Jaguar XK140 disqualified from Le Mans, 28-29 June 1956

Jaguar XK140 disqualified from Le Mans, 28-29 June 1956

The C-Type and D-type may have owned the LeMans 24 Hours during the Fifties, with five victories between them, but they weren’t the only Jaguar sports cars to take part in the famed endurance race at this time.

As well as several XK 120s in the early part of the decade, the sole XK 140 to ever race there came close to a top-ten finish 65 years ago, before being disqualified on a technicality. The car in question was a green right-hand- drive fixed-head coupe, chassis 804231, produced in June 1955. Registered PWT 846, its first owner was the son of rich Halifax mill owner Robert Walshaw, who was more interested in motor racing than taking over the family business.

In the early Fifties, Walshaw competed in the Monte Carlo Rally in a Hillman Minx and, in 1952, established a new record for the London-Cape Town Rally of 13 days, nine hours and six minutes, in a Humber Super Snipe. Walshaw was also successful on circuits, winning a Silverstone sports car race driving a Lotus IV in June 1954.

In March 1956, he took part in the British rally with the XK 140, winning five stages. Yet he had a bigger event planned: the Le Mans 24 Hours in June. Walshaw sent the car to Jaguar’s competition department at Browns Lane for some remedial work following the rally, which quickly became a complete racing conversion.

Firstly, the 3.4-litre XK engine received a cylinder head and camshafts from a D-type, while a pair of two-inch SU carburettors increased the power to 230bhp, close to the competition car’s 250bhp. A closely spaced competition ’box replaced the original overdrive transmission, and stiffer springs were fitted at the rear. Removing the bumpers and adding an aluminium bonnet and bootlid made the body considerably lighter, while the nose received slots for cooling the engine and brakes. Finally, a larger 137-litre fuel tank and the battery were repositioned to the rear for improved weight distribution. Strangely, though, all the interior’s walnut trim was retained.

The conversion cost £1,200, which was a huge sum of money, especially considering the car’s original £1,766 purchase price. Walshaw’s co-driver for the event was his friend Peter Bolton, from nearby Leeds. The pair drove to Southend Airport, where the car was flown to Le Touquet on the French coast, before driving it the 250 miles to Le Mans.

The XK 140’s potential was soon proved as Walshaw reached fourth in the early stages of the race, mixing it with more exotic machinery. Although the Jaguar then slipped down the grid, by lapping smoothly and reliably, Walshaw and Bolton remained ahead of their main rival, a standard Mercedes-Benz 300SL, and by Saturday evening they were 23rd. Better still, overnight retirements meant that when dawn broke on the Sunday morning the XK 140 was 14th and climbing.

However, while the car was in 11th place and with just four hours of the race left, it was black flagged for refuelling several hours earlier, supposedly one lap before the minimum stint of 34 was over. It was a bitter disappointment for Walshaw and Bolton, who could have easily broken into the top ten, a few positions down from the works D-type of Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb (seen here about to lap Walshaw’s XK 140) that came home sixth.

Incredibly, the sole XK 140 to ever race at Le Mans survived its racing career, and was restored in 2016 by marque specialist Classic Motor Cars, in Bridgnorth.

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David Taylor 1 month ago #

Robert Walshaw was my Grandfather, but unfortunately passed away before I was old enough to get to know about his racing legacy.

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