1953 Jaguar C Type

My dad and his brother used to tell me stories about watching Stirling Moss race around Oulton Park in Cheshire where we were born, Grandad would take them with a picnic for a Sunday outing.


Stirling Moss racing at Oulton Park in 1961 … and more recently in a Lotus Eleven like ours in 2012


Grandad – Standing proud next to his 1958 Austin Morris 8 ….. and the legendary Sir Stirling Moss


Stirling Moss raced all over the world from Monaco to Le Mans, i remember seeing some old photographs of him racing in a Jaguar C-Type at Le Mans and thinking that is the most beautiful automobile i had ever set eyes on. The shape and lines were so simple yet so stunning. Years later when i became an aircraft design engineer i realized why – It was designed by Malcolm Sawyer the famed aerodynamicist, aircraft and car designer who incidentally went on to design our E-Type Jaguar and Jaguar XJS. After working at British Aerospace, Short Brothers and a short stint at TWR (Tom Walkenshaw Racing), i ended up taking a position at Jaguar Cars as a senior engineer at the Jaguar XK8 plant in Coventry. At lunch times i would go across to the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust to look at the old racing Jaguars …… I got the bug and Jaguar became a passion. I ended up owning many Jaguars over the years from XJS’s to XJ8’s and XK8’s and eventually acquired the Holy Grail ……. a 1953 Jaguar C-Type.


The car on the whole has driven as well as it looks, a dream come true. However the car is English and yes has the typical quirks associated with a British car. The first thing to solve was the overheating here in California, yes i drive it on the 101 and 405 to meetings and the office. She ran with an early morning temperature of 120 degrees and a midday temperature of 180 degrees … as long as we were on the move, however coming to a standstill in the midday California heat would push it over 190 degrees. The fix was to install a Kenlowe thermostatic controller and a radiator fan.

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The new system is setup for the fan to turn on at 150 Degrees and double the speed of the fan at 170 degrees so for the last couple of years there have been no issues at all in traffic on the freeway, except for those driving spectators that insist on taking video or photos of me with their knees wedged under the steering wheel, after traversing across two lanes and loosing me in their view finder……….. they normally put their hands back on the steering wheel!

The next project was the steering wheel, when driving i couldn’t see the gauges behind the steering wheel. After doing some research we found that it was fitted with a 3 spoke E-Type steering wheel, not the 4 spoke wheel i had seen in the old photo’s. We were able to source a Moto Lita 4 spoke that was perfect.

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The engine needed some cleaning and detailing, with the help of Emily my daughter over from the UK for a few weeks we got the 3.5 litre straight six engine looking a lot better.



During – the artist at work, this is when i realized that the only reason you have kids in LA is to get your engine painted and of course to car pool …….right!


After – looking great.


The next project on the list was the interior, it had been fitted many years ago with some brown carpet. Back in the day of course it was all aluminum but as we were driving in the car every week we decided to refit the interior with connerly leather. We had used Danny Miller “the best interior guy i know” to refurbish our E-Type, he did such a wonderful job that we commissioned him to do the C-Type.



After – as you can see the attention to detail is phenomenal, note the diamond stitching over the transmission tunnel, back wall and even inside the doors. The diamond stitching over the transmission tunnel was particularly challenging due to the tapered shape and the positioning of the gear stick, hand brake and headlight dimmer. Dan Miller’s work is amazing.



Of Course driving a 1953 automobile comes with its challenges, last year i was leaving the gas station, put my foot on the gas and heard a loud bang from the rear of the car. After pulling over it, was apparent that the rear suspension / axle had catastrophically failed. We we had the car flat backed over to Village Kar Kare, Kory is a veteran English car mechanic. He opened his shop at 11:30pm to take delivery, to my amazement he started stripping down the rear end there and then to analyze the failure. Sure enough the rear stub axle had sheared, the ones on the car were hollowed out to save weight but over the years they had started to twist. The broken axle had speared into the side of the struts as well, so now i had to source 4 new rear struts and 2 new rear stub axles.


this was Wednesday and we had a big car show to attend on the Sunday, so after working thru the night calling everyone i knew in the UK i was able to source solid cast stub axles and had them shipped to the US on a 2 day delivery.


Kory was able to match the struts with some racing struts here in the US, so after a couple of late nights he did it!


we made it to the show thanks to Kory …… and won best in show.



The 15″ inch chrome wheels always looked a little small, James Groth renowned Jaguar Guru and friend of The English Car Company did some research for us and found that they were 16″ back in the day either painted Silver or Green.


I contacted a number of UK colleagues to see if we could locate a set of four from over the pond. 6 months went by and then i got an e-mail    –  4 x 16″ wheels had been found, we had them painted and tires fitted in the UK and then shipped over. Big improvement as they have the correct profile tires on now and fill the wheel arches a little better.


