• An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It

This 1955 Jaguar D-Type was once driven by SCCA star George Constantine and can now be yours

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Has there ever been a more famous sports car than the Jaguar D-Type? Following in the footsteps of the C-Type, Jaguar’s first purpose-built racer, the D-Type defined an entire era of sports car racing and did so with a combination of charm and power that has arguably never been matched.

From its howling inline-six engine, its emblematic curves culminating with that tail-fin, to the myriad of race wins it achieved throughout the ’50s, the D-Type stands tall across the ages as perhaps the embodiment of Jaguar’s finest hour. And you can now own an example made during the original production run some 64 years ago.

This, the 33rd D-Type made, features an extensive racing record Stateside

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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In human years, the Jaguar D-Type has arguably reached retirement age (depending on where you live). Introduced in 1954 as a direct replacement to the C-Type and as an answer to whatever Cunningham, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and the others were doing, the D-Type won Le Mans three times, cementing the reputation of disc brakes over drums as it did so and also served as the inspiration for Jaguar’s greatest road car, the E-Type.

It is for all of those reasons, and many more beyond, that the D-Type is generally considered to be the rightful claimant for a seat in the automotive pantheon of legends. Jaguar acknowledged the unique aura of the D-Type when it announced, in 2018, that its Jaguar Classic division would get to work building brand-new D-Types following to pathological lengths the original drawings and all the data.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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The British automaker vowed then to build just 25 examples corresponding to the 25 chassis plates that remained unused when the D-Type's production ceased in late 1956.

Jaguar still cashes in on the D-Type’s legend

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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You may remember that, at the time that Jaguar decided to end its racing program, the D-Type was already beginning to show its age, and customers for it were few and far between which prompted the company to announce the introduction of the XKSS, effectively a D-Type that was tamed for road use.

The 25 ’remaining’ chassis tags were to go on the new XKSS examples that were to be built at Jaguar’s HQ in Browns Lane. However, a fire broke out in February of 1957 that ravaged a portion of the facility destroying nine XKSS chassis in the process. Jaguar Classic decided, in 2016, to build nine XKSS as a way to sort of replace the ones that were destroyed in ’57. The 25 ’new-old’ D-Types, meanwhile, effectively expand on an alternate timeline wherein Jaguar managed to build 100 D-Types as originally planned.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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All of the above doesn’t really have to do with the subject at hand but I digressed on purpose to show you how Jaguar tries to cash in on the fame and status of the D-Type and its by-product, the XKSS. That can only mean one thing: that the D-Type really is that special, enough to warrant Jaguar Classic to put a $1.4 million price tag on those continuation Ds. And that’s how we go back to base because here we have a D-Type that was actually completed at Browns Lane in period. It’s the 33rd car built and it did compete in some well-known races back in those days.

Here’s why the D-Type is a legend

I won’t go over the entire D-Type history but it’s worth pointing out that what Jaguar did was to improve on what it already had. Meaning that the company took the C-Type’s heart, the wonderful 3.4-liter, inline-six XK engine designed by William Heynes, and its disc brakes and went on from there. As chief Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis put it, "when we moved away from the C-type — the D was different in its center of gravity, its steering geometry and things like that, as well as its construction - we moved into a new era of sportscar design."

The centerpiece of it all and, basically, the element that made the D-Type’s construction quite novel was its chassis because Jaguar decided to forgo the multi-tubular, triangulated frame of the C-Type and, instead, conceive one of the first semi-monocoques in the world, almost a decade before the first full-monocoque F1 car (the Lotus 25) arrived on the scene. This stressed-skin, elliptical-in-cross-section central tub made out of 18 gauge magnesium alloy had a tubular aluminum subframe in front of it that sat the engine, positioned at an eight-degree angle, and the wishbone/torsion bar front suspension. The rear suspension’s pickup points were attached to the rear bulkhead of the semi-monocoque.

Malcolm Sayer came up with a design that was light years away from that of the C-Type since Jaguar realized that you needed an ultra-low-drag profile to succeed at Le Mans and borrowing design cues from your road-registered land yachts wouldn’t help in that endeavor. Ultimately, though, the D-Type’s cues did trickle down to a production model as Sayer oversaw the design of 1961’s E-Type (the XKSS notwithstanding). Of course, no production model ever featured the D’s tail-fin but, believe it or not, the fin wasn’t there merely for style as it helped to stabilize the car at high speed through crosswinds.

