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Jaguar’s Low Drag Coupe (LDC) E-Type was created in the early 1960s to further the racing legacy established during the 1950s by the C-Type and D-Type. Three LDC racers were built, each quasi-works. While the Low Drag Coupe captured styling hearts, it saw no major competition victories. The LDC is yet another gorgeous competition model that failed to deliver on in its in-period goals.
More than a decade prior to the LDC, the Jaguar XK120 production sports car debuted in 1948 to much fanfare. To most viewer’s eyes, by 1961 the still body-on-frame XK150 descendent had changed little from the XK120, and was sorely outdated.
Though the driveline of the 1962 Jaguar E-Type was a carry over from the XK 120-140-150, in contrast the E-Type chassis was ultramodern. Even Enzo Ferrari considered the E-Type “the most beautiful car ever made.” It made a big impression on my farm-raised uncles, and through them upon me. The E-Type unibody was based heavily on D-Type aerospace-inspired construction principles. 72,584 E-Types were made over the ensuing 14 years.
A very few E-Types are more special than the others. Thirteen in particular, with a subset of three of those, more-blessed-yet.
Shortly after the introduction of the E-Type, Jaguar sought a car in the competition spirit of the D-Type. One E-Type based car was factory-workshop-built to test the concept of a Low Drag Coupé (LDC). Unlike the steel production unibody E-Types, for the LDC Malcolm Sayer specified considerable use of lightweight aluminum.
The front steel sub-frame remained intact, the windshield was given a more pronounced rake, and the rear hatch was welded shut. Rear brake cooling ducts appeared next to the rear windows. A tuned version of Jaguar’s 3.8-liter aluminum-block engine was mated to a wide-angle cylinder head design derived from the D-Type racers.
This single Factory test-bed aluminum-intensive LDC was completed in summer of 1962. It wasn’t raced until sold in 1963 to Jaguar racing driver Dick Protheroe. Since then, it has passed through the hands of several collectors on both sides of the Atlantic and is now believed to reside in a private collection.
Jaguar of Coventry itself invested no further in the Low Drag Coupe. Instead it series produced the less sexy-appearing, 50 kilos heavier, 1963-64 “Lightweight” E-Type. These cars used a steel-chassis roadster E as the base, and thus had a much more erect greenhouse, and less aerodynamic rear-body. Only twelve of these Lightweights were made back in the day, of the 18 planned. Sales did not meet expectations. (Ferrari made and sold 36 rival Tipo 250 GTOs over the same period).
Now the history gets more complicated, as two of the twelve “Lightweight” E-Types saw in-period Low Drag Coupe Specification upgrades.
Peter Lindner, the Jaguar distributor in Germany, had his Lightweight modified by the Factory to include the Sayer low drag roof and rear body panels as part of an effort to win the GT class at Le Mans. Lindner’s LDC was more than a match for the Ferrari 250 GTO at La Sarthe but mechanical problems forced it out of the race. Lindner was later killed in a racing accident at the 1964 Championship 1000 km of Paris held Montlhery, France circuit during October. The Lindner LDC wreck was regarded as unsalvageable for decades, though has recently been “restored”. (see post-crash photo below.)
The Protheroe LDC, Lindner LDC, and Lumsden LDC competed in many of the same events in 1963-64-65, each with modicum of success. The Lumsden car was a further Lightweight E-Type re-bodied to a Dr. Samir Klat (Imperial College London aerodynamicist) design, rather similar in execution ……and that car also now thought to be in a private collection. This Lumsden / Seargent LDC entry won the 1964 non-Championship Coupe de Paris at Montlhery.
Machined into the Lo Cd E aluminum support base is the track map of the Montlhery circuit south of Paris, where Lindner lost his life in 1964, and the Lumsden car won its most important victory. Historically, the Jaguar LDC has a stronger connection to Montlhery than all other circuits combined.
The earliest purpose-built race tracks were usually banked ovals….think Indianapolis in 1909, and Britain’s Brooklands of 1907. Given that France was the leading automotive nation at the time it shouldn’t be surprising that the 2.5 km banked oval at Montlhery followed in 1924. By 1925 the Montlhery Autodrome had also incorporated a 12.5 km road course. The track’s reputations for bumpiness and danger were cemented by the death of the world’s top driver (Antonio Ascari) in 1925 during the first French Grand Prix held at the the Autodrome.
Top-line French motorsports events moved on to other venues by 1935. By 1939 the French Government owned the facility, but it saw no maintenance. After a post-war refresh, top-line sports car events were again held at Montlhery in the 1950s, and 60’s. Such races used the east banking, and various lengths of the road coarse. Lindner’s 1964 LDC crash was particularly tragic as when he lost control, his Jaguar entered the pits, and also killed another competitor, plus three track officials.
The Montlhery track still exists today, primarily used by the French Auto Industry as a test facility. Classic car events are held on the grounds, which I was fortunate enough to attend in 1984. It was here (pre-internet of course) that as a 23 year old on a tight budget I first discovered Burago 1:18 die casts. I carefully shepherded my Ferrari 250 TR and 250 GTO Burago purchases home from Montlhery on planes, trains, and automobiles. My then girlfriend — now wife — can never claim she wasn’t warned.
Pundits judge Jaguar waited too long before committing to a E-Type racing program in earnest. What could have been a production-based class world champion competitor in 1962, was uncompetitive by 1965. The LDC was another gorgeous design that did not deliver on its motorsport goals.
I always pictured in my mind’s eye that a Low Drag Coupe should be silver. Most photographs of LDC coupes are the Lindner car, in its silver racing colors of Germany. (The Klat – Lumsden car is usually depicted in British Racing Green.) So the LDC quickly came to consideration when friend and colleague Stone’Eng (Patrick) called me from Australia with his crystalline hematite stone find.
“It looks like machined metal, but it’s stone!”, he tells me. “It has little tiny air pockets like travertine, so the viewer is all the more puzzled.” A further attribute once you started to work the stone was how heavy it was….once more, hematite seemed akin to metal.
The air pockets, at least to me, evoke images of an old car. These pockets feel like a patina of aging. That characteristic fits with a classic — say also the Berlin-Rome Porsche streamliner (Type 64).
Hematite also polishes up with a metal-like sheen, as if it were machined aluminum or steel. It would be impossible to ignore a sculpture in this stone in any room. It has such presence. A robust aluminum stand, with Montlhery track map inscribed, supports my “flying pod” interpretation of the LDC.