Stirling Moss and the 1953 Jaguar C-Type

Stirling Moss and the 1953 Jaguar C-Type 2018 Matthew Howell & Drive-My

Additional Info

  • Logo: Logo
  • Year: 1953
  • Engine: Petrol L6 3.5-litre
  • Power: 220bhp at 5200rpm
  • Torque: 198lb ft @ 3800rpm
Doug Nye

Doug Nye special retro-cars editor and specialist


Forensic Examination. Stirling and the C-Type Doug Nye on Moss – and the untold tale of a timewarp Le Mans Jaguar. Jaguar c-type Doug Nye unravels the history of a Le Mans timewarp. For more than half a century, this Jaguar C-type was believed to have a split identity. Now Doug Nye lays it on the slab to uncover the truth. Photography Matthew Howell.


What a story (and mystery) this fine old warhorse embodies. It is 61 years since it was sold ex-works, and for the past 52 it has slumbered in one caring, continuous family ownership, with hardly anyone laying a finger – much less an intrusive, meddling, originality-destroying or performance-improving spanner – upon it.

Stirling Moss and the 1953 Jaguar C-Type
Stirling Moss and the 1953 Jaguar C-Type

During the 1950s, Jaguar won the world’s most prestigious motor race – the Le Mans 24 Hours – five times. Jaguar’s first dedicated sports-racing design, the XK120C or ‘C-type’, won in 1951 and 1953, followed by the D-types’ famous hat-trick of 1955-1957. For many years Jaguar then traded upon its Le Mans laurels, before returning to racing in the later 1980s. In 1988 and 1990 the latest XJR9 and XJR12 added two further Le Mans wins.

Today, surviving examples of the 53 C-types produced from 1951 to ’1953 are coveted. These discreet and well-proportioned projectiles are famously usable on both road and track. Among all C-types, only two have been preserved in family ownerships exceeding half a century. And standing here in the studio is the only one of that pair to have survived from period completely unrestored. It was acquired – for £635 – in January 1963 by pre-war Brooklands personality and post-war racing photographer Guy Griffiths. It had been UK road-registered POV 114, with its original logbook issued on 14 January 1955 – declaring its chassis identity as stamped: XKC011. It was Griffiths’ first racing Jaguar and it founded his family’s Chipping Campden Car Collection, in Gloucestershire.

On 7 May 1963, Jaguar’s assistant managing director FRW ‘Lofty’ England wrote to Guy: ‘I have had a look into the history of XKC011. This car was used as one of our works cars in 1952 but I am afraid our records of the actual races in which it was used are no longer available. It remained our property until 1954, when the car was rebuilt and equipped with Panhard rod-type rear suspension and the engine fitted with Weber carburettors. ‘It was then sold to Dunlop, who used it for tyre test purposes. The car was subsequently sold to Mike Salmon and in turn became the property of Gordon Lee and Robin Sturgess, being raced by all these three individuals.’

Guy and daughter Penny had noticed traces of Dunlop grey paint, and Salmon/Sturgess dark blue where the car’s overlying BRG had chipped or flaked. But areas of bright yellow, the Belgian national racing colour, also showed. And they saw that the bodywork number tags read ‘K1047’ – indicating that the body was from car no XKC047, not XKC011 as the chassis was clearly stamped.

Now the original XKC047 had indeed been bright Belgian yellow. It had been built in 1953 – intended as a rally car for Jaguar hero Ian Appleyard, before he opted out. It was sold instead to former Belgian 350cc and 500cc motorcycle racing champion Roger Laurent. The sale was finalised on 19 May 1953, and ‘047’ was works-prepared and entered by the Ecurie Francorchamps team – in which Laurent was a partner – as a quasi-works back-up for the works ‘Lightweight’ C-types at Le Mans. Roger Laurent and his stylish young co-driver Baron Charles de Tornaco finished ninth overall.