The car debuted in 1954 and wasn’t a winner straight out of the box. Jaguar had won at Le Mans in 1951 and, again, in 1953, both wins having been achieved by the C-Type. It was natural, then, that the D-Type would debut in France to defend Jaguar’s victory the year before. But it couldn’t as two cars retired and a third, driven by Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, came second. The Britons were soundly beaten by a ginormous Ferrari 375 Plus that was manhandled to the front of the field by Froilan Gonzalez, a man whose bravery in the dreadfully wet conditions couldn’t be matched by either Rolt or Hamilton although the latter flew Lysander airplanes during the War meaning he had no shortage of braveness of his own.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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Regardless of that, the D-Type would go on to win Le Mans three times in the next three years with the first arriving in tragic circumstances after the factory Mercedes-Benz team pulled out of the race partway through as a direct result of Pierre Levegh’s gruesome crash. The other two wins were achieved by the private Ecurie Ecosse operation that conquered Le Mans despite the fact that Ferrari and Maserati went all-in with big-engine beasts while the fuel-injected version of the XK six-pot only displaced 3.8 liters which translated to no more than 306 horsepower - up from the original 252 horsepower output made by the carbureted 3.4-liter engine but a while away from Ferrari’s +380 horsepower V-12s.

The car that’s now available through Jarrah Venables, #XKD545, was completed in November 1955, the year that saw Jaguar churning out an impressive 51 D-Types for customers. These all featured the short-nose front end coupled with the 1954-spec tailfin. Eight other examples built by the ’Competition’ department came with some improvements, especially the five units that went on to be campaigned by the factory team. Those cars are unique for they had longer noses and longer fins. Other updates unobtainable by customers included new valve angles and a revised inlet manifold, which, Dewis told Motor Sport magazine,"gave us 26-28 horsepower more, which put us up to about 298 horsepower. In ’55, I pulled 192 mph down the Mulsanne whereas the previous year we did something like 180 mph."

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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Dewis too drove #XKD545 since Jaguar made sure that each customer received a car that was properly set up and ready to be raced. As such, each car would be shaken down by Dewis at the MIRA test track where any faults or issues could be spotted and then rectified back at the factory. This particular example went through three test runs totaling some 305 miles of driving. Thereafter, the car was prepared to be loaded on a boat as it had been ordered by Max Hoffman, the biggest distributor of luxurious European cars at the time. Hoffman, of course, was not only the US Jaguar importer at the time but also the man that urged Mercedes-Benz to build what would become the 300 SL as well as a number of other cars due to his unique ability to sense what customers wanted and even pic up on upcoming trends.

The history of this baby-blue D-Type

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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Jake Kaplan bought the car from Hoffman and quickly entered it in the 1956 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring. The car looked resplendent in its Pastel Blue over blue leather interior shining in the Florida sun as it lined up 12th on the grid. There were eight other D-Types on the grid that year and the cars were lined up in order of their engines’ displacement. Given the fact that all D-Types featured the same 3.4-liter engine, they were organized based on their race number.

Kaplan would be partnered in the race by Russ Boss whom he also had as a team-mate in 1955 when the duo finished 12th in a C-Type, 20 laps down on the race-winning D-Type entered by Briggs Cunningham’s team. Kaplan sought to improve on his previous result in ’56 and that’s why he acquired a D-Type but the competition was arguably tougher than ever with both Aston Martin and Ferrari bringing three cars apiece. Maserati was on site as well with two 3.0-liter models and then there were the many privateer teams of which those running the other D-Types were the strongest.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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As was customary back then, the race got underway with a Le Mans-style start that benefitted Stirling Moss who got off to an early lead driving a Works Aston Martin DB3S. Soon enough, though, the Briton was swamped by the field with Mike Hawthorn’s fuel-injected Jag moving into the lead in one of the semi-Works Jaguar of New York Distributors cars. As the race wore on, the tough Sebring track took its toll on a variety of cars (and drivers). Hawthorn himself, for instance, retired with merely 90 minutes of the race left to go when the brakes failed. By then, Moss’ challenge had long since evaporated, brought down by an engine failure.

Brake-related issues also took out the Duncan Hamilton/Ivor Bueb-crewed Jaguar while valve failure laid behind the retirement of the Bill Spear/Sherwood Johnston’s car’s retirement. Carlos Menditeguy’s Maserati was a write-off after the Argentine suffered a brutal roll-over accident that put him in hospital. Kaplan and Boss, on the other hand, hung in there for a good while, only to retire after completing 120 laps due to serious brake issues. In the end, Ferrari scored a commanding 1-2 victory led home by the Juan Manuel Fangio/Eugenio Castelotti 860 Monza that hid a 3.4-liter, four-cylinder engine under its swooping body. Luigi Musso and Harry Schell were right behind in an identical car while Americans Bob Sweikert/Jack Ensley saved face for Jaguar by finishing third, ahead of both the best Maserati and the best Aston Martin.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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Following the 12-hour race, Kaplan showed up with the D-Type at a Motor Press Day held at Thompson Raceway in Connecticut on June 6th.

