Leyland’s shy Jaguar leaps out to make a promising debut
Silverstone, September 19th
That the BRDC and Silverstone were honoured with the first public racing appearance of the Leyland Cars Jaguar was almost inevitable. The Broadspeed-Prepared XJ 5.3C was first presented (prematurely) at the Northamptonshire track in March this year, and had subsequently spent the long hot summer slogging round the GP circuit in search of strength, speed and adequate retardation. Despite the poor omens the Leyland team were buoyant after Saturday practice had finished. Derek Bell had taken the 29 cwt. coupe to pole position on a set of special Dunlop qualifying tyres, nearly two seconds faster than Pierre Dieudonne could neatly manage in Luigi 3.2 BMW Dieudonne/Jean Xheneeval had won six out of the previous eight European Touring Car Championship qualifying rounds, and Dieudonne was just 8/100ths slower than the Jaguar at the close of first practice. Further Leyland joy came from an Isle of Man telephone call for the executives, confirming that their previously uncompetitive and unreliable Triumph TR7s had finished the Manx International Rally in third and fifth positions, with their Dolomite Sprint ninth overall, and a clear winner of the increasingly prestigious Group 1 Category. On Saturday the Jaguar, the Original prototype which will carry on development work until Christmas, when the specification will be frozen and a second car completed, was tended just by those hardworked mechanics. On Sunday Leyland jackets and grins of enthusiasm abounded as the company men converged on the vehicle.
Wandering through the paddock and walking out to Copse for the second of the two hours’ timed practice sessions, you could not fail to be impressed by the new life in European saloon-car racing. For years, since the withdrawal of the Ford Cologne-based Capris, BMW have effectively mangled a flaccid opposition. Munich did not even require the services’ of factory drivers and cars, for expatriate Italian Luigi Cimarosti is such a BMW supporter that he does the factory’s job in this class of racing very effectively under the Luigi BMW banner from his base in Comblain, Belgium. “There is some works support, in the form of constant homologation and supply of parts to keep the obsolete BMW “Batmobile” CSL ahead of the opposition.
For Silverstone the two Luigi cars, which sport more advertising for Castrol than you will ever find on the Leyland entries, came to the start at 19.6 cwt., 9.4 cwt. less than the Jaguar. Power from a 3.2-litre version of BMWs famous s.o.h.c. straight-six is quoted at 350 b.h.p., which you can hope to be at least 200 horsepower down on the output expected from the now totally revised breathing arrangements on Jaguar’s 5.3-litre V12. Watching with these figures in mind, and the fact that BMW had asked Gunnar Nilsson to drive in the Luigi team, I wondered how long the Jaguar would be able to master not only the BMWs, but also a good Camaro for Stuart Graham/Reine Wisell. Then, as contenders in a race of over three hours, there were some astonishingly fast 2-litre contenders in the form of an Autodelta Alfetta GTV for Spartaco Dini/Amerigo Bigliazzi, and the unfamiliar sight of a BMW 320i that sped to second fastest time in the class under the guidance of Walter Brun (a prominent Swiss saloon car driver) and Peter Arm. The 320i was assembled by Eggenhuger in Switzerland around a 220 horsepower fuel-injection version of BMW’s canted 2litre motor. The 320i was very light, just over 14 cwt., used many Alpina parts, and only the previously fragile Ford Escort RS1800 of McMahon Racing or Alec Pooh:Liao Handley proved faster in practice.
In fact, the McMahon people thought they had solved the problem that has destroyed much of the manufacturer interest first shown in 1976’s simpler ‘Group 2. That is the problem of oil surge and engine destruction when combining wet sump lubrication with the cornering and braking forces generated by slick tyres. Everybody has suffered from this problem—Nilsson lost one Luigi engine in practice, the Jaguar has had innumerable sump battle plate/extension systems, and the Zakspeed Escort team were forced to withdraw from European saloon-car racing at the end of June, having failed to finish a rate. Ironically the Escort, its Hart BDA engine life-supported by an adequate oil return external pipe from camshaft top galley to sump, ran faultlessly in the rate, but a broken wheel stud cost over eight laps, and prevented the Ford from showing its true potential.
Another fast Ford was skulking under heavy layers of disguise as a privately sponsored venture. That was the new Group 2 Capri of Tom Walkinshaw/Bill Dryden. Powered by a 300-horsepower Racing Services V6 with Lucas fuel injection, the new Ford was shaken down from its hasty four-week building programme by Bill Shaw Racing and returned competitive times amidst a haze of blue smoke. The Capri II, not present on Sunday for the race, the newly fabricated alloy wheel hubs being incorrectly designed. However, the Capri II does show a potential that could give both Leyland and BMW cause for concern next season.
