Jaguar Heritage C Type Racer First Drive

I’ll warn you now. If you’re of the long thin Englishman build like myself, you may struggle with the fit of a C Type Jaguar.

Whatever you do, don’t let that put you off, undertake whatever contortions or even surgery may be required to fit, because it’s worth it.

I’m with Jaguar Heritage Driving Experience on the newly aquired Fen End test facility in Warwickshire, UK as they unveil their latest project. The Jaguar Heritage Driving Experience gives anyone the opportunity to experience historically significant Jaguar race and road cars on a track.

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We only have three laps today, the Jaguar Heritage guys openly admitting that I’m a guinea pig to ensure everything is working for the public event in a few days time. The C Type Experience gives significantly more seat time, but I’m happy to submit myself.

The car is 824 DOT, known as Dotty, a 1953 C Type recreation, accurate in every detail including the triple Weber carburettor setup of the works cars. The Jaguar staff view her with obvious affection. With me is Rob Newall, Monaco Historic and Le Mans Classic race winner who’s probably forgotten more about racing old Jaguars that I will learn. No pressure, then.

Twist the key, thumb the small black start button, squirt half a foot of throttle in, she catches first go.

A sharp blip gives you that familiar Weber intake, my knees splay either side of the wheel and I’m wishing I had a Universal Joint in the place of my right kneecap. My 34 inch inside leg would not have got me a works drive in 1953. I’m not deterred.

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Short throw clutch in, forward for first gear. The competition clutch sharp in it’s take up, my long legs up against the steering wheel, I give a few more revs as the Webers suck in and we’re off, transmission whining, exhaust tone building.

Rob’s explaining the trick with the four speed Moss gearbox is patience and a mental count of ‘thousand and one’, especially on the downshifts.

Into turn one and my first surprise. She turns in sharp as a dart, no understeer. And the steering remains light even as the caster comes in. Like many period cars, the desired cornering attitude is for it to take a set of slightly neutral stance, with gentle oversteer the most rapid way once you’re confident. There are some bumps right on the apex, it’s the first cold November day of autumn, the Pirelli Cinturato tyres are stone cold and I don’t want to spoil Rob’s day, so I opt for discretion.

Winding her up down the long straight, I look across a Rob, checked cloth cap reversed on his head, authentic period goggles in place. He looks back with a big grin and encourages me onwards. I shuffle down behind the aero screen, assuming a crouch to deflect the wind blast. It may be November, but man this is fun.

On the brakes, with plenty of bite. I have to give a far longer braking distance than I would normally, as I can’t get my stupid limbs to manage a heel toe, so I’m having to come off the brake to blip the downshifts which lengthens my braking. Plus I don’t want to arrive at the corner with a box full of neutrals. I manage a smooth fourth to third, but the third to second gives me a crunch. Rob reminds me to be patient. Three laps later, I’m getting the idea, blipping on the upchanges as well as the downshifts and while I’m far from perfect, I’m getting there. We need to pull back in.

My mind is full of new info and I’ve a head full of questions for Rob.

We chat about the seating position, his success at this year’s Classic LeMans in a C Type and the Monaco Historic in a Type 35 Bugatti. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this 1953 car and I’d love to do far more. But in a few day’s time, Jaguar have paying guests arriving in Warwickshire to drive this and other cars, so that will have to be another time.

It’s a bold move by Jaguar. Old, classic cars are generally quite reliable if given regular use, but Jaguar are mindful of the fact that most guests will only ever have driven a fuel injected car. They think of Weber as the name of an Australian F1 driver and will be expecting everything to be faultless.

Jaguar purchased the Fen End facility just a few months ago, after owners Prodrive moved on. They’ve big plans for the track and it’s expanding fleet of heritage cars and without doubt Jaguar Heritage will fast assume affection in the hearts of driving enthusiasts. Next summer, the chance of lapping the track with the sun blazing down, triple Webers and exhaust barking in harmony will be a perfect way to enjoy the English sunshine. Make sure you wear your cap in reverse.

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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