Type-cast

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If you don’t take care of your history, then who will? This thought is all the more important if you are an automotive manufacturer. If you don’t talk about your past, then the future will not respect you. If you don’t acknowledge your heritage, no one else will bother to do it. If you have a glorious history, allow your customers, your vendors, your dealers and everyone else to share into that history. One of the best ways of doing it is to showcase your heritage in the flesh.

Jaguar did that recently in India, and my respect for them has increased even more. They shipped down a rare C-Type for the Cartier Concours d’Elegance held last weekend. But they ensured that the car was visible in the days leading up to the event. Now doing this exercise is certainly not cheap. More so, when you consider that the car was not even part of their heritage collection. It belonged to a private collector, who also accompanied his prized possession while it was here in Mumbai.

C-Type? Now what would that be? For those who don’t know, the C-Type was one of Jaguar’s legendary racing cars. It was essentially a racing derivative of the spectacularly gorgeous XK120 – stripped down to the bare basis and clothed in an extremely slippery aluminium bodyshell. What it had underneath the hood is something even more special – the godawesome 3.4-litre straight-six, which in this application produced over 200 bhp. It was first destined to be used in a sedan, but canny William Lyons, the legendary co-founder of Jaguar felt that it would attract more attention in a sports car. So the engine found itself nestling in the bay of the seminal XK120, where it achieved phenomenal success. It would then go on to power various Jags, including the XK140, XK150 and the visceral E-Type, until the engine’s production was stopped in 1986. And in Le Mans, the race-prepped 3.4 powered the C-Type to victory in 1951 and 1953, and landed the D-Type a hat-trick. It was Lyons’ idea that the engine be styled to look like those found on Grand Prix cars of the 1930s. Which is why the engine has exotic twin overhead camshafts and hemispherical combustion chambers – not only should it look good, but powerful too!

As if that were not enough, the C-Type featured an innovation that we should say thanks to a billion times over – it had disc brakes! The motive power of the engine plus the stopping power was an unbeatable combination. And then it had a skilled helmsman who piloted this very car to victory at the Reims GP in 1952 and took other honours with it too. The driver was none other than Stirling Moss, who also was in town for the Concours! Imagine the very car and the very man united of all the places in Mumbai over half a century later!

So that, was the C-Type, one of only 52 made. Its owner is Richard Frankel, who also owns a 4.5-litre Bentley and an Aston martin DB2 Mk3. Frankel talks about how sublime it is to drive this car and shows me around it. The cam covers glisten under the shapely, louvered bonnet that is fastened by leather straps. The interior is bare, with a host of toggle switches and an oversize steering wheel that dominates the dash. Frankel allows me to sit inside and I am stretched out and can barely see the bonnet! The seating is non-adjustable; wonder how the much shorter Moss managed... Incredible.

About two years ago I got a chance to drive shotgun in a C-Type. The way it went about the track, virtually kissing the Armco in the corners just showcased how brilliant and precise the car’s handling was. It had a 50:50 F/R weight balance! The engine just pulled strongly and every time the needle edged towards the redline, the exhaust, which was just below my left ear, would shriek in a crescendo of anger. What a display of engineering brilliance it was. Just think about it: a certain Mr Frankel could enjoy this experience every day of his life... Lucky man.