Sunday, 25 September 2011

Jaguar E-type FSN1

You can’t go to the Goodwood Revival without meeting cars you knew. Last year it was the Cooper-MG, this year it was FSN1, Jackie Stewart’s first E-type. I drove it a lot in 1961-1962 when it was Stewart’s of Dumbuck demonstrator. It was also the car that convinced the world Jackie had an extraordinary talent.
The white sidewalls were put on for a concours d'elegance at Turnberry. In a book we co-wrote following his first world championship: “Early in 1962 came the decision that was to settle the 1969 world drivers’ championship. He took the Jaguar (FSN1) the Aston Martin (DB4GT) and the Marcos (the Mark 1) to Oulton Park for a private test day. It was all a little bit of a lark, although the undertones were serious. Jackie drove from Scotland with three friends, a local golf champion Jimmy Pirie, Glasgow motor trade executive and raconteur Gordon Hunter and Scotland’s newest motoring journalist.” This was me. The car was a large Mark IX the Stewarts had for sale at the time.

FSN 1 became SSN 300 when it was bought by the late Eric Liddell. Jackie had decided that if he could reach competitive lap times he would take racing seriously. He had been strictly amateur, unlike his brother Jim already with a proven track record and works drives with Jaguar and Aston Martin. Jim drove the cars first to establish lap times. “Jackie lapped the track, which was still dirty from winter, at an impressive speed. With the E-type, which had been only modestly tuned, he put up times as fast as a world class driver had done the previous autumn in a full race tuned lightweight E-type.” Gordon, Jimmy and I held the stop-watches.

Can it be 50 years? Well, with hindsight, the E-type might have been more than modestly tuned. Lofty England had a policy of ensuring any Jaguars raced competitively were well prepared. “His rationale was that cars with works backing were expected to do well, so he carefully maintained a sub rosa affiliation with private teams and drivers. Goldie Gardner’s 1948 record car with its experimental 4-cylinder engine, Tommy Wisdom’s XK120 and William Lyons’s son-in-law Ian Appleyard’s XK 120 were prepared either by the factory or under its tutelage. While the practice was not wholly secret, it was not made public either. Recipients of advice or practical assistance understood the system. They could acknowledge Jaguar’s polite interest, but they had better not brag about how substantial it was or it would be quickly and quietly withdrawn.”* Still, Jackie matched Graham Hill’s times round Oulton in 1961, although Hill’s “full race tuned lightweight” was nothing like as fast as the later series of lightweight E-types.

Sir Jackie, Goodwood 2011, getting ready to drive Fangio's Maserati 250F The family photographed number one grandson – going to Goodwood was his Third Birthday treat - beside the 50 year old E-type. What a great day. Best test of the ambience was the family verdict. They want to come again next year. With half of them girls less than passionate about old racing cars it was proof of how they enjoyed old cars, people dressing up, turning the clock back and a dozen Spitfires flying past. Come 2012 they’ll be back.

* from: JAGUAR, latest ebook from Dove Publishing, now on itunes, Amazon, Waterstones and many others.

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