Of all the car building nations in the world, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Brits have a history of being the least logical in the postwar era. Actually, right up to the present day. Granted, us Americans have had our moments. Take the Corvette SS. Bold. Attempting to be cutting edge. Here it is in happier days last year.
Here it is when the happiness evaporated...kind of literally.
Also, we can't discount the French and Italians. So many wacky ideas and concepts from those two nations. Oddly, most of the time their ideas worked. Look at many of the Matra and Deustch Bonnet racers. Pure wacky art. Yet there is one thing that those manufacturers had going for them: they built race cars or modified sports cars that had every right to be on a race track.
Then we head across the channel to Old Blighty. Such a great pioneering nation of resourceful (since funding was always as close to nonexistent as the accounting departments could make it) auto manufacturers. They were the best at taking hum drum parts, putting them together in weird combos, and making decent sports cars out of them. Some even did well on the international stage. Triumphs at Le Mans, as well as MG and others, for example.
However, there were some debatable efforts to make production cars into race cars. I'm going to leave the multitude of British cars from the 50's and a good chunk of the 60's out of this. We have to be realistic with our time. Let's kick it off with a big inspirational favorite of mine, the Broadspeed Jaguar XJC12. It's one of the three cars the British auto industry made into race cars, though everything was stacked against them. Especially the cars. Between being British Leyland products and totally unsuited for the track, it makes you wonder what was the thought process in the boardroom? I don't care, personally, just look at the sheer beauty!
For the uninitiated (likely a good thing) the Jaguar XJC12 was a two door coupe version of the XJ6. There was also the XJC, which was powered by the 4.2 XK straight 6. Basically, the original wheelbase of the XJ6 was used, the B pillar was cut out, and the doors were lengthened using segments of the 4 door rear doors. Typically British approach. Also a major cause of the door rust problem on the surviving cars.
What resulted was a good looking, great driving and comfortable coupe. Yet sales were sluggish, so BL hatched a plan to boost sales as well as corporate morale. Build race cars! The job was entrusted to Broadspeed, a (in my mind) legendary tuning shop in Britain. With a minimal budget they built the car you see here. A big, fire breathing monster that was epically fast. When it didn't break. None other than Derek Bell and David Hobbs were the drivers.
This was the hoped for view that would be given to the competition. Sadly the cars proved fragile, but fast. Many lap records were set by these cars in qualifying, only to break down in the races. Yet the desired effect of press, national pride, and improved employee morale was achieved. Just as the cars were being debugged, BL pulled the funding. What could have been. Maybe.
These cars were big. Loud. Heavy. Physical beasts to tame. In reality they had no business being on a race track except as a pace car. Yet there they were, scaring and delighting drivers, fans, and the competition. One would think Jaguar would learn their lesson, but they decided to move to the next phase. The XJS. I know, what?
Again, Jag entrusted outsiders to make these massive beasts into good race cars. Group 44 under the tutelage of Bob Tullius took a car from a dealer and transformed it for the Trans Am series. The next season they had a bare shell sent over, and then things really began to click. Across the pond TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) took the XJS and really made a go of it.
If you want to see some amazing driving, look up the TWR XJS at Bathurst on YouTube. The TWR team pretty much dominated ETCC in 1983-4 with these cars. It was lots of work, dedication, and time. Group 44 did well with the XJS on this side of the pond, and Jag saw significant sales increases. Everyone got paid (not always what happens in race car land) and everyone got what they wanted from the experiences. Win win.
If it worked somewhat well in the past, it HAS to work well now, right? Well, the verdict is out. I say that because at the recent Pirelli World Challenge races here in Austin at COTA, I came upon these in the flesh:
The Bentleys. Massive. Thunderous. Literally ground shaking. Almost painfully loud. Easily 40% larger than the other cars. What were they thinking? Then I realized, this is how the Brits still do it. Take an entirely unsuited production car. Strip it. Make it race legal. Hire some decent talent (Leitzinger and Dyson) and set them loose.
Of course, there were teething issues. The Bentleys really had no hope for the overall. However, they were the talk of the paddock, stands, and cafe amongst fans. You could feel the grandstand vibrate under your feet as your chest was thumped when they went by. Truly they were so wrong on so many levels they were awesome. I found myself hoping for luck to shine on them, but it wasn't to be.
No matter. In the pouring rain they were epic. Folks wearing Ferrari hats were cheering for them. Strangers and I cheered and high fived each lap when they went by. So by taking a totally inappropriate car and turning it into a race car, the Brits have yet again built a winner. Not on the track - yet - but definitely in many hearts.
The Corvette SS pics, the COTA pics are all mine. I can't find the photog credits for the XJS and XJC pics. Please let me know if you know who the photogs are so I can give proper credit. Thanks!