It was a big dream, with a big car – and huge bills. BL’s ETCC challenge soon ran aground, but now the XJC is back – and winning!
By Gordon Cruickshank
Oil. It’s what our sport runs on. It’s vital, but in the wrong place it can ruin all your plans. It happened to Andy Rouse late in 1977. The place: Silverstone. The race: the TT. The machine: Broadspeed Jaguar XJC. The quarry: victory in Britain’s top saloon match – and the probability of a triumphant season in ’78.
After a troubled year with the big handsome Jag, heavy-laden with British hopes, it looked as though it might finally happen. The failures had been so regular that William Hill was practically running a book on which one – rear hubs, oil surge, tyres – would yet again stop the fastest car on the track. For it was quick: double front rows again and again, frequent fastest laps… And now, on home ground, a huge crowd, here largely to see the thunderous Big Cat, held its breath. Sure, the Jaguar had been leading earlier; nothing new there. But this was the close of the race; only 12-11-10 laps to go and Rouse was lying second and catching Tom Walkinshaw’s 3.0CSL in handfuls. Surely BMW’s run of ETCC victories was about to come to a halt, toppled by a red, white and blue behemoth with a polished walnut dashboard.
It seemed a mad choice in the first place. Why the taller, longer-wheelbase coupé instead of the sleek XJ-S with the same V12? Marketing, say some: closer to Jaguar’s prestige XJ6 saloon. Homologation, say others – XJ-S rear seats didn’t qualify it as a touring car. Compounding it all, the corporate clash of British Leyland’s marketeers – all PR frenzy and no clue about racing – and engineers with Jaguar stitched into their seams who didn’t think the benefit worth the pain. Let Ralph Broad, the guiding hand, lay it out plain why the XJ-S failed homologation: “Total cock-up! I told them, take half an inch out of the rear seat padding or the S won’t qualify. They didn’t – it was thrown out. So they said let’s race the coupé. I said, that shithouse? It weighs 2½ tons. It’ll never stop. I knew that CSL inside-out. A lightweight six that handled like an F2 car up against that lump? No chance.”
But Leyland, the umbrella group now harbouring Jaguar, Rover and Triumph among others, had stars in its eyes after Broadspeed’s success with the Dolomite Sprint – and Ralph had a company to run. “I said I’d only do it on a cost-plus basis, thinking they’d never bite. Couldn’t believe it when they said OK.”
Having landed himself with the job, Broad’s problems were plain: stiffening the long, flexible car, braking all that weight and getting some adjustability into that rear subframe with only a lower wishbone, the driveshaft forming the top link. This would come to haunt the project. And the rear discs were inboard where they could quietly fry themselves.
Clearly power was not an issue, helped by special cylinder heads, but they’d need all of it. “That’s why it had no power steering,” says Ralph. “I wanted all of it at the wheels.”
They started with a production car. And a time deficit. As well as racing the car, saloon ace and engineer Andy Rouse developed it. “The timescale was horrendous. There was never enough time, with the PR lot always pushing. Ralph was probably behind that – always ahead of himself,” he says with a grin.
At the unveiling in April 1976, a spokesman announced that this car would win the next ETCC round – in three weeks time. Derek Bell had signed to drive, and recalls the day wryly. “I couldn’t believe it. The car was completely undeveloped, and here was some PR man saying we were going to show BMW how it was done. It was ludicrous.”
And of course impossible. Race after race of 1976 slid past with a Jag-free grid, while the team crowbarred weight away (leaving the walnut dash, as Gp2 regs demanded) and experimented with brakes. “We started with eight-pot calipers at the front!” says Rouse. “But finally we used GT40 units.”
John Davenport, who joined Leyland in December 1976 as director of motor sport, remembers, “Every problem was tackled by adding weight – bigger discs, calipers, pumps, uprights… I recall standing in the pits at a test day with F1 designer Gordon Murray, who asked what the problem was. I said, it weighs 1680kg and we have to slow it for Stowe from 135mph. He said ‘Oh shit!’”