After Le Mans in mid-June 1953, the car contested the Belgian Spa 24 Hours on 25-26 July. Co-driven by Roger Laurent and Ecurie Francorchamps principal Jacques Swaters, it ran well before engine failure. After repair by Jaguar, it reappeared in the Nürburgring 1000Km on 30 August 1953, co-driven by owner Laurent and Olivier Gendebien, but a piston failed.

And so, throughout 52 years, ‘the Griffiths C-type’ was regarded as a split-identity car, combining the chassis of XKC011 with the body from XKC047. But why?

Into 1954 Jaguar had developed its brand-new D-type, rendering the ‘C’ obsolescent. The Francorchamps boys were eager for another bash at Le Mans. Lofty England was certainly keen to have a reliable C-type back-up in case of D-type failure. The organising ACO gave Jacques Swaters entry no 16 for his 1953 finisher, XKC047. But Jaguar tried to give Francorchamps the best possible chance by clandestinely substituting its works team car XKC012 for the Belgian’s XKC047 as entered. Chassis ‘012’ featured the ultimate ‘Lightweight’ four-link/ Panhard-rod rear suspension, disc brakes and a works-spec 3.4-litre Weber-carburetted engine.

But then thefrites hit the fan…

Jaguar flew its Le Mans works cars, plus the Belgian-yellow 012, out to France by the Silver City Southampton- Cherbourg air-ferry. From Cherbourg-Maupertois the Ds and C headed south to Le Mans but, after barely 15 miles, on a damp road, works mechanic Frank Rainbow in 012 tried to overtake a local Renault 4CV, lost control and rolled it. Miraculously neither he nor his passenger were harmed, but 012 would never race again.

At Le Mans, Swaters and Laurent heard the bad news but Lofty promised instant replacement. He and the Belgians massaged the ACO to accept one. ‘Mr England’ was incredibly adept, and represented the incumbent Le Mans winner. At zero notice, test car XKC011 was despatched from Coventry to Eastleigh Airport. But a tremendous Channel storm was raging. Flights were cancelled. The delayed car was rushed instead to Dover, and a surface-ferry for Dunkirk. It made front-page news in pre-race Friday’s localLa Maine newspaper – no secret deceit this time; the entire drama was very public.

For initial scrutineering on 9 June, the ACO inspected the wrecked 012, but to them it was XKC047 – since it must have been physically re-stamped to match what Jaguar had provided as the Francorchamps entry. Where the ACO’s surviving Carnet de Pesage should verify crash-damaged components, its yellowing pages bear the scrawled proviso ‘to be verified and completed before the start’. The Weber’d engine and disc brakes, etc, from the wreck were then hastily transferred into XKC011, and its works-green bodywork had a centreline Belgian-yellow stripe added. I believe it also had an XKC047 number stamped into it to satisfy formality.

Amid all the publicity, there is no way officials could not have known that this was a substitution – but on race-Saturday the ACO’s finest ticked the Carnet ’s provisos and accepted this last-minute, hastily striped understudy instead of Francorchamps’ battered bright yellow ‘official substitute’ – which had plainly been tailored to fool the ACO. What’s that about ‘cheats never prosper’? Circumstance had certainly foiled Jaguar’s best-laid plan yet, post-accident, both Brits and Belgians came up smelling of roses.

Swaters and Laurent drove 011-aka-047 into a fine fourth place, supporting Jaguar’s lone surviving works D-type, which finished second. And Francorchamps raced that same car, resprayed yellow overall, for the rest of that season, finishing well in the Reims 12 Hours, at Zandvoort and in the RAC TT at Dundrod.

Some seven years later, enter Guy Griffiths and his then-teenaged car-enthusiast daughter Penny, who recalls: ‘I went with dad to see the C-type. I just thought it was fantastic! He played it cool and we drove home again. But later that week he said: “I’ve been thinking about the C-type. It’s an awful lot of money but – yes, we’ll have it,” and I remember being so excited. It was our first Jaguar and I remember it coming home for the first time. Guy really didn’t like the look of the cockpit, complaining it had apparently been sprayed a cheap, horrible silver. My mother had trained as a dressmaker. She said: “Oh, don’t worry about that. Black Rexine. That’s the stuff. I’ll cover it.” And she did, and that Rexine is still in there today.

