V12 Epoch

Andrew Frankel drives the car that made the Big Cat roar once more 

The noise is ridiculous. Parents try to place themselves between it and their children while simultaneously thrusting fingers down their lug­holes up to their elbows. It’s coming from a quartet of howitzer-diameter pipes hurling an aural maelstrom into the Goodwood paddock with every pump of the engine’s 12 pis­tons. To the outside world all, has gone totally mad in a pulsating wall of sound. In the world of the Jaguar, though, this is just the everyday, ho-hum routine of its engine gently ticking over, allowing a little warmth to spread through the system before the day’s work begins. We haven’t even got 2000rpm on the clock. Wickedly I give it a blip, just to see how many people flinch. One or two actually run.

This is the car which Jaguar com­missioned knowing that by the time it won a championship, the vehicle it was based on would no longer be in production. This is the car that got Jaguar racing again, and the chain of events linking it to Andy Wallace,Jan Lammers and Johnny Dumfries winning the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours in a TWR-built XJR-9LM is direct and unbroken. This is one of the most significant and successful Jaguars in the com­pany’s racing history-but you may have never heard of it. Welcome, then, to the wonderful and rather weird world of the Group 44 E-type. 

Its existence is down to two peo­ple: Mike Dale, the Brit who was then head of marketing for British Leyland in America and would later head up Jaguar North America, and Bob Tullius, the man Dale asked to make a racing E-type in the hope that it might shift some of the 6000 still sitting on the dockside with no home to go to. Did it work? “You betcha,” says Tullius. “Mike believed in the power of racing to sell cars and the E-type didn’t disappoint.

In fact Tullius’s Group 44 race team was not the only outfit invited to the party. The plan was for Bob to campaign a car in the East Coast production car championship of the Sports Car Club of America and for Huffaker Engineering to do the same in the west, the two meeting at national run-offs. “Originally the plan was that we would share infor­mation,” recalls Tullius today, “but it never happened like that. They saw us as rivals, but it was not some­thing we felt. 

“Then again,” he adds, “we were always quicker than them.” 

Tullius, who had made his name racing other Leyland products from Triumph and MG, built just one car, this car, and when I ask.him about its specification he says simply, “Go look at the car. That’s how it was, nothing about it has changed in any way.” I twas all he needed. From its very first race in August 1974, which Tullius would have won haq the gear lever not come off in his han.d, it was the class of the field. It ended an era of Corvette supremacy in which the Chevys had taken 14 of the previous 17 championships. “All those guys ever did about us was bitch,” claims Tullius, chuckling at the memory. “They never gave up on it but they never presented us with any serious problems either on or off the track.” 

Tullius is clear about the secret of the car’s success: “We had the best people in the world working on it and they produced a brilliant car. I was not a spectacular driver but I was okay, and the best people with an okay driver was all it took.” 

The raw material, however, had more than a little to do with it. Under the production-car regs in force then surprisingly little could be done to make the car competi­tive. The engine had to be stock – though enough bhp could be found through blueprinting, the exhausts, carburettor jetting, the removal of emissions equipment and doubtless numerous other legitimate tweaks, raising the power from a factory-­quoted 272bhp to what Tullius claims to be around 500bhp. Contempo­rary reports say 460bhp was nearer the mark, while its current owner, the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, reckons that approx 440bhp is about right. Whatever, this was one pow­erful engine. If it had a secret, it was in its sump. 

“That’s what hurt the Broadspeed cars so much,” explains Tullius, referring to the wildly fast butcomicallyunreliableXJ12 coupes that contested the 1975 and 1976 European touring car series. “Our regs meant that we had to run a wet sump and we had one hell of a job stopping all the oil disappearing up one bank of the engine in corners. The V12 sat on a cross-member which meant a lot of the sump was very shallow, and what the guys in the workshop came up with was a work of art.” 

And it worked, too: for half of 1974 and the whole of ’75, during testing, qualifying and racing, its engine never once let go. And the results speak for themselves. The Huffaker car won in Seattle on the same weekend Bob’s gearstick came off at Watkins Glen, and then both cars simply dominated the rest of their respective series: Lee Mueller won three races in the Huffaker car Tullius five for Group 44. They met for the first time at the Road Atlanta run-offs and left the field for dead Tullius leading and breaking the lap record. Yet neither was to win: Mueller got a puncture and Tullius’s tyres went off, allowing a Corvette to win by less than !sec. “We had to have narrower wheels and tyres than the Corvettes,” recalls Tullius somewhat ruefully. “Can’t remem­ber why, maybe it was because they were Chevrolets,” he says ni.ischie­vously. “Just as well, I suppose. If we’d been allowed the san-ie tyres, they’d never have even seen us.” 

