No matter how much you know about Jaguar’s rallying heritage, the sight of an F-Type convertible with a lamp pod on its nose and a knobbly gravel tyre tucked under each wheel arch can only ever be incongruous. But then incongruous rally cars are the most interesting, aren’t they?
Jaguar’s rallying heritage is all ancient history now, but there was a time when its cars were truly a force to be reckoned with. Early in the 1950s, British rally driver Ian Appleyard campaigned an XK120 with no little success, winning the RAC Rally and the prestigious Alpine Rally on two occasions apiece. It was in the off-white NUB 120 that Appleyard and his co-driver and wife Pat – who also happened to be the daughter of a certain Sir William Lyons and is still with us to this day – netted each of those victories in the Alps.
This is the year in which the XK120 celebrates its 70th anniversary, and that was reason enough, reckoned Jaguar, to build a rallying version of its nearest present-day descendant as a sort of dust-kicking tribute. Just like Appleyard’s car, the recreation is a drop-top in white with lots of neat refinements that make it not merely a sports car but a true rally car.
It has been developed mostly in-house but with assistance from a well-known rally specialist, and it’s built to FIA standards. It is not homologated by the FIA, however, mostly because the whole process is a spectacularly tedious and expensive one, which sadly means the F-Type rally car will never compete. We mustn’t view this as Jaguar’s triumphant return to another arm of motorsport it once excelled at, then, although there is a good chance we’ll see the F-Type running in public as a course car.
What exactly does it take to turn a two-seat roadster into something that can be thrashed along a gravel rally stage? Lots of underbody protection, for one thing, and gravel tyres on 16in wheels for another. The car now sits 40mm higher on new springs and trick Exe-TC dampers (ask Sébastien Loeb what he thinks of Exe-TC and he’ll go misty-eyed; each of his nine World Rally Championship titles was won on its dampers).
The hood mechanism has been ripped out, but any weight saved has gone straight back in with the roll cage. There are competition brakes, carbonfibre door skins from the F-Type GT4 racing car, competition seats and harnesses, an intercom and even a hydraulic handbrake. The suspension arms are stock, although you would swear the enormous upright was designed from day one to cope with the combined rigours of a tortuous forestry road and merciless three-figure speeds.