John F. Kennedy famously said, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” Then what does that make a car that could have been a success, but was never given the chance? This is the story of one such car; its near miss with history, and the crash that removed it from the limelight.
In the 1950s, Jaguar was a prominent face in auto racing. By 1960, the British automaker has begun talking about a mid-engined car, as other makes had brought mid-engined cars to Le Mans with success. Also, the idea of a V12 engine had been bandied about since 1950, with the hopes of dual overhead cams. While the single overhead cam V12 that started in the XK would eventually make its way into a racecar, this particular DOHC V12 was a dedicated design for a car that would come to be named XJ13.
This engine was essentially two inline-6 engines mated together, and would make its way into a body that was crafted by Malcom Sayer. Having designed the C-Type, D-Type, E-Type and XJS, Sayer formed the aluminum body using lessons learned from his career at the Bristol Aerospace Company.
The front suspension had a similar design as that of the E-Type, but the rear was of a unique layout. During the time this car was being developed, Jaguar driver Lofty England was a presence at Le Mans, fielding the C-Type and D-Type through the 1950s. Lofty and Jaguar designers had high hopes for the XJ13, but the car was never a priority for the company, especially with its current front-engined cars in service.
With the dominance of the Ford GT40, the XJ13 was already considered obsolete before it ever ran a race. So, if anything the car was a study in performance and design. As such, it was intended to be used for promotional purposes of the V12 engine, with the V12-powered Series 3 E-Type debuting in 1971.
The car was brought to a racetrack so it could be filmed at speed. It had a wheel with a plugged leaky tire, which deflated over the course of the driving session. When the tire had become too low, the XJ13 flipped, and crashed hard. Thankfully driver Norman Dewis was not hurt, but the car was not so lucky. The nearly destroyed car was put into storage at Jaguar.
Years later, Edward Loades saw the wreck and suggested that the car should be rebuilt. Loades was crucial to the creation of most of the aluminum bodied Jag’s of the era, and his Abbey Panels Company was capable of many gorgeous and functional shapes. Loades used some of the original parts as templates to create new ones. As such, Jaguar disclaimed that the finished restoration was not an exact reproduction. Though Jaguar did not consider it to be original, it was impressive enough that Lofty England drove it around the circuit at Silverstone prior to the British Grand Prix. The car currently resides at the UK’s Heritage Motor Centere Museum.
It has since been called the “best racecar that never was” by Jaguar fans. Perhaps, but it could also have been the prettiest Jaguar that never was. Considering cars like the XK120 and E-Type, that is high praise, indeed.