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Why recreate the 1966 Jaguar XJ13?

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales



… is a German word. Zeit meaning “time” and Geist meaning “ghost,” Zeitgeist means the spirit of the age or times.


The 1966 Jaguar XJ13 is no more

Its spirit and identity live on in a Jaguar-built replica constructed from the mortal remains of the original car which suffered a calamitous crash during a demo run in 1971.

The event was a promotional exercise to publicise the soon-to-be-launched Jaguar Series 3 V12 E-Type. The venue was the high-speed banked track at the British Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA). The date was 20th January 1971.

In the words of Norman Dewis , Jaguar Test Driver, in his book "Developing the Legend

" ... It was all the fault of the Series 3 E-Type and the new Hassan/Baily 'flat-head' production V12. The idea emerged that the new Jaguar V12 engine in the Series 3 E-Type should be launched to the press at Geneva in March 1971 amid the sight and sound of a previously unrevealed, mid-engined V12 Le Mans car emerging into sight from behind the trees. This involved getting the XJ13 out of hibernation, and as a backup to the press launch, a film would be made for wider distribution."

So it was that on 20 January 1971 a film crew from London met up with the XJ13 and Norman at MIRA.

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales

XJ13 awoken from hibernation before that day in January 1971 Photo © Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust

After being under wraps for over two years, the car had needed a complete check-over and, as the wheels it was on had done most of the development work, they were substituted by new wheels and tyres which had remained in the stores.

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales

Photo © Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales

Break during filming Photo © Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust


All went well at first, with a good number of laps put in at modest speeds for filming.

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales

“All went well at first …” Photo © Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust

"Then to conclude”, Norman relates, 

“I was asked if I could do four fast laps. I did three, and they were quite quick, although not as quick as I had gone in testing.

"Then on the third lap I came onto the banking, which was the one opposite the tunnel banking where the film crew were, at about 135, and gave it full throttle to hold it in as usual. About two thirds of the way round the banking, the car lurched to the right and almost instantly went into the safety fence ...

... the car somersaulted off the track into the muddy field ... tyre tracks showed how the car had almost left the banked section ... then spun down the banking to end up in the field ...”

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales

“ I was asked if I could do four fast laps. I did three, and they were quite quick ..” Photo © Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust

The XJ13 Log Book simply states "20.1.71 Written off" at the top of the entry ..

XJ13, Jaguar, Building The Legend, Neville Swales

Extract from XJ13 Log Book © Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust

Luckily, the driving skills and lightning reflexes of the Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis meant that he survived the crash unscathed. He walked away from the crash having buried himself in the narrow confines of the cockpit. The state of the car was, however, a different matter …

The fact that the car survived at all to participate in this promotional exercise after development had ceased in 1967, was simply down to the fact that the Jaguar management felt it could play some part in promoting their production V12 engine. A memo from the late Lofty England to the late William Heynes in the September of 1967 outlines the reasons for shelving the XJ13 project as well as the justification for keeping the car in storage and not breaking it up as was the fate for many earlier projects.

“… we are about to commit ourselves for considerable expenditure with ZF for the supply of special gearbox units for the current XJ13 5-litre competition car and also a 3-litre version, which is a new project.

I feel I should point out that there now seems no doubt that the 3-litre maximum engine capacity formula for Group 6 Prototype cars will be applied to all sports car championship races, which includes Le Mans, for the next three years, i.e. up to and including 1970, which period coincides with the remaining period of the current Formula 1 racing car regulations.

There does not, therefore, appear to be any point in doing any further development work on the 5-litre car or, in fact, on a 3-litre version, unless it is our intention to produce a lightweight 3-litre Formula 1 type engine, as cars which will be competing in sports car championship races in the next three years will be in effect Formula 1 racing cars with bodywork to meet the sports car regulations. These regulations may well be amended in 1969, whereby it will no longer be necessary to provide a spare wheel or luggage accommodation, or have a specified windscreen height on open cars.

I suggest we ought to keep the 5-litre competition car as a complete unit, since we could possibly get some publicity value from it when we announce one of our production cars with a 12-cylinder engine.”

What caused the crash?

Norman Dewis confirmed that new wheels and tyres were added prior to filming. The XJ13 Log Book states these wheels were made new after testing of the car only four years earlier (late in 1967). Excepting possible manufacturing defects, it is perhaps unlikely that they could have deteriorated to the point of failure in that short space of time in storage? The use of magnesium as a constituent of alloy wheels was not a new technology in the 1960’s – indeed, magnesium wheels were used on every car that won the Indy 500 from 1946 to 1963.

When the tyres were fitted to the car’s new wheels in 1967, they were fitted without the benefit of inner-tubes. It is possible that the new tyres fitted before filming in 1971 were also fitted without inner-tubes. This, in itself, should not have caused a tyre failure. A more likely culprit may have been the unsubstantiated rumour that a rear tyre was “plugged” to prevent a slow leak before the final high-speed laps?

It is believed that the incident occurred at a speed below those attained during the short period of the car’s active development – although the speed may have been well in excess of 135mph it is unlikely the accident could have been caused by “lifting” or other “aerodynamic” reasons.

Another possibility could have been failure of a rear radius arm. Using the engine block as a stressed member, the rear wheels were mounted by a driveshaft (as upper link), a fabricated lower link and two forward-facing radius arms fixing directly to the engine mounting block. This was a rather innovative solution for the mid-1960s. Examination of the wreckage revealed a damaged upper radius rod on the rear right-hand side (offside)6. However, this damage could have been sustained during the impact. If not, a failure such as this could explain why the car “lurched to the right” before making contact with the safety-fencing at the top of the banking.