Practice for a long-distance event is often notable for being the only occasion on which the drivers really get wound up in exciting style. The TT offered not only the spectacle of Bell power-sliding the Jaguar through Copse. opposite lock pronounced as a fat rear tyre scrabbled up the exit kerbing and the back squatted on the floor, through practice, but also in the race. The Jaguar VI 2 has a sonorous note, not as shrill as BMWs six, that builds almost lethargically. The car does not look particularly fast in a straight line, but it obviously goes better than any of the opposition in a straight line. The weight and the lack of either a full wing system (a la, BMW ) or a boot-mounted spoiler (Chevrolet Camaro) make it hard to believe that the Jaguar offers any advantage over its opposition under cornering or braking conditions.
Practice was also enlivened on this occasion as the under-1,300-c.c. boys swished desperately into corners faster and faster in their efforts to avoid disqualification under a time penalty operated as the need to qualify within 125% of the fastest time with both drivers: a regulation that was not actually enforced for the race. Eventually 4-3 cars did get to the start. The RAC had granted a special dispensation for 44 cars to take the grid, and it was nice to hear the crowd’s appreciation as the Jaguar, Derek Bell’s Union jack-decorated helmet bobbing within, moved up to take its hard-won pole position.
Now Ralph Broad and the Woodcote chicane-spectating Alex Park awaited the result of Broadspeed’s publicly-protracted labours. The pace lap over, Anthony Salmon’s Stag lurched for cover and the Jaguar powered away from the Jean Xhenceval conducted Luigi BMW that had been alongside on the two-by-two grid.
The Jaguar held the lead for the first lap, but as they completed their breath-taking flight over the chicane kerbing, Nilsson started a successful Jaguar overtaking manoeuvre in the second Luigi car. Third place was the preserve of the Graham Camaro, the following pack of big private BMWs enlivened by Poole’s Escort (seventh), the Arm/Brun 320i (ninth) and the lively tenth place scrap between Chris Craft (Dolomite Sprint), Gordon Spice (Ford Capri 3000S) and John Markey (2.3 Mazda RX3).
On lap five the Jaguar was back ahead, but four laps later Nilsson’s BMW was in front. The Jaguar started to fade with tyre trouble (it had needed different compounds front to rear, and different compounds either side at the back!) that culminated in a puncture. Bell was unable to bring the car in promptly and, by the time he did get in, the tyre was off the rim and Derek was anxiously surveying the rear floor for damage. The Jaguar re-entered the fray five laps later, Bell rejoining Nilsson’s BMW (which had also suffered a flat tyre) and taking full revenge by overtaking and pulling away, well on its way to a new Group 2 lap record of J min. 38.5 sec. (107.15 m.p.h.). When the jaguar was handed over to David Hobbs the damage from the earlier tyre incident became apparent as a driveshaft outer end broke, the NSR wheel bounding free and the Jaguar being neatly restrained from destruction and brought to a safe halt at the start of the Hangar straight.
The race itself, watched by 14,800 spectators (nearly double the 1975 total) had plenty to interest the enthusiast, even with the Jaguar’s departure. Almost inevitably, especially in view of the Championship points position, Nilsson was held back by fuel pump trouble, and the full use of rent-a-drivers Martino FinottO/limberto Grano in that car: after all, that is how Luigi pays some of his bills!
Luigi’s brother-in-law, Jean Xhenceval, shared with Pierre Dieudonne and Hughes de Fierlant in the untroubled Luigi CM.. that had initially chased the Jaguar so hard in practice, and they won easily. Although there was another BMW in second position that quiet English gentleman John Fitpatrick sharing Bernard Carlier’s CSL with Jean Louis Lafosse, the top ten had a pleasing variety of Alfa Romeo, Ford, Opel and Mazda within its confines. This bodes well for the series in 1977, especially when, and if, augmented with a brace of Jaguars.
Alfa Romeo deserve special congratulation, for not only did Dini/Bigliazzi’s Alfetta grasp a magnificent third overall on two reliable litres, an older model 1300 ()T) for Swiss Rolf Hadorn/Mario Vanoli also took its class to complete a Milanese double. How much we’ll see of Alfa Romeo’s 1977 saloon car promise fulfilled depends entirely on the effort Autodelta are prepared to give to think of anything apart from that flat 12 F1 engine,and their avowed group 6 sports car schedule.