Victory For Jaguar

Moto Cross star David E. Langford continues his tribute to local heroes in motorsport

Victory For Jaguar

For me, 1988 was a year for making a new start - a complete break from a 23-year career in the printing world, and the beginning of a full time business opportunity in art.

This was also the year of a much publicised Le Mans victory for Tom Walkinshaw's Jaguar sports car team based at Kidlington. As a direct result of this win, numerous commissions for motor sport related paintings followed from a few private collectors, but enough to ensure work for the newly established '2D Studio' for at least two years.

Tom Walkinshaw became the subject of one commissioned painting, which depicted him at the wheel of an XiS Jaguar at Silverstone during his own career as a racing driver. The owner went on to secure Tom's signature at the bottom of the picture as well as mine, although regrettably I never got to meet him.

Another study of Stirling Moss driving a Maserati was purchased by a London dealer, and the owner was able to get Stirling to sign the painting as he was a friend of his. In partnership with another collector we were lucky enough to obtain signatures of other well-known motor sport celebrities on a limited edition print run, and Barry Sheene obliged with his signature on another original painting during his world championship year.

Traditionally, the Le Mans 24-hour race has been accepted as the ultimate endurance test for any sports car manufacturer, and Britain has been at the forefront of this prestigious event from the outset.

The victorious results for the Bentley team during the 1920s continue to stir emotions to this day, and the achievements made by Jaguar are in the same league.

Jaguar's founder, William Lyons began his career as a talented motorcycle racer and eventual builder of 'Swallow Sidecars' from whence came the 'S.S' Jaguar logo on his first sports cars. World War Two and the Nazi connotation put an end to the 'S.S' badge, and the name Jaguar became a household name in its own right.

Jaguar's progression to the top of sports car racing came as no surprise to followers of the marque, for whom Le Mans became an annual pilgrimage. During the 1950s, the Jaguar 'C' type won first time out at Le Mans in 1951 and three more times after that initial win.

Victory went to the 'D' Type from 1955-1957 inclusive, and many boys of the 1950s era can remember playing with the 'Matchbox' model of this famous green car with its tail fin on the back. I've still got mine after 50 years.

It was to be another 31 years before the Jaguar name would appear in association with a win at Le Mans, and it was TWR, Tom Walkinshaw's racing team, who would achieve this honour. In 1984 the team's headquarters were based at the Station Fields industrial estate on the left, heading north out of Kidlington. From this site the Jaguar operation would maintain an ever fearful presence for the opposition in the world of sports car racing.

The technical data was impressive; a fabulous six-litre Vi 2 engine kicking out 600 horse power at 7500 rpm, producing a top speed in the region of 230mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans.

In 1988, with experienced drivers like Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries and local hero from Kidlington, Andy Wallace, the stage was set for a Porsche versus Jaguar showdown. The book by Pete Lyons and the auto editors of consumer guide 'Performance and Pride' published by Louis Weber, CEO Publications International Ltd (ISBN: 0881769835), gives account of the 1988 24-hour event at Le Mans, and is a highly recommended read.

That year, the Jaguar XJR-9LM (Le Mans) cars were upgraded to a seven-litre V12 pushing 740 bhp with an estimated speed of 240 on the infamous Mulsanne Straight where tyres were literally running at blistering temperatures.

The team consisted of five cars and 14 drivers, giving a total crew of 110, but at the end of the race it was car number two driven in turn by Andy Wallace, Johnny Dumfries and Dutch driver Jan Lam mers which took the chequered flag after 394 laps, 3313. 64 miles in 24 hours three minutes.

The second-placed car was a Porsche, which crossed the line just under three minutes later. There were two other surviving Jaguars in fourth and 16th places.

I had a number of friends who had gone to Le Mans to witness the event first hand, while yours truly was trying to cope with a mountain of work in the shape of motorsport related commissions.

This was short-lived however as the notorious recession of 1989 onwards hit the art market, where even top London galleries were closing down. Thankfully, we were able to ride the storm, but, like Le Mans itself, it was a long, hard, struggle.

This story along with the painting of the winning Jaguar is dedicated to the memory of Bob Anton, who was at Le Mans in 1988 to see it all happen.

November 2006 Oxfordshire Limited Edition