- Norman Dewis and the Jaguar XJ13 - 1971

The Tale Of The Jaguar That Got Locked In Its Cage

The Jaguar XJ13... the definition of the right car at the wrong time

5w ago

We all have heard the saying "right people at the wrong time" usually referring to failed relationships. Although, not many car enthusiasts use this term for the cars that were a missed opportunity. Cars such as the Bugatti EB110 or the Jaguar XJ220, which were just too expensive at the wrong moment. Or how about the cars that were going to dominate the game but it became too late?

The 1966 Jaguar XJ13 is a one-off sports prototype car that was specifically made to dominate the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the mid-60s. A light-weight, immensely powered, and stunning car going against the likes of Ford and Ferrari who were dominating at the time. Jaguar was ready to bring themselves back onto the podium in one of the most prestigious motorsport events at the time. Sadly, the XJ13 never got to prove its self, making it one of the most mysterious and underestimated cars of all time.

Credit: MotorTrend

Credit: MotorTrend

During the mid-1950s Jaguar dominated motor racing, with the likes of the Jaguar C-Type and the D-Type which brought Jaguar three successive Le Mans victories in 1955, 1956, and 1957. Jaguar knew to get back onto the top they would have to build their best sports car yet. Surprise... it was the gorgeous 1966 Jaguar XJ13. The British manufacturer was developing a new project to build a mid-engine prototype racing vehicle from scratch. It was Jaguar's first mid-engine race car and their first V12 engine to be featured in one of their race cars. Before the ever so stunning XJ13 was released, all Jaguars were front-engine Inline-6s. The XJ13 not only brought a new styling era for the visceral cats but also kicked off a new innovation era for Jaguar.

The XJ13's main purpose was to be Jaguar's stupendous victory at the 24-hour endurance race and it was meant to compete with the likes of Ferrari and Ford. Jaguar knew they had to set up their game and their horsepower to beat Ford and Ferrari. It is no wonder why the XJ13 is such an eye-catcher. Since it was designed by Malcolm Sayer, the man who designed one of the most if not the most beautiful car in the world.

No matter who you are or what your preferences are, the XJ13 is certainly more than just 'eye candy'. 34 inches off the ground mixed with Malcolm's techniques from the aircraft industry gave the XJ13 a low drag coefficient and a simple sleek body. The beautiful silky smooth lines take inspiration from past Jaguar's but it still holds that timeless and contemporary design while showing off that four-cam V12 engine under a clear Plexiglas cover, we call that art. You can close your mouth now...

Credit: MotorTrend

Credit: MotorTrend

Equipping a double-wishbone front suspension system and a new aluminum monocoque chassis, the XJ13 was light and agile. But most importantly it was very advanced for its time period. Five-spoke magnesium alloy wheels were fitted on all four wheels, giving the XJ13 the perfect finishing touch. It was light, nimble, and immensely fast given that the all-aluminum 60° V12 had a total power output of 503 bhp at 7600 rpm. It was basically two XK six-cylinder engines that were modified a bit and put onto the same crankshaft.

382 lb-ft of torque, a five-speed manual transmission, mechanical fuel injection, and an opened cockpit seemed like a dream for motorsport and racing at the time. But what went wrong? Why didn't it compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans? Why was there only one built? Very good questions I have to say, let me explain why...


Rules and regulations. Yes, you heard that right, the thing all car enthusiasts and racing fans despise the most. Even though regulations do help out 96% of the time, regulations also destroyed many companies' chances in motorsport. In the year of 1968, the FIA decided to not inform manufacturers about the three-liter engine limit that was forced onto all Group 6 Prototype racing cars at the time. As you can tell, the manufacturers weren't jumping up and down with excitement. The three-liter engine limit was 2.0 liters less than what the XJ13 V12 engine was built upon. The XJ13's purpose was solely based on its engine, which caused panic at the Jaguar headquarters.

Including the Jaguar XJ13, almost all of the prototype vehicles became non-existent in that short period of time. They were locked away, for many years. Screaming to be driven again, begging to see a track again, but the only view they had was a dusty storage room. Until 1971. The Jaguar XJ13 had its dust cover taken off so the one-of-a-kind car would be included in a promotional film for the Jaguar's first V12-powered production car, the Series 3 Jaguar E-Type.

The XJ13 was set to be driven at high speeds around the track by test driver Norman Dewis. And if the failed Jaguar's luck hadn't been bad already, it got worse. Leaving a car untouched and undriven for many weeks let alone years will stiffen up the car and make it ill-natured. Little did Norman Dewis know, the lightweight magnesium wheels had rusted from the inside, and on the final lap the wheel failed and a horrific crash occurred to the only XJ13. The stunning car crashed against the fence while rolling back onto the track at high speeds then finally coming to a stop. You can see the sadness in the car.

Thankfully, Norman Dewis survived and escaped from that catastrophic incident. Yet, Norman wasn't the only one who survived, even though the Jaguar was in horrible condition and kept in storage again after the crash. Abbey Panels spotted the destroyed vehicle at Jaguar and offered to rebuild the one and only XJ13, giving it the life it always desired.

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Comments (34)

  • FIA did inform the manufacturers of the new 3-liter limit for engines in Group 6 Prototypes (citing safety concerns of the dangerous speeds and cost savings in development for manufacturers by using the 3-liter Formula One engines instead), it’s the immediate implementation of the regulations that caused several manufacturers (including Ferrari, Ford-Chaparral, Lola-Aston Martin) to be caught out and had to abandon their Prototype program.

    Jaguar didn’t have the manufacturing capabilities to build 50 cars to homologate for Group 4 hence its premature retirement.

      1 month ago
  • Wow that is a beautiful car with an amazing looking V12! That car had a lot of potential and would have been amazing to see race. Its such a shame what happened to it and that it couldn’t race. Jaguar also missed a huge marketing opportunity to put these mystic jags into production. It’s a shame what happened to it and it’s a shame what Jaguar has become today. Also amazing article and definitely an interesting read!!!

      1 month ago
  • Mouth watering Jag...

    that wreck pic says a lot😔.

    Sounds like everything a 1960s Jag shouldve been🤩

      1 month ago
  • One of the best cars to never see the light of day.

    If only

      1 month ago
  • Another great article TG! Your writing just keeps getting better. Keep it up! What a stunning car 😍 Happy there are shops out there that can and do bring these classics back to life.

      1 month ago
    • Thank you so much Russ! Your constant support is greatly appreciated!

      It’s a stunning car indeed, i’m glad there are many enthusiasts out there keeping its story alive!

        1 month ago