The Lightweights at LeMans
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"To race is to live...everything before and after is just waiting" Steve McQueen, LeMans


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The E-Type must have been a disappointment to Jaguar, at least from the standpoint of LeMans. The prototype E2A had blown up in 1960, and the best showing was the 4th place finish of the Cunningham/Salvadori car in 1962. For '63, a major effort was made to gain a victory for Jaguar.

John Coomb's Ferrari was brought to the factory, and much to his chagrin, was broken down for analysis. The engine was dyno'd, aerodynamics was evaluated, and the car was road tested. The thinking was that Ferrari could be beat, 12 cylinders or not. In fact, the six cylinder Jaguar motor produced significantly more horsepower than the Ferrari's twelve!


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A crash development program resulted in the series of cars now known as the Production Lightweights. In all, twelve cars were built, of which eleven survive today. The cars were constructed primarily of aluminum. The bodies were made of heavy gauge aluminum panels, overlapped and riveted, due to the lack of an adequate welding technique. The engine was an all-aluminum 3.8, with a wide angle head, and dry sump oiling. It suffered from insufficient development, most of these blocks developed cracks and some were replaced with cast iron blocks. Lucas mechanical fuel injection with slide throttles was used: the later lightweights used butterfly throttles. The suspension was generally lowered and widened, steering geometry was revised. The transmissions used at Le Mans were prototype synchro 4 speeds. All unneeded trim was removed. The cars finally weighed in at 2100lbs, a savings of several hundred pounds over stock.

The first two cars were delivered to Kjell Qvalle and Briggs Cunningham in the US. They were entered in the 12 Hours of Sebring, in March of 1963. This is remembered as one of the best driven Sebrings of all time. The Qvalle car was driven by Frank Morril and Ed Leslie, while the Cunningham car was driven by Walter Hansgen and Bruce McLaren. After three hours, the Cunningham car was in sixth, while the Qvalle car was in eighth. It wouldn't get better than this. The Cunningham car finished in eighth, while the Qvalle car won the over 3 liter class, finishing seventh. The Cunningham car would undoubtedly have finished better, but it had brake problems. Afterwards, John Huffaker of the Qvalle team was quite negative on the Lightweight, remarking on it's poor aerodynamics in comparison to the E-Type coupe, and the overall lack of durability.

The photo above shows the Cunningham Lightweights lined up at the start of LeMans. Three Lightweights were entered that year. It was to prove a very tough race for Jaguar. Car 14 dropped out in the first hour of the race with transmission troubles. A Lister-Jaguar, also entered that year, shortly dropped out, also due to transmission woes. The remaining cars soon suffered from their own transmission problems, but continued on. Car 16 had dropped far back in the pack , when disaster struck. An Aston Martin blew it's engine on the Mulsanne, spreading three gallons of oil on the track. Car 16, driven by Ray Salvadori, hit the slick at 165mph. In the ensuing wreck, Salvadori was thrown clear through the rear window of the hardtop...he hadn't been wearing a seatbelt! The car caught fire, a total write-off. Salvadori miraculously escaped with just bruises. In the same accident, Bino Heinz was killed as his Alpine caught fire.

Soon disaster struck the final Jaguar. With Bob Grossman at the wheel, a pin in the brake pedal box sheared, the car careened into the hay bales. The car managed to crawl into the pits, and the crew went to work. While the crew was prepared to switch bonnet from the dropped car 14, the rules did not allow such a swap. So the bonnet was sliced up, and sections joined with the remains of 15's bonnet to create something approaching a repair...bolted together, trimmed with duct tape, the procedure took more than an hour, and ended any chance for a top place. The car continued on to finish 9th overall, incredible considering all the problems...

The next morning, the New York Times reported , " There was never much excitement in the race itself, just in the accidents". If this comment seems surprising, bear in mind that of 49 contenders, there were only 12 official finishers....considering that the track is eight miles long, that made for a very thin field. Furthermore, the top six finishers each drove Ferraris.
 
Order of the Finish
Driver 1 Driver 2 Marque Miles Average Speed
Ludovico Scarflatti/Italy Lorenzo Bandini/Italy Ferrari 2832 117.99
Jean Beaurleys/Belgium Gerald Langolis/Belgium Ferrari 2688 112.5
Mike Parkes/Britain Umberto Maglioli/Italy Ferrari 2650 112.5
Leon Elde/France Pierre Dumay/France Ferrari 2640 112.1
Lack Sears/Britain Michael Salmon/Britain Ferrari 2621.9 109.2
Masten Gregory/Kansas David Piper/Britain Ferrari 2608.6 108.6
Peter Bolton/Britain Ninian Sanderson/Britain AC Cobra 2591.8 107.9
Edgar Barthe/Germany Herman Linge/Germany Porsche 2516.7 104.8
Briggs Cunningham/Connecticut Bob Grossman/New York Jaguar 2372.4 98.8
John Wagstaff/Britain Pat Ferguson/Britain Lotus 2256.9 94
Jean Beltoise/France Claude Bobrowsky/France Rene Bonnet 2254.8 93.9
Alan Hutcheson/Britain Paddy Hopkirk/Ireland MG 2207.1 91.9

Copyright©2000 Michael Frank, all rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
Photos are Copyright © their original holders. "Jaguar" is the property of Jaguar Cars, Ltd, Coventry, England.