I suppose if you are going to make your first trip to Le Mans (yes, really), being driven right up to the paddock and then jumping into Jaguar’s new Project 7 limited-edition supercar is probably the way to so it.
Jaguar used the Le Mans classic weekend for the dynamic launch of the production version of the F-type Project 7. The car made its static debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed the weekend before, when the UK order books were opened (and, full, swiftly closed again).
And where better to reveal the Project 7 under its own power than on the circuit where Jaguar won the 24 Hours race in 1951 and 1953 (with the C-type) and in 1955, ’56 and’57 with the D-type?
To add the surreal nature of being waved into the paddock and handed a special Project 7 helmet (now on the options list by special request) I find myself staring at Jaguar D-type, registration OVC 50 the original factory prototype.
Of course, the Project 7 is directly inspired by the D-type but it is amazing to see them nose to tail waiting to drive into the Le Mans pits, 59 years after the D-type first won at this circuit. The D-type is compelling tiny, running on seemingly tiny wheels and a narrow track.
Close up the iconic fairing behind the driver’s head is a slightly wonky aluminium fabrication held down to the body with a huge number of rivets. If you’ve spent time close up with WW2 aircraft, you’ll recognize the period aeronautical construction methods.
The Project 7 is in stark contrast to the D-type. It looks mean and serious in the baking afternoon sunshine; inherently purposeful and functional rather than some body-kitted sham.
The F-type otherwise feels complete normal from the cabin when parked, and even has conventional seatbelts rather than a four-point harness. It sits in the serious heat idling quite happily for 15mins and more, never fluffing or getting flustered. Its supercharged 5.0-litre V8 produces a claimed 567bhp and 502lb ft, allowing for a limited top speed of 186mph and a 0-60mph time of 3.8sec,
It’s this combination of classic styling and rarity with modern car effortlessness that inspired the Project 7 – and future models from JLR’s new SVO division.
As we finally pull into the – remarkably wide – Le Mans pit lane, the exhaust noise from D-type is fabulously period. With clearance to hit the track, the D-type pulls away like rocket. But then this little machine can hit 170mph with just 270bhp, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
In the Project 7, Jaguar’s driver is holding the car in formation with the D-type as the photographers lean out of the accompanying F-types and gesticulate wildly. We’ve got one lap to both assess the car and complete a photo session, and can’t dawdle because we’ve only been given an eight-minute slot.
I’ve recently spent time in Autocar’s long-term F-type convertible and know it has a pretty impressive ability to turn accurately into a corner, as well as offering up plenty of feedback.
But it seems to me that the Project 7's stiffer front end and XKR-S GT-donated front suspension results in it feeling to steer in an even more precise and keen fashion than the donor car.
From what I can tell, the setup is not overly aggressive in its response, but it is even more pitch accurate. It’s very impressive to watch the nose flowing into the big, wide, bends of the Le Mans circuit.