start/finish straight to begin another lap.

Now you push a bit harder. Into Gerards again, positioning the car in the middle of the track and aiming for the white-painted marshal’s hut half-way round. The steering wheel may have a dainty narrow rim, but the Revival D’s steering is heavy enough to need your arms and shoulders, not just your fingertips. Down the back straight you’re looking for your braking point for the Esses, where the car changes direction neatly – there’s no lurch of the body to suggest inadequate damping or anti-roll bars that are too stiff. Shaw’s, the hairpin, is next, calling for hard braking, a downchange to third, and a careful choice of line. Best take it gently first time through.

2003 Revival D-type specifications

4235cc in-line six, twin overhead cam, triple Weber 45DCOE carburettors

300bhp @ 5750rpm

250lbft @ 4000rpm (estimated)

Four-speed manual, single-plate

AP ventilated, cross-drilled discs all round

Front: wishbones with torsion bars. Rear: wishbone, radius arms, twin coil springs

15in replica Dunlop peg-drive alloy


0-60mph: 4.2sec

Top speed: 185mph

But then on the exit, there’s plenty of room to bury the throttle and hear that glorious straight-six bellow from an exhaust that ends level with your ears, but on the passengers side of the car. The shove in the back reminds you that this is a 300bhp car. Into fourth – in a five-speed box, rather than the original D-type’s four-speeder – and then try to get Devil’s Elbow right. Through this left-hander the D wants to wander down the hill and off to the right-hand side of the road, towards the pit wall. Heaving the steering left to keep it on line doesn’t feel comfortable, but there’s no time to worry about that. This session is shared with racers from the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club, and there’s some fast machinery on the track: one eye on the mirrors (modern race mirrors, where there should be big chrome bullets) shows a gaggle of faster cars ready to pass, so you move over down the pit straight. When their exhaust notes disappear past, the loudest noise you can hear is the wind buffeting your helmet.

With each new lap you concentrate on getting the lines right and pushing a little bit harder each time. The D needs to be driven in a classical slow in, fast out style, and you need to lead the car rather than fighting it. Let it find its own line through the Devil’s Elbow and both you and the car are happier, and quicker. Coming up to the hairpin you have to stand on the brakes, but with modern brake materials and big Lynx discs at the front there’s no danger of fade. Pedal pressures are high (real D-types have a servo to make them easier to drive for 24 hours at a time) but even so there’s surprisingly little feel. It would take a lot more familiarity with the car to be able to brake up to the limit of adhesion with confidence. It would for me, at any rate.

Though the Revival D-type makes me feel like Mike Hawthorn, I have to keep remembering that I don’t have a World Champion’s skill at the wheel. And 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 (though within the confines of Mallory). With a sensible approach to driving it, the Revival D-type is 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.

Thanks to

Revival Motorsport, Kirkby Lodge, Bosworth Road, Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire LE9 7QN Tel: 01455 292833 Fax: 01372 842979


Real D-Types: The Legend of Le Mans

Though the XK120 was a fine touring car, it was too heavy to succeed regularly against more specialised racing opposition. So Jaguar created the XK120C, a lightweight competition version with a tubular steel frame. Universally known as the C-type, it won at Le Mans in 1951 but failed the following year when ill-conceived low-drag bodies caused the cars to overheat. Reverting to the original shape the C-types won again in 1953, and were then replaced by the even more specialised D-type in 1954.

1957 Jaguar D-type specifications

Engine 3781cc in-line six, twin overhead cam, three twin-choke Weber carburettors

Power 285bhp @ 5750rpm

Torque 239lbft @ 4000rpm

Transmission Four-speed, triple-plate clutch

Brakes Dunlop disc brakes, servo assisted

Suspension Front: wishbones with torsion bars. Rear: trailing arms with torsion bars

Wheels 16in Dunlop peg-drive alloy

Tyres 6.50-16

Performance 0-60mph: 4.2sec

Top speed: 176mph

The D-type was built with Le Mans in mind, so the emphasis was on reliability and high speed rather than acceleration or handling. Aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer designed the body to reduce drag but also, just as important, to remain very stable at high speed. Initially 3.4-litre engines with about 250bhp were used. The D-type finished second in its first Le Mans, in 1954, and then won the tragic 1955 race, where the cars sported vertical tail fins for extra directional stability on the long Mulsanne straight. The works cars failed in 1956 but D-types still won Le Mans, in the hands of the Ecurie Ecosse team, who won again in 1957.

In 1957 a road-going version, the XKSS, went on sale, though a serious fire at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory ended production after just 16 were made, making a total of 87 D-type/XKSS cars.

Published in Classics Magazine 2003

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