‘On my 17th birthday Guy decided we’d go racing together. He would drive the C-type while I was allowed to drive our Healey Silverstone. He entered us for a Curborough Sprint, and he was caught out by the short braking zone after the flying finish and spun it!’

Penny had met her future husband, Jaguar engineer Roger Woodley. They later took the C to a sprint at Weston-super-Mare and subsequently on assorted Jaguar raids to the Le Mans 24 Hours. She recalls: ‘One year we ran in the Rallye Georges Durand, named after the local hotelier whose place has now become the Hotel Touring, in St Leonard-du-Bois. Durand had been one of the founders of the 24-Hour race, back in 1923, largely as a tourist magnet to boost his business. The Rallye was essentially a little local club celebration of Durand’s great creation, running old cars around the countryside. Roger and I set off in the C-type for about 20 minutes to the next village, where we were all encouraged to mark the occasion with the local cider. Then we drove another 20 minutes to another village – where we were offered Calvados. Another 20 minutes, another village – huge lunch-stop with wine… All the time we were being escorted by the Gendarmerie on their motorcycles, but nobody seemed to turn a hair. It was rural France in the 1980s, but today all of us would have been arrested – quite rightly. Standards were just different then.

Stirling Moss and the 1953 Jaguar C-Type
Stirling Moss and the 1953 Jaguar C-Type

‘To think what that C-type has seen, you know, through all these years. It’s amazing. And the only thing we’ve ever changed is the fuel tank, because the original one developed leaks – but it’s still with the car today.”’ Penny’s husband Roger tragically died in 1995. Her many friends in the Jaguar world were very supportive, and in 1998 she was invited by Danish Jaguarphile Ole Sommer to run the C in a rally in Denmark. She set off alone, heading towards Felixstowe and the North Sea ferry: ‘I’d only gone about ten miles when the engine started to misfire, popping and banging. I stopped, rang a friend and was advised to check the fuel filters. I did, and they were full of rust particles. I cleaned them out, put it all back together, it re-started OK so off I drove. Then, 50 miles down the road, it happened again. Same problem. It happened every 50 miles or so.

‘I still made it to the ferry, Jaguar C-type, woman on her own, and the daylight beginning to fade. So I wound up in Denmark, and all I knew was that I had to find an address in Copenhagen. I just had a one-page map that I’d torn out of a road atlas, and an address to aim for. But I couldn’t find any signs for Copenhagen. There were plenty instead for some place called “København” but I hadn’t a clue that is Copenhagen.

‘I kept turning round and trying another way, then cleaning the filters again, all with no mobile phone, and after three hours I’d just had enough. I stopped by a friendly-looking person and asked if they had any idea where this destination might be. And they immediately said: “Oh, how lovely to see you – what a wonderful car – yes, it’s just a couple of hundred metres away, follow us.” Lucky break or what? And, yes, the C-type has generally been very kind to us for the greater part of my life. It’s been part of the family for well over 50 years. Roger loved it too. It means a lot.’

The presence of body K1047 on their chassis XKC011 had always puzzled Penny and Roger. During the 1980s, Ted Brookes – former works-team mechanic attached to Francorchamps – told Roger he thought it had been Penny’s 011 that the Belgians raced in 1954. Body-swapping was mentioned – conceivably in this case at the end of that season, so Jaguar got its car back, while updating the Belgians’ genuine 1953 047 to compensate. C-type body swaps were nothing new. At Silverstone in May 1953, Moss had rolled his works car in practice yet raced it that weekend rebodied.

This anecdotal background finally led to the 2014 Jaguar Register relating how ‘the body from XKC047 was fitted to chassis XKC011, with the body from XKC011 finishing up on chassis number XKC012/047’.