Expectations were high in September when the coupé finally appeared for the TT at Silverstone. National pride and memories of Le Mans stoked the fans’ fire and the Union Jacks waved furiously as the rumbling Jag collected pole. But not for long: Bell’s early lead fell away as the brakes played up and a tyre went down. Those tyres twisting on the rims were a regular weak spot. Like the rear hub flanges. When David Hobbs took over, one let go and a wheel disappeared. Not for the last time…
With fresh ’shells ready for ’77, that car did not race again. It became the development car on which Rouse tested every new mod, and also the show car during 1977, then went into the Coventry Transport Museum. Now it’s been released from captivity, restored to race worthiness and has finally added a victory to the XJC’s less than happy tale. Mike Wilkinson’s eponymous preparation shop has done the work for the owner, well-known club racer Chris Scragg, and they have brought the car back to Silverstone for the first time in decades. Rouse is here too, to tell us about that fraught period and, naturally, to get back behind the wheel.
Chris has a squad of Jaguars and Astons but wanted this to remain true to its history. Which is why the car I’m inspecting in a damp pitlane is not quite like the ones I recall drooling over in Motor Sport. It has those bulging arches and bulldozer airdam, but where are the steamroller wheels, the deep blue flanks?
“This was the car used for the launch, so I’ve had it done in the first paint scheme,” says Chris. “And it only ever ran on 16in rims, so we’ve kept those.” He and Mike point out the extraordinary originality of the machine: “Same windscreen, switches, instruments, headlights… Those are TT scrutineer labels. And we have the original seat Andy made for himself back at the shop.” In case there’s any doubt, I hear Andy say “I remember making those cooling ducts!”.
Chris wanted to race the XJ, so it’s not all ’76-spec: instead of the original 500, it has the dry-sumped 560bhp of the later V12, power steering, and twin silencers. That’s why when Chris gets in and presses ‘go’ there’s a loud rumble but not an ear-splitter. Yet before long we can hear that 12-cylinder wail above the Porsches and Westfields. Then it’s Rouse’s turn.
“It’s 33 years since I sat here,” he grins as he straps on the orange helmet, does up the straps and rolls smoothly away. When he returns after some damp but enjoyable laps he’s smiling. “That was like going back in time! But it’s nicer with the power steering. Driving the later cars on the big wheels was like being sentenced to hard labour. It was a difficult car compared to the BMW. The clutch was heavy, and the brakes. And it was so hot!”
And they were doing gruelling six-hour events in their day. Now the gleaming cat faces 10- or 20-lap historic races – where the galloping fuel thirst isn’t relevant – and Chris won first time out, in a Masters Touring 70s event against Batmobiles and Cologne Capris. Its old rivals, in fact. Heartening for those who watched with anguish every time the menacing Jags took to the track in that tortured year of 1977.
Broadspeed built two new cars from parts for this season, using parts developed on our feature car. A massive rollcage stiffened the ’shell, after acid-dipping to cut weight. “Ha!” wryly exclaims Roger King, one of the project engineers. “It took away too much in some places. We had to reinforce the sills; it only saved a matter of a few kilos. We went to 19in rims which allowed bigger brakes but they were always marginal. We tried electric cooling fans, and water cooling too.” In fact 001 still has this system on all four brakes – and it works!
King lists the mods for chassis 2 and 3: fabricated front suspension arms and subframe, new geometry, mag-alloy front uprights, twin diff oil coolers, adjustable rear lower arms. “But the rear was always the problem. The load on those driveshaft splines was huge.” Repeated breakages here meant you lost your upper link – and your wheel. That pitched both cars (driven now by Bell/Rouse and John Fitzpatrick/Tim Schenken) out of the Salzburgring round, after scoring pole and leading. Still, at least both ran: in the opener at Monza oil feed problems and a shortage of engines meant only one started, and soon went pop.
“It was desperate,” King recalls. “We were developing race by race. There just weren’t enough engines ready, and doing European rounds the cars were away for ages. We had to repair them in the paddock.”
Yet the cars were quicker than ever. Huge Dunlop slicks, that vertical cliff of an airdam and the new tail spoiler all helped. “That spoiler was worth 2sec a lap,” says Rouse. But more speed meant further over-stressing the oil system, restricted by the regs to a wet sump (a decision that damaged the ETCC and would be reversed during the season). “There was just so much oil to move around. We tried everything – baffles, extra feeds,” says King. “We were always fighting the regs. We even hid an extra pump in the vee to move oil to the front.”
What’s amazing is what got through the regs. For a start, no road XJC ever had a manual gearbox. Or water-cooled brakes. “Of course it was illegal,” says an unabashed Broad today from his Portuguese home. “It had to be.”
