This Lap of Le Mans in a Jaguar D-Type is an Amazing Time Capsule
Jaguar was an Underdog at Le Mans in the ’50s — Until the D-Type
The Jaguar D-Type is, without a doubt, one of the sexiest racing cars ever built. And as every Jaguar fan knows, there was a lot to love about it besides the drop-dead gorgeous body work.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans remains the most brutal crucible in the world of sports car racing, and the D-Type proved its mettle there time and time again, by taking the checkered flag in 1955, 1956, and 1957. It was an incredible run for a company that was — if motorsports historians like Harry Metcalfe are to be believed — viewed as an underdog in the incredibly brutal world of endurance racing.
Beating major players like Ferrari was an upset akin the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics — and damn, did Jaguar look good doing it.
While the actual D-Type was strictly a competition model, some re-tooled versions saw street duty — sans stabalizing fins — as the XKSS. One famous fan of the ferocious cats was Steve McQueen. Legend has it, the King of Cool used to turn donuts in the parking lot of the Beverly Hills police station and taunt officers to chase him, back in the days when movie stars pulling vehicular stuns earned a request for an autograph instead of a felony reckless. Tragically, a fire in Coventry destroyed nine of the 25 XKSSs slated to be built, but Jaguar eventually decided to use the VINs. The first of the final 1957-spec XKSSs debuted at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles last year.
But back to the D-Type, and particularly, this video of factory driver Mike Hawthorne taking a lap of the Le Mans circuit in 1956. Now, it’s easy to forget that much of the race — even today — is run on public roads, so it’s kind of surreal to see Hawthorne navigate past civilian cars, motorbikes, and even cyclists while recording this footage in the days before the green flag dropped.
Today, any kid with a GoPro could shoot something similar, but this footage must have been something else to see in the mid-50s. Enjoy!