His 1974 regional title tucked under his belt, Tullius took seven victories in ‘7 5 to claim the SCCA’s National crown outright, leaving his E-type with a record of which any racing car would be very proud: played 17, won 12. 

“I loved that car,” says Tullius with a sigh. “We were very rarely on pole but it was as quick on its last lap as it was on its first. It just never quit and that’s what let us blow away the competition. It was curious to drive, with a low polar moment of inertia, and it could get away from you, as it did from me once. I just told it that it wasn’t going to do that again and it was just fine after that.” 

If there was another secret to its success, it was its low frontal area relative to the Corvettes, giving it a straight-line advantage which the Americans could not answer. 

There’s not much in the way of straight lines on the Goodwood hill today, but this should not be an issue. As Tullius confirms, the car is exactly as it was then it finished its last race, though Don Law, who looks after many JDHT cars, has checked it over, rebuilt the brakes and made sure it’s safe to drive. Justin, .Don’s overtly talented son – who would later post the fastest time of the weekend in an XJR-9 – has given it its first run of the day and says it’s a delight to drive. That seems hard to imagine given its agg­ressive stance on vast slicks and its deafening exhaust, but I’m prepared to take his word for it.

And he’s right. The car is very light to handle, thanks to strong power assistance at the helm, and when you give it the gun off the line those vast slicks – thankfully only a few years rather than a generation old – light up beautifully. There’s torque in a solid wall from idle to 5 500rpm and there is nothing to be gained from pushing it further, although apparently Tullius used 7000rpm. Maybe it’s not breathing as it should at the top end. Either way, a standard Jag four-speed ‘box is slow but precise and the brakes vast slicks light up’ seem more than capable of bringing the slicks to the point of lock-up. It feels fast, as a 460bhp engine in a 1200kg car should, but its power arrives gently and consistently, and even when I later drive it in the wet -on slicks-it’s never a scary steer. 

In fact, it’s quite the reverse, allowing the power to move the back gently out of line on demand, without the slightest suggestion of snapping. I can see just enough to understand why it gained such a place in Tullius’s affections. 

By the end of 197 5 the E-type was obsolete and out of production, so Tullius turned to the new XJS. After using it in regional Production events that year, the decision was taken to tackle Trans-Am in 1977, Tullius claiming the Category 1 championship, a title he’d win again in ’78 before turning his attentions back to Triumph and putting togeth­er an IMSA GTO programme for theTR8 in ’79. 

But Tullius’s valiant efforts had not gone unnoticed on this side of the Pond. With the XJS’s competi­tiveness proven, Jaguar decided to put the sorry saga of the Broadspeed XJ12s behind it and once more go for the European touring car title. Tom Walkinshaw was handed the show to run and, after performing strongly during 1982 and ’83, he duly cleaned up in ’84, giving Jaguar its first works success since the factory team shut up shop in ’56. 

But as Walkinshaw was racing his XJSs, Tullius had embarked on a more ambitious programme: “In February 1982 I was in (thenJaguar chairman]John Egan’s office and he said two things to me. First he said, ‘I want you to take Jaguar back to Le Mans’. And then he said, ‘We will want to do this ourselves one day’.” The result was the Jaguar XJR-5, a car conceived to race in IMSA GTP in the States and at Le Mans. Two entered Le Mans in 1984 and failed to finish, while just one crossed the line, on 11 cylinders and in 13th, in ’85. But it didn’t matter: by then Walkinshaw had grabbed the reins and the TWR-desig1ie·d XJR-6 was already in existence. Tullius created an XJR-7 for IMSA, but it was TWR’s XJR-8 which won the 1987 world sportscar championship and its long-tailed successor, the XJR- 9LM, that ended Jaguar’s) I-year Le Mans drought. 

So when you attempt to forget Jaguar’s ill-fated foray into Fl by instinctively casting your mind back to happier times, to the glory days of this famous marque’s 250mph world-beating Group C cars, spare a thought for where it all started. For it was in a small regional series on the east coast of the United States that the legend ofJaguar’s V12 rac­ers was born.