Reigniting a lost rivalry – Jaguar vs Porsche

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Motorsport has always been full of vicious rivalries. There was Auto Union vs Mercedes in the 1930s, Ford vs Ferrari in the’60s, and – while the epic saga of Senna versus Prost was taking place in Formula One – there was a vastly underrated battle being fought in ‘80s endurance racing.

Along with my good friend Tom Howard (a.k.a. The Gentleman Racer), we reunited two brands that fought over the title of the greatest endurance race on the planet. On this one sunny spring afternoon, we threw Jaguar – and its Le Mans nemesis, Porsche – back into the ring.

Porsche had been dominating at Le Mans in the 1980s, winning seven titles in a row. While the first few were fairly simple affairs due to how technically advanced the Porsche 956 and 962 were, the last two victories were much tougher, thanks to the introduction of Jaguar to the sport with its carbon fibre tubs and screaming V12 engines.

Porsche taunted Jag, saying that it would take at least three years for them to win at Le Mans. And would you know it, at their third attempt in 1988, they toppled the Stuttgart dynasty and took the trophy back to Britain.

So to rekindle the feud, let’s start with this – a 1987 Porsche 962, shod in its particularly stunning Leyton House livery. Like Muhammad Ali to boxing, when people think Group C racing, they almost certainly picture the Porsche 962.

700bhp (well over that if you turn the boost up) from a heavily twin-turbocharged flat-six, two-and-a-half tonnes of downforce and a gear-restricted top speed of 215mph. The engineer working on this car says they have gears in a box somewhere that will theoretically see this car to 280mph, not a speed you’d want to attempt considering your feet have to slide under the steering rack to reach the pedals.

But look at that duckbill front end, the bubble cockpit, the cone-shaped lump of the engine cover and then the abrupt, hugely functional rear wing. Aerodynamics nowadays are sharp and angular; in the 1980s it was so simple and therefore profoundly beautiful.

Flying the flag for Britain is the closest thing Jag has to a supercar these days, the F-Type SVR. Along with being ‘just a road car’, this thing couldn’t be more opposite to the Porsche: a supercharger, a V8, all-wheel drive and a paddleshift transmission. And bloody hell does it look good.

The rear haunches of the F-Type are a hallmark of its designer, Ian Callum. And the aggressive spoiler that you find on the SVR compliments those rear lines in an unmistakably Jaguar way. The F-Type may have been around for a fairly long time now, leading to people being less blown away by its looks. But with the Special Vehicle Operations department on board, the SVR is a gem at the top of Jaguar’s range.

Frustratingly, Jaguar has never taken the F-Type racing properly, but its sheer presence and performance gives it all the pedigree needed to defend the honour of its Le Mans forefathers. In no way is it overpowered size-wise, in fact the modern sportscar looks rather beefy and muscular when head-to-head with the German racing legend, albeit completely schooled in the paint department.

A third badge has managed to infiltrate this shoot as well, one that also has deep-rooted ties with the French 24-hour race. We’re both wearing shoes from Piloti’s ‘24 Hr of Le Mans’ collection – myself in the Saint Honoré high tops and Tom in the oh-so-leathery 1923 Retro boot.

Not only do the Pilotis feel great when managing 562bhp on the pedals of the Jag, they also give us a genuine sensation of what driving the 962 must be like, the soft soles moulding your feet into and around the Porsche’s steel pedals like you could drive a full stint at Le Mans in genuine comfort, while looking effortlessly cool.

Of course, on a track, these two cars would be a complete mismatch. But when sizing each other up in the real world, seeing a leaping cat next to Stuttgart’s prancing horse makes it seem like this rivalry is still well and truly alive. And with Porsche about to join Jaguar in Formula E next season, maybe this once fierce conflict will genuinely resuscitate itself, back to the fire-breathing, hair-raising duels of the 1980s.

I​f you want to check out the Piloti shoes that Tom and I are wearing in this article, click this link:

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