Number Plates - OKV 3

The D-Type Jaguar needs no introduction for it personifies the nineteen-fifties sports-racing car, even if its competition successes were limited to smooth circuits of the Autodrome type. If anyone needs an interpretation of the words "purpose built" then the D-Type is the best example for it was designed and built with one purpose in mind, and that was to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race, which it did magnificently. It won many more races as well, but when pitted against Ferrari and Maserati or Mercedes-Benz on more rugged circuits, like Dundrod or the Nurburgring, it was not to successful due in the main to the limited road-holding of its rear suspension, which was non-independent. Anyone who has driven a D-Type Jaguar at high speed on a normal road will know that the rear end leaps and bounces about something awful, though it is not difficult to maintain control of the car. If you get the opportunity to drive a lightweight E-type competition roadster hard-top immediately afterwards with its independent coil sprung rear end, as I have done, you really get the D-type in its proper perspective. When you look at a normal E-type Jaguar roadster you realise that it is a very direct descendant from the racing D-type and you admire Jaguar engineering and the way the whole concept of the D-type was developed and improved into one of the world's classic production sports cars.

The construction of the D-type was truly evolutionary when it appeared in 1954, though the mechanical components were well proven. From the sheet-steel box-section chassis of the XK120, Jaguar had passed through the tubular space-frame of the C-type to the monocoque construction of the D-type, which eventually went into the production E-type. The strength of the D-type lay in its stressed-skin monocoque centre section from which a square-tube engine bay protruded forwards to carry the engine and front suspension. The rear suspension was hung on the rear bulkhead of the centre section, and the springing medium was torsion bars front and rear. The all-enveloping streamlined body was a real eye-catcher in 1954 and still is twenty-seven years later. Behind the driver's head was a fairing which was often embellisehd by a large vertical fin which extended to the rear of the tail, and in full racing trim a wrap-round perspex screen surrounded the driver's cockpit. When the prototype was built, with a dry-sump version of the 3.4-litre 6-cylinder twin-cam XK Jaguar engine, already well proven in the XK120 and the XK120C, it was given the chassis number XKC 401 and was registered in Coventry OVC 501. The previous competition Jaguar had been the tubular space frame version using XK120 components and had had the suffix C added to denote Competition, but it was invariably referred to as the C-type. This pre-supposed that there had been a B-type before that and an A-type before that, which was totally untrue. In the Jaguar experimental department the exciting new car was labelled XKC, it merely being another competition version of the basic XK Jaguar design. However, once released to the outside world everyone called it the D-type Jaguar, as it was the logical follow-on to the previous competition car from the Browns Lane factory. The first batch of cars was built for the factory's Le Mans team, and were all stamped XKC, but later these were changed to XKD and subsequent cars followed suit. The D-type designation was more or less forced on to the Jaguar firm and they wisely acquiesced and really cashed in on the subsequent E-type designation.

The first three works cars, after the prototype, were XKD 402, 403 and 404 and these three were registered for the road as OKV 1, OKV 2 and OKV 3, respectively, and it is the third car of the two which features in this story. There were two more built during 1954, making a total of six, including the prototype, and these used aluminium square-section tube for the engine bay structure. In 1955 the D-type went into full. production and the engine bay construction was changed to steel tubing, still square-section. During 1955 a total of 75 D-type structures were laid down, of which 16 were destined to be XKSS models, which were fully road-equipped touring versions. In 1956 there were six more D-types built and then production stopped so that a grand total of 87 structures were built, of which 71 actually took to the road as D-type Jaguars.

To return to OKV3, it was driven at Le Mans in 1954 by Peter Whitehead and K Wharton, as the third team car and at midnight it was lying 2nd, but was being plagued by fuel-feed trouble and it eventually retired with a broken gearbox. One of the other team cars eventually finished 2nd behind a 4.9-litre Ferrari. Following Le Mans the works team took part in the Reims 12 hour race and in this Whitehead and Wharton again drove OKV3 and scored the first victory for a D-type Jaguar. They covered just over 2,000 kilometres between midnight on Saturday and midday on Sunday, which gave them an average speed of 168.935 kph (104 mph approx) and the D-type's maximum was around 160 mph, Wharton having been timed at Le Mans at — 258.06 kph. The car was retained by the works and used by them for the rest of the year. It took part in the Brighton Speed Trials, driven by Jaguar's chief test-driver Norman Dewis and in the wet he finished second to an Allard with 51/2-litre Cadillac power with a time of 29.14 seconds against 28.36 seconds. In the afternoon when the weather was dry Dewis gave a demonstration run and recorded 26.14 seconds which would have been a new sports-car course record had it not been a demonstration. This was over the standing-start kilometre, and the car was using a 3.54 to 1 rear axle ratio. After this a 4.27 to 1 rear axle ratio was fitted and Peter Walker, one of the works team drivers, drove it in the Prescott Hill Climb. It poured with rain and Walker got nowhere.

In those days, at Motor Show time, the English and Foreign press were entertained at the Goodwood motor racing circuit and allowed to drive examples of all the new cars from British manufacturers. As the D-type was being offered for sale as a ready-to-race competition sports car, OKV3 was made available at Goodwood and any reasonably responsible journalist was allowed to drive it round the circuit. This was an impressive display of confidence on the part of Jaguar, to let the motoring writers loose in an actual Le Mans car. Remarkably, it came to no harm. This was in October 1954 and the following month it was used by the factory team for a test day at Silverstone to evaluate drivers for the 1955 season. After that it was cleaned up, the tail fin was removed, and it was prepared as the exhibit for the Bruxelles Motor Show in early 1955, to represent the very saleable production D-type. It remained at the factory during 1955 and was used by the works for the Daily Express meeting at Silverstone. where Mike Hawthorn drove it, leading comfortably in the sports car race with a new lap record only to have a water hose-pipe fail. He limped home in 4th place. At the end of the season Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton shared it in the Goodwood 9 hour race, but it only lasted four laps before the drive to the ignition distributor sheared.

In October of that year it underwent a complete factory rebuild and was kept on the books for 1956 though only used by them for testing purposes, as they had new cars for the racing team. Early in 1957 John Coombs, the Guildford Jaguar agent, bought OKV3 and for three years it languished "in the Trade" as no-one was interested in an old D-type which was past its prime tor racing purposes. Eventually it was sold to John Love who had it shipped out to Southern Rhodesia and during his active 1960 season with OKV3 he won the Angolan Grand Prix. It was then sold to the Jaguar agent in Pretoria and during the 1961 Kyalami 9 hour race it was crashed badly. A business group in Pretoria than bought the car and in 1965 Paul Hawkins discovered it and shipped it back to England. Richard Melville-Smith bought it off Hawkins and returned it to the factory for a major rebuild.

In 1971 Martin Morris was racing it for Melville-Smith in Historic racing when he had a really major accident at Snettenon. When he had recovered he bought the wreckage off Melville-Smith and started a monumental rebuild which involved re-jigging the central monocoque. It was completed by 1973 and Morris took it back to Le Mans that year for an historic event, in which he finished 3rd. Martin Morris still owns the car today and it is still running in historic racing events, using its original 3.4-litre engine, proving that old cars, like old soldiers, need never die. — DSJ.

[Thanks are due to Andrew Whyte for information from his extensive Jaguar archives in which all D-types are fully documented]