Diary of an Aviator

Nothing distinguished what trendy young people in my day called a “den” so much as precise, geometrical framed prints. For me it was sometimes a tramcar, an aeroplane but most usually a car. All they needed was a modest caption with title, date and maybe a few technical facts. Prints like that made a statement. Maybe they are now passé but I still treasure some; Glasgow tramcars recall my youth, aircraft like a BEA Pionair (a Dakota really) in which I made landmark flights to London. I have one of a 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron Spitfire that flew from RAF Westhampnett, the Goodwood circuit where I covered races and drove many memorable laps.

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Goodwood Jaguar

D-type MWS 302 (chassis No XKD502) was never quite as distinguished as its almost identical twin XKD501, registered by Ecurie Ecosse in Edinburgh as MWS 301. A new production D-type in May 1955, 301 was crashed in practice at the Nürburgring by Jimmy Stewart. Trapped underneath after the new disc brakes failed him Jackie’s brother, who had crashed heavily in an Aston Martin at Le Mans the previous year, resolved to give up racing. Irishman Desmond Titterington, driving 302 also suffered braking problems but 301 went on to glory, coming second at the Goodwood 9 hours race in August. Wilkie Wilkinson Ecosse’s chief mechanic rolled it at Snetterton in 1956 but it was rebuilt by the works and won Le Mans, with Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson. Here is 302 at Goodwood last weekend.

 

There was no Le Mans luck for 302. Titterington took the Ulster Trophy with it and Sanderson won at Aintree, then Ecosse disposed of it to Maurice Charles in Cardiff who fitted E-type independent rear suspension. Like most racing cars 302 was taken to pieces, rebuilt several times then restored by Lynx before being sold to a Japanese collector in the 1980s. 

When I drove it to Le Mans in about 1966 it was a bit down at heel. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest wanted to parade past winners of the 24 hours’ race, so 302’s owner and I drove it there; that’s me (below) taking a precise line through Mulsanne corner. The long nose was ill-fitting, a later addition that it didn’t have new and it even had a sort of luggage compartment along with a fin. A D-Type had a lightweight central section but the front tubular sub-frame was not integral and made from steel, not aluminium. The engine was dry-sump with no proper flywheel and made do with a crankshaft damper and the massive triple-plate clutch. With 285bhp on three Weber carburettors, a 2.79:1 axle, and 6000rpm (only 250rpm above peak power) it would do 183mph (294.5kph) but 302’s independent rear suspension made it squirm a bit. It rode quite well on the road. It was certainly less precise than a D-type should have been. Proper rear suspension was restored, a more exact body made and it returned to Europe in the 1990s. It now owned by French enthusiast and collector Robert Sarrailh.

 I was able to compare the slightly erratic 302 with TKF 9, the Border Reivers’ D-type of Jim Clark, on a memorable day’s driving at Oulton Park. For an Autocar feature published on 20 June 1968 I did a back-to-back test with a C-type, D-type and E-type, and thought the D “perhaps less well suited to tight slow corners than long fast ones - a car for a fast circuit.” I did not enjoy it as much as the less supple but a racier and maybe stiffer C-type. Basic price of a D-type in 1955 was £2,585, purchase tax brought it to £3,878 17s 6d. In 1968 I ventured that, “… today 13 years after it left Browns Lane, it is still one of the fastest production cars ever. A good D is such a collector's item that when one comes on the market, upwards of £5,000 is likely to change hands.” That would be £80,000 now. So D-types, at the £2.2million paid for one in 2008, were sound investments.