The biggest and hairy-chested Jaguar racer of them all was potent, sounded glorious and had presence to spare…but it was beset with reliability and budget issues
We’re rather partial to a hairy-chested race car here at Retropower, and even more so if the car in question happens to be a Jaguar of some description. It therefore goes without saying that Browns Lane competition machines from the decade taste forgot are very, very much up our street.
Now, those of you who’ve followed Retropower for any length of time will be familiar with one of our standout builds, the XJC 430, and as such the appeal to us of a big, old school racer powered by an equally large, old school engine was plain to see. And when talk turns to XJ racers, well, you can’t not talk about the fantastic cars built by Ralph Broad’s Broadspeed operation in the mid-seventies.
Jaguar had found itself in a less than ideal place come the mid-point of the seventies, the company having been dragged into the disjointed mess that was the British Leyland concern at the end of the preceding decade. For a company with such a rich sporting pedigree and a history of producing class leading luxury cars in its own way, being beholden to the likes of BMC, Triumph, Rover and various others was, not to put too fine a point on it, troubling.
Yet Jaguar was far from done and set out to re-establish itself as a bone fide player in the image conscious luxury market the only way it knew how – racing. Doing so would require the cash-strapped subsidiary to ‘get into bed’ with a suitable constructor of race cars, and seeing as Ralph Broad’s fettled Minis had proved to be such giant killers in the preceeding decade, well, his Broadspeed concern was the obvious candidate.
Jaguar had already decided on the fundamentals of the project, namely that the race car itself would be based upon the stunning S2 XJ12 Coupe and that it would compete within the European Touring Car Championship.
Now, turning the big, heavy XJ12 into a viable BMW fighter was no small ask, particularly as nailing Spa apexes lap after lap was about as far removed from the big car’s original design brief was it was possible to get. Undeterred, Broadspeed set to work, working out how best to shed weight from the Group 2 race car without compromising either strength or diluting its production roots, the latter important from a BL marketing perspective.
Broadspeed could at least call upon the services of Jaguar’s V12 engine, which while hardly the most potent of units in production guise did at least offer scope for further performance. This was increased in capacity to 5.3l, fitted with forged internals and new-fangled mechanical fuel injection, plus a smattering of additions to improve cooling…and that was about it. The brawny V12 made a thumping 550bhp in this guise, while its twin side-exist exhausts made it sound like nothing else on earth.
The engine was all well and good, but Broadspeed’s efforts to shed weight from the XJ12 came up again Thest something of a brick wall when it came to shedding weight. Even with the most drastic of automotive crash diets factored in, the Broadspeed cars never weighed less than one and a half tons, a figure that didn’t compare favourably with the cars they were facing off against.
Broadspeed could at least count upon the services of some of the finest touring car aces of the era, men who’d go onto great things in the years following the BL project. Derek Bell would eventually scale the heady heights of Group C Sportscars (not to mention F1), Andy Rouse would make the BTCC his own in due course,
As for how the 4 cars eventually built got on in competition, well, in short, not so well. Underfunded and overweight, the Jags soon earned a reputation for being blisteringly fast and able to net pole with some comfort…but also for maddeningly poor reliability.
Powerful as it no doubt was, the V12 proved to be immensely thirsty and prone to boats of fuel and oil starvation. The former was par for the course but the latter required some rather more immediate corrective surgery, and towards the end of the 1977 season the leading Jag sported a dry sump system.
There was also another, less tangible issue swirling around the Broadspeed operation, one which would dog all BL motorsport projects for the remainder of the company’s life – budget. The company was seldom financially comfortable and in fact spent much of its time veering from one financial hiccup to the next, and this couldn’t not impact the Jaguar touring car programme. The plug was pulled at the conclusion of the 1977 season, just the second year of the XJ12C’s competition career, BL’s coffers having finally run dry.
If the criteria for Retropower Hero-dom was measured in cold, hard stats, then the Broadspeed Jag wouldn’t stand a chance. The 4 cars built took a trio of pole positions and a number of fastest laps, but no wins over the spread of their two year career. They retired more often than they took the flag.
Yet as is so often the case with those truly special race cars from ‘back in the day,’ the stats don’t tell the whole – or even half – the story. Put simply, precious few competition cars of any sort have looked or sounded as good before or since. We want one, badly.