For Jaguar, and Lyons in particular (he was knighted the following year in 1956), 1955 was one of inestimable sadness where Le Mans played centre stage. (Sir) William Lyons’ son, John, was tragically killed in a road accident on June 6 while driving a MkVII to the circuit. It is said that his father took the news so badly that he retreated even further into himself and shattered not only his life, but also the future plans of Jaguar. John joined Jaguar in March of that year at 25 years of age. After leaving Oundle School and doing his National Service (where he was usefully involved in engineering), he was placed with the Paris Jaguar distributor before arriving at Browns Lane. John is reported to have had a good sense of humour and was well liked, with a keen interest in motor sport. Not only had Lyons lost his son, but also the company had been robbed of any family succession. Ironically, Enzo Ferrari’s son, Dino, died the following year, aged just 24. He had been suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Imagine, then, the trauma that Jaguar must have experienced when, in the early hours of the Le Mans race, there occurred the worse-ever accident in motor racing, resulting in the death of many spectators, as Macklin’s Healey was struck by Levegh’s Mercedes 300SLR. There isn’t room here for a full report, but certain quarters unfairly put the blame on Hawthorn as he pulled into the pits for a routine stop, the Healey moving out to be struck by the Mercedes. That it should happen so soon after the family tragedy must have weighed heavily.
IN THE EARLY HOURS OF THE LE MANS RACE, THERE OCCURRED THE WORSE-EVER ACCIDENT IN MOTOR RACING
For the sake of safety and to assist crowd control, the race continued. It could have been an epic showdown as Hawthorn in the D-type slogged it out with Fangio in the mighty Mercedes, but after racing for a further six hours, the Mercedes unexpectedly pulled out, leaving Hawthorn with a rather empty win, the man devastated by the blame put his way and the thought that he could actually have been at fault.
On a more positive note, Jaguar’s first unitary construction compact saloon, the 2.4 was in the showrooms from October that year, although few would actually reach customers until the following year. Then, of course, in 1975 its first real GT car, the XJ-S, replaced the Jaguar E-type . Although not as universally well received as the E-type, it was produced in greater numbers over its 20-year production span. Announced in 1973, a two-door coupe version of the XJ saloon also finally reached the showrooms, following a particularly difficult gestation period. But the car that could really be called Jaguar’s first-ever, true sports car was the S.S.90, announced in March 1935, and next month I’ll be taking a look at the prototype. If you would like to join the combined 80 and 60 celebrations of the S.S.90 and Mk 1, then check out.
John Lyons in his Jaguar XK 120 competing on the RAC Rally driving test.