The team couldn’t muster two working cars for the next two rounds. “We sent the cars to Mugello while I stayed behind testing parts,” says Rouse. “If they worked I was to fly out and fit them. They didn’t…”
But Brno looked good. Double front row again, the best BMW six seconds adrift. ‘Road’ cars winning on a road circuit – just what an increasingly alarmed BL was desperate for.
“The budget was running away,” says Davenport. “They were horrified by the tide of invoices, and the PR was mostly bad.”
Brno brought a result, the coupé’s first finish – 16th. After another blown V12 and another tyre deflation. Even the team had doubts. “Tim and I drove together,” says John Fitzpatrick, “and the second guy almost never got in. We used to joke they didn’t need us both – will you go this time or will I? But basically the car was terrific. Big power, handled well, easily capable of making up the extra fuel stop [a permanent worry due to the thirst and restricted tank size]. Ralph was a terrific engineer, but it was a Leyland thing. Jaguar didn’t want it to happen. There was no help.”
Davenport, the uncomfortable middleman, agrees: “Ralph needed more co-operation from Jaguar on special parts. He needed a forged rear upright above all, and never got it. In fact Bob Knight, senior engineer at Jaguar, disagreed with some of Ralph’s tactics and was actually building a rival car, an XJ-S, until the MD stamped on it.”
“Jaguar didn’t believe their flanges were failing,” says Rouse, “and insisted on testing them in-house.” The result wasn’t exactly positive, says Broad. “They said ‘you’re producing too much power. Cut it down! We don’t care if you only come second.’ I said ‘I’m only in this to win.’” It confirmed just how far relations had sunk between the fiery Midlander and an unrealistic client.
Yet by the time of the Nürburgring 6 Hours the drooping Union flags flew out straight once more. Front row again, and from the flag Fitz set a race lap record. “You wouldn’t think the ’Ring would suit a big car like that,” he muses, “but we had 15sec on them by lap two.” The lap he blew up on… But Bell and Rouse changed strategy: “We decided not to try to beat the BMWs,” Derek said later. “We just sat there, didn’t push, and came home second.” Surely the start of the good times…
No. They came home from Zandvoort with two broken cars. Which brings us to Silverstone and that momentous TT. Bell and Schenken are out, thanks to another spline failure, but Andy Rouse is sweating for victory, hurling the gorgeous, muscular Jaguar across the asphalt and edging closer to Tom Walkinshaw’s rear lights. A vast crowd is cheering him on. “It was a terrific race,” Andy says, smiling. “Dry, wet, dry – in the dry I led, in the wet he got past. But someone had blown up at Abbey and I just went sailing off on his oil.” The heavy machine bogged down in the gravel, and the life-saving injection which could have rescued it blew away in the chilly Silverstone winds.
“Tom saw me spin, so he knew to avoid the oil next lap,” adds Rouse. It wasn’t the only gain. Later, TWR would benefit from much of Broadspeed’s work (plus the right car, sledgehammered into compliance) when the Walkinshaw XJ-S took the ETCC title.
There were three rounds to go. Both cars went to Zolder: pole position and the race lead again, one blown V12, one broken gearbox. Memos flew at British Leyland. Davenport says the cancellation release was already written, while Ralph Broad was fed up. “I got so pissed off. They were running around like chickens. They beat me to it. I’d written my letter telling them to stuff it when I got their telegram saying they couldn’t afford it any more. Never known such incompetence. In the Dolomite days we spent a day discussing whether I could use alloy wheels. After the Jag I went to Germany. They were a breath of fresh air.”
Was this really the verge of success? Yes, says Fitz. “They were always quick and they were getting reliable, especially with the dry sump [made legal in July ’77].” Rouse, though, feels the fuel handicap was always against them, that they couldn’t make up the extra stops over the frugal BMW. “And the tyres let us down too.”
A fourth car was on the way by now, lighter, with improved suspension, but the build was stopped. Rumours of Rouse building himself a road car are nonsense, he says, probably sparked by the John Steed lookalike car built for the Avengers TV series on a standard base. One of the ’77 XJCs lives in the Jaguar Heritage collection, one is in France, while car four was built up in recent years and appears at shows. But you can watch and hear chassis 1 in Masters events this year (and see it at RaceRetro) as Chris Scragg acts out Andy Rouse’s one-time hopes. At the pits, gazing at the car he’s just vacated cooling and ticking, Andy sighs: “Woodcote used to be just a dab on the brakes in this. Wonderful! Biggest disappointment of my life when they killed it.”