It’s that time of year when a sleepy county on the south coast of England transforms into the centre of the automotive world, becoming the eye of a petrolhead storm for a week. Ah, the Goodwood Festival Of Speed: it’s good to be back.
Where there would normally be tractors and SUVs aplenty in this area of West Sussex, now there’s the sharp bark of a Zonda’s V12 or the rumble of Jaguar V8s. But whereas the majority of traffic heads for the refined surrounds of the majestic Goodwood House to set up for the weekend, a certain set of Jaguars headed for the legendary race circuit just down the road, for a very special launch ahead of the Festival itself – a limited production run of Jaguar’s F-TYPE Project 7, which will be the fastest ever Big Cat.
Last year Jaguar further signalled its revival in fortunes with the reveal of the one-off Project 7 concept car, a svelte roadster take on the just-launched F-TYPE Roadster that gave a healthy tip of the hat to Jaguar’s thrice Le Mans-winning D-Type. Resplendent in a metallic blue with Ecurie Ecosse-inspired livery, it looked – and sounded – amazing going up the hill. As a result it seems Jaguar’s telephone started ringing…
All the proverbial ducks seemed to be lining up at Jaguar HQ. They were planning to set up a new special vehicles division and needed a flagship model, plus it was 60 years since the D-Type was launched – and the Goodwood Festival Of Speed was on the horizon. The timing was perfect.
The D-Type was Jaguar’s iconic Le Mans racer, a bespoke technology platform that smashed the opposition and took a trio of successive victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans between 1955 and 1957.
So what better thing than to announce the F-TYPE Project 7 and display it alongside that most beautiful and successful of early Jaguars.
Jag’s new skunkworks division is called Special Vehicle Operations, and their production debut will be to construct a run of 250 Project 7s for customers. They’ve kept the concept car’s name – a nod to Jag’s seven wins in the Le Mans 24 hours – and even the livery. The white stripe and racing roundels remain, though a suite of optionals base colours have been added – five metallics, and black and white.
Having Jaguar back on form is basically an automotive necessity. With a couple of decades of suffering from comfy sofa syndrome, getting back to snarling, punchy sportscars has made me – and I’m sure a lot of other people – breath a sigh of relief. It’s like Lotus, the ‘British Ferrari’ – the heritage of these marques is too important to let slide into mediocrity.
Heading up Jaguar’s styling revolution has been Jaguar’s Director of Design Ian Callum, another star designer like Aston Martin’s Marek Reichman, who was tasked with unveiling his latest baby at Goodwood. He worked on the Ford RS200 and Escort RS Cosworth in his early days, then designed the Aston Martin DB7 and Vanquish, as well as the Nissan R390 Le Mans Prototype in ’98, before moving on to Jaguar. He’s been a driving force in the rejuvenation of the modern Jaguar look.
Car launches can go one way or the other: stale presentations and then a scrum of journos poking and prodding trim and examining engine bays – or like the Project 7 event. Being at a sunny Goodwood helps, but I knew things would be good when I was handed the presentation pack for the event, mocked up as a Jaguar internal memo from 1954, the year the D-Type was launched.
Inside, enough goodies to take up a good space of my office’s wall – a set of post cards, a facsimile of the D-Type’s original launch brochure form ’54, several period press releases and ephemera from the legendary 12-hour enduro at Reims in France, where D-Types obliterated the opposition, racing for half a day at an average speed of over 100mph around the fearsomely-fast home to slipstreaming.Pulling Back The Covers
It’s always strange being at a track when there’s no race on, and Goodwood even more so given its time-capsule presentation. But, that does make it the perfect venue for a launch like this which was showcasing so much heritage. It did make me itchy for September’s Revival meeting though…
The entrée to the launch was a quartet of Jag’s current range. A decade ago I might not have bothered giving this a second glance – now I would sell all of my friends into servitude for any one of them… Sorry chums, I think it’s best to be honest.
But the main course was out on the track, the new F-TYPE’s shroud being manfully held down against the gusting wind by a pair of Jag employees. Before the reveal though, there were the the facts and figures, the whys and wheres.
Jaguar’s new SVO team is headed up by Paul Newsome, the ex-Lotus, ex-Williams engineer who also ran the recent C-X75 hybrid supercar project. His Formula 1 experience and resulting workflow ethic seem pretty key to the way the new division is to be run. It’s interesting to note that so many companies have their own bespoke development teams, deliberately separate from the main body – viz McLaren’s MSO, Aston Martin’s Q or Mercedes’ AMG.
Special guest for the day was Bruno Senna, ex-Formula 1 driver and nephew of Ayrton – moonlighting from his regular gig as a driver for the factory Aston Martin GTE team. He’s down to drive Jaguar’s Project 7 up the hill at the Festival. Something we should know, Bruno?…
But with the short presentation over we were led down from the Jackie Stewart Pavilion to the start-line, where Ian Callum waited for the sheet to be pulled back.
Ian gave a brief overview of the design ethos behind the conversion of the Project 7 to a road-going reality: the small superficial differences don’t do justice to the amount of work required.
