Jaguar - a leap too far?

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Jaguar entered F1 in 2000 with great optimism, the cars presented with a lavish release at Lords. If a podium success was not expected in the first F1 season, at least finishes were anticipated. Alas, it has been described as a year of horrors.

It is noticeable that this year’s Jaguar R2 was launched at a far lower key, and it was cautiously explained that Ford’s £85-million goal will take time to achieve, although it was stated that in five years time F1 promoters will need Jaguar as they today need Ferrari; spending nearly £1.5 million a race to rekindle the great Jaguar image of the 1950s shows how much Ford needs F1. What a prestige-building era the ’50s was! I remember, for instance, the 1950 Dundrod TT which Stirling Moss won so convincingly in pouring rain over this difficult circuit, driving an XK120C which looked just like those you’d soon have chance to purchase for £1263.

Motor Sport was as delighted as I was surprised to receive a letter from Sir William Lyons himself, saying that he had watched the race and that our description was the only one that gave a realistic picture of the event. It was not that Jaguar had been mentioned, simply that he thought it was good journalism.

Then there were all Jaguar’s Le Mans victories. Peters Walker and Whitehead won in 1951, averaging 93.498mph to lead home a Talbot by 83.7 miles. And I recall how the 3.4 Jaguars of Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton and Moss and Walker were first and second in 1953, the speed up to 105.85mph for the 24 hours. Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb won in 1955, from Aston Martin, and the same happened in 1956, with Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson winning from the Moss/Collins Aston Martin. Then in 1957 there was that marvellous 1-2-3-4 finish. How desirable, too, were Jaguar’s saloons powered, like the sportscars, by William Heynes’ superb twin-cam six-cylinder engines, surely the greatest production engine of this type ever? I recall how impressed I was with these prestigious, driveable, fast, yet competitively priced cars, one of which I would gladly have owned.

Then came the fabulous E-type, a production sportscar, so eye-catching, capable of 150mph, yet docile in traffic, for £2098 in 1961. If a young sportsman could not afford a Jaguar he very likely bought a fast Ford or similar car, saving some £700. Today the least expensive Jag costs £26,700 whereas a Ford Mondeo Zetec-S costs only £17,000. In the 1950s, Jaguar established a top reputation through sportscar successes in Europe and America, and sold its cars at exceptionally low prices. Should the Coventry firm perhaps concentrate again on winning such races, or does James Thomas, Jaguar’s Manager of Motorsport, see sportscars as being too far removed from the image of a production car?

Against this, VW has built the AudiBentley EXP Speed 8 for Le Mans.

Is Formula One, for Jaguar, a venture too far?

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