Original Sinner

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Dan Gurney Jaguar E2A Prototype

It was the first E-type prototype, but when it was entered for Le Mans in 1960 it was set up in a way that mate it totally unstable. Dan Gurney talks to Adam Cooper about one Jaguar he’d rather forget.

Dan Gurney is one of just a handful of drivers whose Grand Prix careers stretched from the fifties to the seventies. Certainly as far as Formula One was concerned, the legendary Californian spent most of his long career in pretty decent machines, although one exception occurred at Spa in 1962. Porsche opted to skip the race, so Dan took up an offer to drive a private Lotus-BRM 24. It turned out to be so bad that he refused to race the thing.

“I drove a car for a guy called Wolfgang Seidel,” he recalls. “It was a Lotus that had seen better days, and it didn’t seem to know where the road was. It was really pretty clapped out. I finally said you cannot thread the needle with this thing, and I declined to drive it. It’s the only time that ever happened!”

But even that awful Lotus hasn’t stuck in Dan’s mind as quite firmly as the Jaguar he drove at Le Mans in 1960.

“I don’t want to upset people, but up until we got them to change it, I’d say the worst car I drove was the prototype E-type I shared with Walter Hangsen at Le Mans in 1960.”

As it turned out, there was not much wrong with the basic car, but the setup Gurney was initially forced to use made it, at least temporarily, an utter nightmare to drive. Entered as the E2A, but quickly dubbed the E-type (although Jenks described it as a C-Type MIdlI), the car marked a turning point in Jaguar’s history. It was effectively the last works racer of the era, but it also marked the birth of the massively successful road car, a sixties icon whose image the company is trying to recapture to this day. Although a works prototype, the car was farmed out to the American entrant Briggs Cunningham for Le Mans.

“He had a great relationship with the people at the Jaguar factory. They probably felt that if Briggs was up for it, they ought to do it that way. I had great respect for Briggs. He was always a very positive, supportive fellow, and I enjoyed a chance to share a tiny bit of his great history at Le Mans.

“I also had a great respect for Walter Hangsen, who was half a generation ahead of me. He was probably the best driver on the East Coast, and later he was a mentor to Mark Donohue.” Featuring Cunningham’s trademark blue stripes, the white car certainly looked the part. It attracted a lot of attention, not least because the only other Jag in the race was the ageing Ecurie Ecosse D-type.

“I thought the first C-type was fabulous at least the font half of it was really good. The D-type is still an all-time great, and with the E-type they were continuing the tradition of having a really nice aero look to it. I thought it was ‘great.”

Dan’s opinion changed somewhat when he got the Jag up to speed during practice.

“For whatever reason, they insisted on running it with toe-out in the rear wheels. It was exceedingly difficult, especially if you were in a passing move or got into any kind of side wind configuration. It felt that if you went past and a guy was just standing there at the side of the road, and he blew as if he was trying to blow out all the candles on his birthday cake at once, he’d put the thing into a speed wobble! It was really bad.

“I tried to respectfully complain about it, and I tried to get some assistance from Walter Hangsen but he was an old Jaguar enthusiast from way back, and refused to complain about it.”

The 40-year old Hangsen’s reluctance to rock the boat was perhaps explained by the fact that the slippery 3-litre car flew down the straights, and in his hands was actually quickest on Wednesday.

“So I sort of felt like an idiot complaining, but there was no doubt in my mind it was pretty bad. It was down to Jaguar, not Cunningham. Apparently they’d run the car at MIRA and that surprised me, because it certainly would not have felt any better on an oval! I never did understand why they did it.

“Anyway, I kept soldiering on in practice. In those days it was extremely difficult to go all the way from Amage to White House flat on the floor. And on the very first occasion that I finally got there flat around the turn that arrives before getting to White House, there was a curtain of rain that looked like you could step in and out of it. You could barely see 50 yards.

I arrived there probably going 165mph or so. And this car didn’t want to be manhandled at all…

“I went by a blur, and that was a car which was already slowing down. Then I passed another car, and then got into a tankslapper kind of situation. So I’m arriving at White House I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know I’m not going to get slowed down enough. There was the wreckage of three cars there, and seemingly no place to go. I kept fighting it and it ended up pointing at just about the only hole available; somehow I went through and never touched anything.” “Finally, they decided to put a little bit of toe-in before the race, and that transformed it into a fine car. I don’t like to say anything bad about Jaguar, because I’m also a big fan, but on that particular occasion, until we fixed it, it was not a user-friendly car at all. I wish I could recall what happened in the race, but I know we didn’t finish…”

“In fact Dan and Walt had quite a busy time. They dropped down the order after a third lap pit stop to fix a fuel leak, and eight minutes were lost.

Later the car was involved in a couple of incidents; after the second an injector pipe fractured, which led to a piston failure. Its retirement was finally registered at 1.35am. It was disappointing, but a little bit of history had been made.

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