The $21.8 Million Jaguar

A 60-year-old Jaguar – no doubt still dripping oil and plagued by wonky electrics – just sold at auction for a quite staggering $21.8 million.

Yep, that made me gasp too.

Obviously this was no ordinary kitty. This was the famous D-Type racer that won the 1956 24 hours of Le Mans for the Scottish privateer team Ecurie Ecosse.

Back in ’56 Jaguar had entered three factory D-Types for the race, but two were eliminated in an early crash, while the third car was quickly in the pits with a crippling engine misfire.

So it was left to the Ecurie Ecosse D-Type, driven by Scotland’s’ own, Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, to uphold Jaguar’s honor.

And what a nail-biter of a race it turned out to be. The Jag battled with the factory Aston Martin DB3S of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins in absolutely atrocious weather. Lap after lap the two cars would swap positions for the lead.

But after 24 grueling hours, with only 14 cars left in the race, the Jaguar crossed the line in first place, completing 2,507 miles at an average speed of 104.47mph.

Still, $21.8 million is a non-trivial sum for anything without a Ferrari Prancing Horsey on the hood. The Jag’s price makes it the most expensive British automobile ever sold at public auction.

What’s so special about this car – apart from winning Le Mans – is that just one year after its remarkable victory, the D was essentially pensioned-off from racing and retired into a life of pampered luxury ensuring its incredible originality. 

Its first owner after the Ecurie Ecosse team was Scottish shipping tycoon Major Edward Thomson who wrapped it in layers of cotton wool. In 1970, the good Major sold it to fellow Scot and successful businessman, Sir Michel Nairn who set about having it refurbished by the best D-Type specialists available.

Then in 1999, it was bought at auction by John McCaw’s Cavallino Collection in Seattle. McCaw again invested heavily in keeping the car mechanically and bodily perfect.

The appearance of the car at the recent RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey, California during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance weekend, had been heavily promoted months before. So when it drove out on to the stage at the Portola Hotel there was enthusiastic applause.

And the crowd knew they’d be in for some excitement when the bidding immediately kicked off at $11 million and quickly shot up to $15 million. Then $16 million and on to $17 mill. The crowd applauded again when a new bidder joined the fray at $18m.

But after 15 minutes and bidding by just four collectors, the hammer dropped at $19.8 million – which became $21.8 million with auction fees.

While that sounds like rather a lot for an old race car, I was actually surprised in didn’t sell for more. RM Sotheby’s had estimated its value at between $20m and $25m, and some thought it might even go for more than that. This was a unique automobile with immense historical significance.

Certainly the big winner here was the seller who, back in November 1999, bought the car at a Christies auction in London for £1.71 million. That’s roughly $2.74 million at 1999 exchange rates.

Seventeen years later, selling for $19.8 million delivered a tidy $17.1 million profit.

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