There, the car was driven by a variety of drivers that took turns doing exhibition runs, among them being Briggs Cunningham who’d raced a D-Type at Sebring after his own Cunningham C6-R’s engine failed in practice. Shortly thereafter, Kaplan parted ways with the car, presumably to focus more on his expanding Jaguar (and others) dealership. However, he did apparently race again in 1956 entering a Corvette C1 in both the Watkins Glen Grand Prix (in September) and the Nassau Speed Week races in December. If his gig selling Jaguars saw him surge to become one of the leading Jaguar dealers in the US, he returned to Sebring in ’57 behind the wheel of a tiny Alfa Romeo which he and Charlie Rainville would drive to a class victory.

By then, the D-Type had already been owned and raced by famed SCCA regular George Constantine. He first showed up with #XKD545 at an SCCA regional meeting at Montgomery in August of 1956 but retired in both races. Then, back at Thompson Raceway for the SCCA Labor Day Meeting in September, Constantine scored a third-place finish which was also third in the C-Modified class as he was beaten by John Fitch and Walt Hansgen, both also in D-Types. A stuck gearbox ended the day on a less-than-positive note for Constantine.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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Undeterred, the American then took the car to upstate New York for the Watkins Glen Grand Prix. With the tarmac quite literally shredding underneath him, Constantine took pole position for the main race. Despite the appalling state of the track’s surface, the race was run anyway because the drivers wanted to race in what was one of the marquee sports car events at the time. Constantine ended up taking victory after lapping all but four of the other drivers. He followed that up with a Jaguar Owners’ Club hill climb victory in Canada before scoring two third-place finishes in another showoff against Fitch and Hansgen at Thompson. The latter two were on top in both those races just as they had been earlier in the year.

The day ended with a trip to the Bahamas for the Nassau Speed Week races. Constantine finished fifth in the Governor’s Trophy, sixth in the Preliminary Race, 11th in the Trophy Race (the main event), and third in the Jaguar-only race respectively. What is more, his wife also scored a sixth-place finish in one of the two Ladies’ races. The following, Constantine only showed up with the D at Thompson where he retired, his main focus that year being his newly acquired Aston Martin grand tourer. But, in 1958 he was back for more but his four outings (Cumberland, Bridgehampton, Lime Rock, and Montgomery) all ended with retirements and, at least two times, with major repair bills to boot. The Aston DB2/4 must’ve entranced Constantine because he soon acquired a DBR2 and sold the D-Type to a Canadian that only raced it twice, one of those outings being in the Six Hours of Sandown in 1960.

The later years and onto the present

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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In 1961, the car was passed on to John Cannon, one of Canada’s best-well-known race drivers. He won at Lime Rock with the D-Type, then again in the Grand Valley Grand National at Mosport, Canada - but he retired from the Player’s 200. Hugh Dixon was the last owner of the car who raced it in period Stateside. He first rebuilt it, painting it red with a blue stripe down the middle. A number of races (both on circuits and hill climbs) were done by Dixon who, for instance, finished third at Mont Tremblant in the +2.5-liter hierarchy. Three years later, Dixon sold it to the Vintage Car Store located in Nyack, New York for $3,900 (about $30,461 today) although it would advertise for less than that just two years later. By then, the car was in the UK where one Peter Ashworth registered it for the road but also entered it in a number of club-level events throughout the early-to-mid-’70s. Coys took the car into consignment in ’78 before ending up in the York Motor Museum, a public showcase of Australian Peter Briggs’ collection.

An Ex-Sebring 12-Hour Jaguar D-Type Is for Sale, But You May Need to Sell a Kidney to afford It
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Now, 42 years since Briggs bought it (and with a few other collectors added to the list of caretakers), the D-Type appears to be in perfect shape despite its usage throughout the ’00s in historic racing by Briton Gavin Pickering, a veteran of six 24 Hours of Le Mans races who also amassed drives in the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Spa (where he finished 10th in ’03). Now, the car is ready for its next handler who can choose to swap out the existing gearbox for a close-ratio one that’s offered with the car (alongside an extra rear axle).

It’s unknown how much Jarrah Venables wants for the car (blame it on the usual ’Price Upon Request’ deal) but it wouldn’t be far-fetched if the car sold for at least $7 million considering that’s how much RM Sotheby’s reckoned chassis #XKD520 is worth. Having said that, D-Types with an even more resounding history - such as the ex-Ecurie Ecosse #XKD501 - can go for as much as $23 million. That’s just how it is nowadays, no more D-Types for 30 grand...

Source: Classic Driver

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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