We undertook a few more cosmetic upgrades including an original nose badge, a fire extinguisher and a mechanical clock/timer as used at Le Mans



Talking about Le Mans, Stirling Moss got second place in 1953 and we were able to track down the original program for the race that year.

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Front Cover and Rear Cover

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Emily contacted Sir Stirling Moss in the UK and organized a surprise for her old dad. Sir Stirling Moss signed a photograph for us and Emily had it framed then hand delivered it to the US for me. I take back everything i said earlier – The only reason you have kids in LA is to get your engine painted, car pool and bring Dad amazing gifts. It now hangs proudly on my office wall in LA.


One of the last additions was a personalized plate from the DMV, quite the finishing touch.



These days we are driving the C-Type   2 – 3 times a week, you park it up and you are guaranteed of someone coming over to start a conversation. We have met so many great people, some now great friends over the years because of our C-Type.


But the best thing about the C-Type……… is “just driving it” there is no other feeling like it, very early on a summer’s morning with the cool air making the engine sing – the hairs always go up on the of my neck imagining driving and racing back in the 50’s.




The Jaguar C-type – An Overview of its History

By James Groth for the English Car Company

Stirling Moss Winning the 1951 Ulster Time Trials in a Jaguar C-type (Photo Courtesy Groth /Jaguar Cars Archives)


During the post WW ll era European car companies were dependent on exports for survival. The only way to get a steady supply of materials needed to build cars was through the British government and that only came if you had export orders. Hence, Jaguar Founder William Lyons and his team set out to design and build cars with export in mind, particularly to America. Steel was rationed well into the 1950s’, as a result the earliest of the Jaguar XK120s’ were alloy bodied cars.

Sir William Lyons Founder of Jaguar. Lyons would be Knighted in 1956 for his success exporting Jaguars (Groth / Jaguar Cars Archives)

Lyons realized the potential for international publicity that could be Jaguars’ by having success on the world famous race tracks. Unlike today, motor sports was an inexpensive form of advertising and promotion. Lyons would prove to be correct as motor racing would give Jaguar its needed global recognition.

Stirling Moss Britain’s youngest ace driver winning at Silverstone, England May 5, 1951, avg. speed 84.50 mph

Jaguar XK120’s would finish in the top five positions.

Second place, Charlie Dodson. Note the lack of a race protection of the driver other than leather hat and goggles (Groth /Jaguar Cars Archives)

Lyons strategy was encouraged by the racing success of the first three XK120s’ in rallies and races staged throughout Europe. Up to this point Jaguar as a manufacture never had a ‘Factory Based’ team. Note that the cars of this era had no sponsorship logos to defer costs, like race cars have these days. The most publicized race in the world at the time was the 24 Hours of LeMans. To enact his strategy Lyons decided to enter three Jaguar XK120C in the 1950 24 Hours of LeMans.

Apart from a C-type winning the 1951 24 Hours of LeMans Jaguar had a touring model XK120 finish 12th overall. Driver R. Laurie coming out of the bend at Arnage. (Groth /Jaguar Cars Archives)

What the Jaguar team took away from the experience was a feeling that they were competitive enough to win. Much of this confidence was based on their potent 3.4 liter twin cam motor. The Jaguar team felt if they designed a light weight purpose built race car for this event they could win the most important endurance race in the world.

1951 LeMans Winner Peter Walker at the wheel (Groth /Jaguar Cars Archives)

The project began in late 1950, the cars were completed and tested in time for LeMans in June of 1951.The project cars were initially known as the XK 120 C’s ( for Competition) but soon became known as the C-type so as not to be confused with the XK120C which were also racing at LeMans.

Drivers Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead Winners of the 1951 24 Hours of LeMans (Groth /Jaguar Archives)

The C-types sleek wind-cheating design came from the former Bristol Airplane Company designer Malcolm Sayer.

He was instructed to include some similar body lines of the XK120 into the C-type to give the race car a family resemblance. Engineer Bob Knight designed a16 gauge multi-tube frame chassis which was totally different from the ladder chassis of he XK120.

Jaguar C-type multi-tube frame designed by Bob Knight


Chief Engineer William Heynes was responsible for the engine development. These 3.4 lier straight six-cylinder motors developed 160 hp in the XK 120 sport car. For the original C-types of 1951, 200 brake horsepower was achieved. For the 1953 race C-type’s made 220 hp, the additional power came from three twin choke Webber carburetors. This enabled the C-type’s to run at 150 mph plus on the over three straight of LeMans 8.4 mile course. By the spring of 1954 the first D-type’s were built. With work done on the cylinder head, camshafts and value train the power was brought up to 250 hp.