Then came… the waiting. With an official snapper taking pictures for the majority of words-only journos on hand who jostled around the car, I began the hunt for shots empty of people…
Luckily, patience is one of my many virtues. But the stalking about did give the opportunity to properly take in both cars. Separated by 60 years, they’re both stunning pieces of engineering.
Seeing the two cars side by side, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the new F-TYPE – though that’s a pretty general comment on the size of new cars in general, compared to the lithe lightweights of yesteryear. Road regulations have something to do with it of course, but then everything is bigger: engines to go faster, brakes to stop the thing… And maybe drivers?!
The colour might be similar, but that’s about it. Aside from the single driver’s side rear fairing (which actually wasn’t on the original launch D-Type, as it was introduced specifically for Le Mans), crossover styling isn’t really the point here: it’s more about reinforcing direct lineage, Jaguar’s sporting pedigree. Again, I find it interesting that so many companies with long histories are highlighting that point now, whereas in the ’90s it all seemed to be about ‘the future’. And look where that got so many of them…
What’s out front has a big impact on the F-TYPE’s aspect as well. A stonking great 5-litre supercharged V8 pushing out the best part of 600hp and 680Nm of torque lurks under the bonnet.
The D-Type mounts the classic Jaguar XK 3.4-litre inline-six with triple Webers, allowing a much lower profile, and it was canted over to further reduce the height, hence the offset bonnet bulge. This was a short-nose variant, which was supplemented by a long-nose model for the ’55 Le Mans race.
The sounds of the Project 7’s V8 is allowed to fully make itself heard, with a straight-through option selectable from the dash as part of its Active Sports Exhaust system. Just as Ian Callum was finishing up, he remembered one thing he meant to do; sitting himself in the cockpit, he fired up the Jag and allowed the V8 to shout its sonorous noise at the West Sussex hills. Glorious!D Is For Domination, F Is For Fast
In general the production Project 7 follows the lines of last year’s concept. Based on the F-TYPE convertible, it’s had its roof mechanism shorn off, and the concept’s aero has been heavily revised. More carbon parts and aero detailing mean that the Project 7 has an unfeasible 177 per cent more downforce than the standard car. I wonder if that figure was deliberate, with Aston Martin based just next door…
Although the stock D-Type was born to race, when Jaguar decided to pull out of racing in 1956 they decided to convert their stock of unfinished D-Types into road-going supercars. They created the run of 16 XKSS, which now sell for millions… A fire at the Jaguar plant in ’57 destroyed nine of the planned 25 cars, plus all the jigs and tooling, further adding to the surviving cars’ values – though still not a patch on genuine D-Type Le Mans winners.
For the F-TYPE, modern aero rules: all the key parts are carbon fibre, including the adjustable rear spoiler.
The D-Type relied on good old-fashioned curves to cut through the air, though it was cutting edge for its time. Wind tunnel work refined the shape, and underbody drag was reduced to a minimum to keep speeds up on the run to Mulsanne corner at Le Mans. With a 170mph top end this was one fast car for the time and not too shabby even by today’s standards.
The only thing that didn’t grab me about the F-TYPE Project 7 was the cockpit, which seemed a bit stock. Perhaps this was just for the launch version, and there are Alcantara options. The seats were a different matter, being ultra thin and lightweight carbon fibre-backed buckets finished in a beautiful diamond stitch. The cockpit is where the other obvious change from the concept is, with the addition of a proper passenger seat. There’s even space for luggage, and a stowable roof, though I can’t see the latter getting much use.
Inside the D-Type is a completely different environment, as much WW2 fighter plane as anything else. This car had just competed in the epic Mille Miglia race: a thousand miles of road racing across Italy. Compared to the paddle-controlled eight-speed ZF transmission of the Project 7, the four-speed synchromesh in the D takes a lot more physical effort – I know, having watched a driver wrestle with it from the passenger seat of another D-Type back in 2012 for the soaking wet launch day of the F-TYPE.
Brakes and wheels are just as important on both cars: the Project 7 has big 20-inch Storm alloy wheels, barely containing carbon ceramic matrix brakes that measure 398mm at the front and 380mm at the rear.
The D-Type broke new ground, refining the disk brakes introduced on the C-Type and adding lightweight centre-lock alloys. It was the first competition Jaguar not to have spoked wheels. I did think it was a shame that the Project 7 didn’t try to use the same fared-in look on the rear wheels, though it would be impractical…
Project 7 has undergone some serious suspension work to further improve handling, working in combination with the usual array of abbreviations: Electronic Active Differential and Torque Vectoring by Braking.
EAD? TVbB? CCM? For the D, think seat of pants and a sensitive right foot.
The price of the Project 7 is to be set at £135,000, about 50 per cent more than a standard F-TYPE.
In period you could pick up a racing D-Type for just £3,663 (about £85,000 today, or $150,000)…
As the journalists wafted away to pick up lunch, I overheard one of the Jaguar management talking about possible future cars: Projects 8, 9, and so on. Doesn’t that mean they need a couple more Le Mans wins? That’s what I’m talking about!