Le Mans. More than a race, it’s ‘the’ race. 24 hours of hard-core adrenaline that stirs the blood of many a petrolhead.
24 Heures du Mans
Sure, there are many other endurance races but nothing compares to 24 Heures du Mans. Part of the triple crown of Motorsport (along with the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500) it will continue to encapsulate the hearts of car lovers.
Whether it’s cars in general, or Motorsport in particular, a pilgrimage to this legendary event is most certainly a must for anyone. One day I hope to race at Le Mans, but for now will have to make do as a spectator.
First Time At Le Mans
My first time at Le Mans was 2016, the year of one of the most unbelievable finishes in Motorsport history, where Toyota were set to take a memorable first victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe, before coming to a halt on the start finish line one lap from the end.
Accompanied by my uni friend Carl, the original plan was to take his BMW Z4 but no, far too easy and boring. I already had the perfect vehicle for the drive: my 1989 Jaguar XJR 3.6.
The XJR 3.6 was the first Jaguar to be badged XJR and was built on the XJ40 platform, modified to R specification by Jaguarsport which was a joint venture with Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Jaguar to build performance versions of their XJ-S and XJ cars.
European Touring Car Championship
TWR won the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) with a Jaguar XJ-S and most importantly TWR Jaguars won both the 1988 and 1990 Le Mans races, so I felt it was my duty to take the TWR to visit its spiritual home.
Good weather and a full tank of fuel, our luggage easily slotted into the large boot as we comfortably made our way to the ferry. We had some trouble affixing the headlight adaptors as the instructions didn’t include the an 89 XJR but we made it work!
On the ferry we were greeted by a range of other interesting cars and people, all making their way to the race. Inquisitive onlookers voicing their concerns about choice of vehicle, saying “Oh you won’t make it in that, have you got recovery?”
Nonetheless our confidence in the XJR and it’s bullet proof AJ6 engine was relentless. Smiles all round we disembarked in France. At this point the temperamental LCD digital dashboard failed.
“Carl, can you remember how much fuel was in the tank?”. His response of “Um no” was a little disconcerting. Trying my best to recap on the last check, combined with some minor calculations and assumptions of fuel economy, meant hopefully we would be fine.
We convoyed south without further hiccups until we came across a redundant XJ-S, which had apparently broken down. Assistance was on route, but it did highlight the concerns that were voiced on the ferry earlier. Our trusty XJR was having none of this and we arrived at the campsite.
We spent the next 4 days enjoying the Le Mans experience, an experience like no other.
As ever all good things must come to an end, but before we did a treat was in store for the car that had brought us. Yes, some laps on that legendary track!
Conditions were both slippy and wet, only managed to negotiate the road sections but even so, driving this car with its history and this special track was an amazing experience.
The drive home was sublime, the XJR performing faultlessly, feeling like it could go on forever. It was a drive I will always remember.
But the fuel! How much was left? We forgot about that… only €10 left in the wallet, that would have to do. We fuelled up, crossed everything and hoped for the best.
We made it back to the UK without running out and about 3 miles outside Salisbury the Dash came back to life revealing half a tank of fuel. Magically the XJR had made it to Le Mans and back on one tank.
The XJR 3.6 continues to be a great car to own and very capable daily classic driver. Of course I’ve needed to keep on top of the maintenance but in return it’s given me miles of driving pleasure and I’m hoping many more to come.
Have you have a similar devotion to the classic fraternity, with stories to tell of those intriguing encounters when owning, restoring, showing or just generally involved in?
Send your stories to email@example.com and get it on CCC!