Perhaps the true facts and cause of the crash will never be known – the important facts are that the driver, the legendary Norman Dewis, and the car both survived.

What was the extent of the damage?

Except for occasional snippets of information, relatively little information has previously been made available on the development history of the XJ13 – this “vacuum” has been filled by a host of commentators/enthusiasts over the years with a range of statements and opinions – some of whom have probably never even seen the original car least of all been involved with Jaguar! As a consequence of this, an almost “mythical” status has been attached to the car. One therefore has to be careful when sifting through the “established facts”. Fortunately, at least one piece of original documentary evidence survives in Jaguar’s archive and that is the “XJ13 Log Book”. This book gives an account of the development and testing of the car including details of its post-crash examination. This document can be supplemented and cross-referenced, not only with other original surviving records, but by information from known and respected authors such as Paul Skilleter, Philip Porter, Andrew Whyte as well as surviving ex-Jaguar participants such as Peter Wilson, Mike Kimberley, Norman Dewis etc.


In the words of Paul Skilleter in 1975 , “… there wasn’t a straight panel left on the XJ13 – a more written-off looking racing car you couldn’t imagine. It was a crestfallen party that took the remains back to Browns Lane and pushed it back into its dark corner of the development department.”

Back at Browns Lane the car was later stripped by G Gardner to assess the extent of the damage. It does seem that the damage was not as extensive as first appeared. Suspension and steering was relatively unscathed with the notable exception of the upper offside rear radius arm. Major mechanical components such as engine and ZF transaxle also survived with the only significant damage in that area being the transmission oil cooler brackets (fitted above the transaxle). However, Norman Dewis confirmed in his autobiography that the car had glanced a sand-filled oil drum as it spun towards the MIRA infield. The impact was in the offside cockpit area (the driver’s side) and Dewis’ helmet was damaged when the windscreen pillar made contact with the oil drum and hit it. This contact was further compounded by a series of end-over-end and sideways rolls.

Damage to the body/monocoque structure was extensive and these sections were beyond economical repair. The body structure of the XJ13 is entirely monocoque consisting of two wide sills (containing fuel tank-bags) which run from front to rear wheels. Between the two sills is a section of stressed floor and three bulkhead sections – two at the front and one immediately behind the driver. A further boxed section forms part of the rear bulkhead and serves to connect the sills at the rear . This entire body structure needed renewal – doors and windscreen surround included.

The two front wheels were found to be OK but both rears were broken. Incidentally, this may support the argument that a broken wheel may have been a consequence of the crash and not a cause?

What was changed during the car’s 1972/73 rebuild?

The car remained in its sorry state for more than a year. As the time for the launch of the new SOHC V12 production engine loomed, Lofty England decided the car should be restored as a promotional, rather than a competition, vehicle. I feel the car’s new status both permitted and defined changes that were made to it during its rebuild to fulfil its new role. As a consequence, certain cosmetic changes were made that deviated from Malcolm Sayer’s original design.

Ted Loades of Abbey Panels spotted the crashed XJ13 stored at Jaguar and offered that Abbey Panels would rebuild it for £1,000 - “Lofty” England accepted without hesitation ….

Luckily the original wooden bucks/formers had survived. They had been stored outside at Jaguar’s store at Radfords and had escaped the periodic “clean up” that components stored inside were subjected to.

There are many so-called “eyewitness accounts” of the damage suffered by the car and others claiming to have intimate knowledge of exactly what was damaged/replaced during its rebuild. The following represents the facts that I have been able to establish so far (further changes still under investigation):

  • Completely new body/monocoque/doors built by Abbey Panels. Some of the critical dimensions were varied slightly – including the overall length and details of the rear section. A major deviation was the addition of “1970’s” wide wheelarches to enable the fitment of wider tyres/wheels. This deviation from the original design was done to improve “strength and appearance”.
  • Further stiffening sections were added at the front of the car as evidenced by an additional row of rivets that appeared across the nose of the rebuilt car.
  • A different means of attaching the windscreen to the surround was employed.
  • The existing wheels were repaired by Jaguar and Sterling Metals. It has been suggested that new wheels were made by machining the outer section of Concorde undercarriage wheels but no documentary evidence to support this has yet surfaced.
  • The original light alloy radiator was found to be corroded and so a new one was made by modifying a XJ12 saloon item.
  • Twin lightweight Lucas batteries were added to replace the original (which had been found to be not quite up to the job).
  • The original seats were retained although retrimmed in a different material to original.
  • A different style of gear-lever was used as the original had been “mislaid”.
  • The car was painted in a different, lighter, shade of British Racing Green.

So … to answer the question posed earlier – Why recreate the Jaguar XJ13? 

BECAUSE it doesn’t exist in its original form – completely true to Malcolm Sayer’s vision…

BECAUSE there is only one car and that car is in the capable hands of Jaguar Heritage. I am unlikely to be allowed to experience the “zeitgeist” of this car and era by driving it at its limit....

BECAUSE the chances of the “original” being raced are nil – my dream is to see a recreation of the 1966 car on a racetrack racing against the cars it was designed to compete against - those from Ferrari and Ford in particular. The “original” will never race – a recreation perhaps could?….


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