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Origins and design

The origins of the Jaguar V12 engine go right back to about 1954 when it was being thought about sufficiently seriously for drawings to have been produced even though no hardware was created. The motivation, of course, was to carry on from the success of the Le Mans winning XK which clearly could not long remain fully competitive in top league racing. The concept at that time was straightforward enough - more or less a handed pair of 2.5 litre XK engines joined at 60 degrees with a common crankcase and crankshaft.

Following the factory withdrawal from racing the V12 scheme languished until the early 1960s when it was resurrected with a view to taking on Ford and Ferrari, by then the rivals for glory at Le Mans. That such a race engine could also spawn a very impressive production engine, with great appeal to Jaguar enthusiasts all over the world, was a possibility which Sir William Lyons and his design team were very much aware of. Of course the XJ13 was the prototype race car but by the time it turned its wheels it was already obsolete and it was apparent that the opposition were moving ahead technically at a much faster pace.

Paradoxically, although it fell short of the expected power output, the engine was probably good enough to win at that time, Ford finding success with production based pushrod V8s. However, despite wonderful aesthetics the XJ13 was obviously a long way behind in terms of chassis and suspension design and aerodynamically had not moved on much from the low drag principles which had helped to make the D Type a success. It is easy to gain the impression that the project somehow lacked urgency but maybe there was just a lack of appreciation of how much racing had changed since the fifties. How else can one explain the car being built at all, for Lyons was not a man to allow his engineers to squander time and effort on a project with no future? In any event it was becoming clear that Ford were determined to dominate Le Mans at almost any cost and Jaguars chances of success against such commitment were thin indeed so it is probably for the best that the project was allowed to quietly die.

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© Nick Johannessen / JagWeb 1998