Now here before me in the photo-studio stands Penny’s XKC011 – the famous split-identity C-type with its K1047 body. But for this car not to be Ecurie Francorchamps’ original 1953 car, the true XKC047, its chassis should have the works’ ultimate Light-weight-spec four-link rear suspension. Take a look. Yes it does: two blade links below (what’s more, they are the works-spec hockey-stick-shaped ones) and two more above. Which would match XKC011. It should also have the long, lateral Panhard rod. And again – yes it does. Which again matches XKC011.

Open the bonnet; sure enough, there’s the ‘XKC011’ chassis stamp on the correct right-front damper abutment. That stamp was double-checked with magnetic particle inspection (MPI) to detect any falsification. It proved absolutely genuine, unaltered – again matching the genuine XKC011. But the stamping wasn’t positioned on that abutment’s leading edge, as it is with most (though not all) C-types. Instead there was a line of weld where it should have been – perhaps repairing a fatigue crack? Hmm. That made me wonder…

So what about any possible ‘XKC047’ stamping – to convince a 1954 Le Mans scrutineer, as the old tale maintained? After a lengthy search, over on the back of the left-side damper brace, very faint beneath light surface rust… we found one!

It’s a poorly struck ‘XKC047’, punched at the angle necessary if working under pressure – with the engine installed – the dynamo obstructing a straight strike (I know, I tried it). So Ted Brookes’s old anecdote appeared to fit. Which – again – would match XKC011… So this is indeed a split-identity car?

Just hold on. Ecurie Francorchamps’ replacement 1954 Le Mans car used Jaguar’s latest Dunlop disc brakes. That pioneering system’s hydraulics were boosted by a Plessey hydraulic pump driven off the gearbox. It required a redesigned gearbox housing, picking up on twin chassis-frame mounts instead of one on the centreline. So if this chassis had ever used disc brakes it would also bear evidence of those mounts. What’s more, a disc-braked C-type’s massive front calipers – with the steering near full-lock – would foul a C’s normal mid-mounted front anti-roll bar. Therefore, in disc-braked Jaguar C-types, the front anti-roll bar was under-slung out in the breeze, requiring extra attachment brackets. Penny’s XKC011 had been Dunlop’s test car in 1955-56 so it surely used their disc brakes. It seemed obvious. We couldn’t see clearly from underneath, but just to doublecheck I then unfastened 23 bolts and screws to remove the car’s gearbox cowl. And one look was enough.

The gearbox in this chassis, which has been stamped ‘XKC011’ since at least January 1955, has no Plessey-type gearbox mounts. It has an XKC047-style 1953 centreline mount instead. Duck under the nose. It has no attachment brackets for an under-slung anti-roll bar either. Which indicates that the hasty ‘XKC047’ stamping just found was almost certainly not struck merely for the ACO’s benefit in 1954. It’s far more likely to have been a reference strike coincident with the original stamp being welded-over, and ‘XKC011’ being struck into the frame. So it became plain that Jaguar Cars Ltd had rewarded the Francorchamps boys for their fine 1954 season by leaving the original XKC011 with them to sell. Jaguar had instead – clandestinely – taken Laurent’s XKC047 onto the company books and re-stamped it here as 011, for sale to Dunlop. And Dunlop plainly used it to test tyres and wheels, and not disc brakes.

So the car before me here must be, by default, the purebred, perfect-identity XKC047, with its 1953 Le Mans history intact, and as campaigned in period by those brave, charismatic Belgian racers – resistance fighter Jacques Swaters, two-wheeled champion Roger Laurent, the aristocratic ‘Mr Cool’ Baron Charles de Tornaco… and the future four-time Le Mans winner for Ferrari, Olivier Gendebien.

Later I relate the whole complicated tale to Sir Stirling Moss, who remains completely unfazed. ‘I just love C-types, old boy. And what a wonderful thing this is.’ He has more to say over the page.

THIS C-TYPE will be offered for sale by Bonhams at Monaco on 13 May,


Read 1047 times Last modified on Sunday, 22 April 2018 00:35

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