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Car of the Week: This One-of-12 Jaguar E-Type Raced at Le Mans and Is Gearing Up for Auction

The model variant presented by Bonhams is one of only 12 made and was raced by Cunningham's team at that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.


During the 2022 edition of Northern California’s Monterey Car Week, this 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition coupe is sure to be a star of the Bonhams auction at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club, in Carmel, Calif., on August 19. Yet this car has been a star long before now, as it’s one of only 12 examples made by the factory and was raced at the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans by Walt Hansgen and Augie Pabst as drivers for Briggs Cunningham’s eponymous team.

A racer, team owner and constructor, Cunningham played a big role in postwar motorsports and even tried his hand at building sports and GT road cars in the first half of the 1950s. Following that endeavor, Cunningham became the East Coast Jaguar distributor, after which he campaigned a Jaguar D-Type and several racing XKs over the next few years. By 1957, Jaguar’s D-Type had taken its third victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but a new model was underway. That was the E-Type, which debuted in 1961, and with its advent, Cunningham entered a roadster at Le Mans in June 1962 with support from the factory.

Even more competitive, though, was the E-Type Lightweight Competition, developed by the factory as a response to Maranello’s threat in the form of the Ferrari 250 GTO. Cunningham eventually acquired three Lightweights, chassis No. S850659, S850664 (this car), and S850665. Incorporating aerodynamic cues from an earlier Jaguar works car known as the Low-Drag Coupe, the Lightweight comprises an alloy body and hardtop that adds rigidity to the aluminum structure. The alloy 3.8-liter inline-six competition engine develops 293 bhp at 5,750 rpm, and was upgraded with Lucas fuel injection, dry-sump lubrication and, eventually, a five-speed manual ZF transmission.

One of Briggs Cunningham's 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight race cars.

The 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition being offered by Bonhams at its Quail Auction on August 19.  Pawel Litwinski, courtesy of Bonhams.

The Lightweight’s chassis features four-wheel independent suspension—with revised geometry—and four-wheel disc brakes with the rears mounted inboard. Not intended for homologation by the factory, the model was never formally marketed or acknowledged in Jaguar sales collateral. Backed with official factory support, Cunningham entered three Lightweights in the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans, with one car driven by Bob Grossman and Cunningham himself finishing ninth overall and second in class.

The cockpit of one of Briggs Cunningham's 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight race cars.

The cockpit where drivers Walt Hansgen and Augie Pabst took turns behind the wheel during the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Pawel Litwinski, courtesy of Bonhams.

This example being offered through Bonhams is the seventh Lightweight built and the second of the three vehicles purchased by Cunningham. With the ZF five-speed gearbox still in the works, chassis No. S850664 was equipped with a Jaguar four-speed gearbox for the Le Mans race. That transmission failed within an hour, forcing an early retirement after qualifying at 14th on the starting grid. Following Le Mans, the factory installed a five-speed gearbox and front hood, and Cunningham brought the car to the United States where it briefly—but successfully—competed at the Road America 500 and Bridgehampton in 1963 before finally going to Cunningham’s museum in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Briggs Cunningham's 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight race cars in period.

The three Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition race cars campaigned by Briggs Cunningham’s team, circa 1963.  Bonhams

Starting in the early 1970s, chassis No. S850664 had many different owners and became involved with vintage racing in the UK, eventually undergoing a careful restoration. It was most recently acquired by the consignor at Bonhams’ 2017 Quail Auction. Importantly, this highly coveted Lightweight retains its original aluminum engine and is presented as it appeared in 1963 at Le Mans. It is also accompanied by extensive period documentation including owners’ correspondence and period photographs, and has been featured in the most important publications on the marque.

Click here to see photos of the 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight presented by Bonhams.

A 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight race car.

The 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition being auctioned through Bonhams.  Pawel Litwinski, courtesy of Bonhams.

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