Co-Winning Driver Peter Whitehead on the straight at 150 mph (Groth /Jaguar Cars Archives)

Jaguar entered the 1951 24 Hours of LeMans with three C-types. Two of the cars were TNF due to a vibration failure of an internal engine oil pipe and worn out brakes. However, the third car driven by Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead was the overall winner with a record speed of 93,5 mph covering 2,244 miles. Sterling Moss set the lap speed record at 105 mph.

Stirling Moss set a recording breaking lap of 105 mph at the 1951 24 Hours of LeMans (Groth /Jaguar Cars Archives)

Malcolm Sayer felt that for Jaguar to continue winning LeMans they would need more power and a higher maximum top speed. A new body shape would be also be necessary and in1953 he came up with the C/D. On the Jabbeke Road in Belgium Jaguar’s premier test drive Norman Dewis achieved 178.38 mph in the C/D.

1953 C/D-type by Malcom Sayer

1966 Jaguar XJ13

It’s interesting to note that the C/D front end looks very much like the original E-type’s that was introduced in 1961. The XJ13 race car of which only was built in 1966 has some of the charter lines of the C and D-types as should be expected. The XJ13 with its newly designed 5.0 liter V-12 never got to compete in the series it was built for due to a rules change.

Actor Clark Gable and Sir William Lyons at MGM Studios as he takes delivery of one of the first US XK120 (Groth /Hornburg Archives)

During the same time Americas, who were the primary export target, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first XK120s.The XK120 was a sports car for every day use that just happen to be the “Fastest Production Car’ in the world at the time, capable of a top speed of 120 mph. The first five XK120s’ west of the Mississippi were delivered to distributor and dealer Charles H. Hornburg Jr. of Beverly Hills, CA. Mr. Hornburg used four XK120s as showroom cars to build an order bank for their dealer network.

Charles H. Hornburg Jr.delivers Jaguar XK120 to Clark Gable with Sir William Lyons at MGM Studios 1950 (Groth /Hornburg Archives)

Charles Hornburg had one he could sell and his clients were a Hollywood director and actor Clark Gable. Most anyone would have delivered the car to Clark Gable for the sheer publicity. Mr. Hornburg started his career as an advertising man in Minnesota and knew the value of publicity. He was also a man of character and would not place either man in front of the other. Hornburg reasoned that the only fair way to decide who gets the XK120 was to flip a coin, so he did. Clark Gable won and photos were taken at MGM studios with Gable, Hornburg and Lyons. The XK120 was Gable’s favorite car, so much so he used it to write a road test story about the XK120 for Road & Track Magazine.

Phil Hill on the grid in Palm Springs in 1950 with a Hornburg Team C-type (Groth / Hornburg Archives)

It’s not well know fact but America’s First World Champion Driver, Santa Monica, CA resident Phil Hill was first a mechanic and driver for Jaguar Importer and Distributor Charles H. Hornburg Jr. before being invited to join the Ferrari F1 team. In 1950 Phil Hill won the first race at Pebble Beach, CA in his own XK120. In 1951 driving for the Hornburg Team Phil Hill had the first victory in America with a Jaguar C-type at Elkhart Lake WI.

Phil Hill driving the Hornburg Team C-type to its first victory at Elkhart Lake WI 1951

A young Phil Hill next to team owner and Jaguar distributor Charles H. Hornburg Jr. in the C-type Hill won the 1951 Elkhart Lake, WI race. (Groth / Hornburg Archives)

In conclusion, Jaguar C-types and D-types were designed primarily to race and win at LeMans. The C-types won in 1951 and 1953 and were considered much more versatile race cars suitable for tracks around the world. The highly successful D-types won LeMans in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Jaguar would win the 24 Hours of LeMans again in 1988 and 1990.

Jaguar C-type Blueprints


Jaguar C-Type Specifications

The Jaguar C-Type was Jaguar’s first purpose-built racecar. It was based on the road-going Jaguar XK 120, but modified enough to be considered a “competition” car and earn the C-Type designation. It won the 24 Hours of LeMans twice in the 1950s as Jaguar climbed upon the world’s racing stage.

Jaguar C-Type Specifications

Years produced 1951-1953
Number built 54
Configuration Front engine; one door, two seats
Body style Roadster
Suspension, front Independent with torsion bars
Suspension, rear Live axle with torsion bars
Wheelbase (inches) 96
Track, front (inches) 51
Track, rear (inches) 51
Overall length (inches)

Jaguar C-Type Engines

Engine Inline 6
Type Iron block, aluminum head with two overhead camshafts, two valves per cylinder
Displacement, liters/cc
Maximum horsepower

Jaguar C-Type Performance

Best 0-60 mph (seconds)
Best top speed (mph)