Driving Jaguar's XJ13 With Mike O'Driscoll, Jaguar Managing Director

One of the benefits of helming a company like Jaguar is dipping your fingers into the company's archives every now and then. Over the Monterey weekend last August, Jaguar's managing director pulled rank and slipped behind the wheel of one of the most rare and desirable Jaguars ever built, the XJ13 supercar.

What follows is his description of the experience...

Jaguar XJ13

Jaguar XJ13

Enlarge Photo

I'm the first to admit that once in a while, my job allows me to do some exciting stuff; like getting the chance to drive our iconic XJ13 supercar on the road.

We’d shipped the car to Monterey, Calif., to join Jaguar’s 75th anniversary celebration at last month’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The week long-events preceding the Concours included a drive for the 12 XKSS models we’d assembled, from the Lodge at Pebble to the Laguna Seca Raceway and back. I got behind the wheel of XJ13 and led the drive. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Seeing the car in the metal never fails to steal my breath. Ian Callum, Jaguar’s Design Director, calls it “possibly the most beautiful Jaguar ever made,” and I agree. We like to say that Jaguar builds beautiful, fast cars, and for me XJ13 defines what a beautiful, fast Jaguar is.

It was built back in 1966 as a potential Le Mans contender, but its development had to take second place to the all-new XJ6, which would eventually be unveiled in 1968. While it never took part in an actual race, it didn’t stop this unique prototype from being one of the most beautiful racing cars of all time.

Jaguar XJ13

Jaguar XJ13

Enlarge Photo

As for the potential of XJ13’s then-new 502 bhp 5.0-liter V-12 engine, during early testing in 1966 it lapped the 2.8 mile banked MIRA test track in the UK at an unthinkable 161.6 mph, a record that stood for more than 30 years.

Climbing behind the wheel takes dexterity. Both feet on the seat, hands on the seat back for support and slide down. The driving position was designed for Jaguar’s legendary test driver Norman Dewis who’s not much more than five feet tall. I'm nearly a foot taller, but I managed to squeeze myself in!

Fuel pump on, let the pressure build, then flick the ignition switch down (there’s no starter button here) and the big V-12 with its mechanical fuel injection, whirrs over and over and finally erupts with a glorious metallic, raspy snarl.

The gear selector for the 5-speed ZF is mounted on your right, on top of the monocoque, and demands a bit of a strict technique to wrangle it into first. So, pull the stubby lever back into third, then forward into second, and quickly towards you and down into first.

Jaguar XJ13

Jaguar XJ13

Enlarge Photo

Back in its day, the V-12 was happy to rev all the way to 7,600 rpm, but these days we limit it to around 5,500 rpm. Out on the road, it really comes alive when the flickery tach needle sweeps past the 3,000 rpm mark. Then it erupts, squeezing you firmly back into the seat, emitting this most glorious, hard-edged roar. Chills go straight down your spine.

We threaded our way out of Carmel, blasted along Carmel Valley Road and up over the soaring Laureles Grade to Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. This is a fabulous car to drive with its light, yet precise steering, sharp turn-in and surprisingly smooth ride.

And then you start to think about what might have been; had the Le Mans rules not changed in 1968 and had XJ13 gone on to have been fully developed as a racecar.

But for me, I’m just glad this remarkable car is part of our Jaguar Heritage collection and that every once in a while it gets to come out and play.

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