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Jaguar XJ13 – Driving the Legend

JAGUAR XJ13 – the Le Mans racing car

In the 1960s Jaguar were making great and iconic cars. Cars that have stood the test of time far better than most others of the era. Meanwhile, Jaguar’s Competition Department were having great success in international motorsport, despite being rather underfunded, compared to some of their rivals; Ferrari, Ford and Porsche for instance. The Le Mans race was the big event for Jaguar. Their now legendary XJ13 was built to do 215 mph and to continue Jaguar’s success in the 1965 24 hour race.

Disaster

However, the rules were changed whilst the 13 was being developed. Its 5 litre, 502 bhp quad cam engine was too large to comply with the new regulations. The XJ13 never raced and the question of what might have been, will forever remain unanswered.

However, its development continued and it set a lap record at the motor industry research institute, MIRA. The record stood for well over 30 years, a staggering achievement. Later, the car was very badly damaged when a faulty tyre blew out at speed. The Prototype left the track and the famous Jaguar test driver, Norman Dewis, was lucky to survive the crash.

325 The original Jaguar XJ13 after the crash.

The XJ13 was eventually rebuild but with numerous changes to the original Malcolm Sayer design.

Introducing the Neville Swales’ Jaguar XJ13 Recreation

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Who?

Neville Swales with his wife Lissie and some of the original Jaguar Competition Department people.

What?

Decades after the above fabled events, one of the six original engines was advertised on eBay. Neville Swales went to Europe and bought it.

After bringing the engine home, he contacted Peter Wilson, an ex-Jaguar Competitions Department member who worked on the XJ13. Peter is also the author of a learned tome on the car. He verified the engine was an original XJ13 unit. And so it began.

With the support and help of many of the original Jaguar Competition Department people, Neville spent the next 7 years researching and building an exact replica XJ13, to the original Malcolm Sayer design.  He found and contracted several firms of specialists, who still have the same very high level traditional craft skills employed on the original XJ13. Firms who share in Neville’s passion for this project.

20160809_114508 Neville Swales' recreation of the jaguar XJ13, in great shape

The new car was ready for a medium speed shake down. This was an ideal opportunity to show the car to a select crowd. The specialist press, friends of the project and the “old guys”, as Neville calls the ex-Jaguar Competition Team members, were all present.

A very special Guest of Honor was the daughter of the designer, Malcolm Sayer. She gave a very enjoyable and illuminating talk about her late dad.

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Where?

Curborough Sprint Course, near Litchfield in the West Midlands, England.

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When?

The 9th of August 2016. This was the day that Neville’s masterpiece would get to run around a track with some other very special cars. These others included; Ford GT40s, Jaguar C-types, a Jaguar D-type, Jaguar E-types, Jaguar XK150s, an AC Cobra and a Marcos.

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There were perhaps twenty of theses wonderful classic cars.  There presence made the day all the more special and their owners should be very proud of the beautiful condition they were in. What a sight! And the sound, as they were driven around the circuit, was amazing. Wow!

Why?

Good question.

I trained as an Advertising Photographer. In the 1980s I worked in London, on international advertising photographs for; British Airways, Ford, Peugeot and Daimler Jaguar.

Later, I spent 25 years shooting broadcast TV and corporate films. I worked as a Lighting Cameraman, Director of Photography and as a Filmmaker. I shot 2, Royal Television Society award winning commercials and the Channel 4 Best Short Film 2005.

I love classic cars.

Building the Legend – the films

Early in 2015 Neville Swales asked me to make a documentary film about his XJ13 project.  Neville envisaged the documentary as a soft advert for the XJ13 replica cars he intended to build for customers. I mentioned, buying one of these cars is entirely an emotional decission. In my view, a documentary would be an important component in the marketing of the cars, but I thought it would be unlikely to sell cars.

It was obvious to me that to sell hand-built replicas of a period sports racer, a sales film would be needed. The film would need to be gorgeous, evocative and exciting, not factual and technical. It would need to be superbly shot in visually appropriate and emotive locations and it would need to be edited beautifully. I would have to make a no-holds-barred work of cinematic art, providing the audience with a visceral experience. I had allsorts of images in my mind that would make the film stunning. Wow, was I looking forward to making that film?

However, to my mind, a doco would still be very important. It would tell the fable of theJaguar XJ13, introduce the personalities and set the scene. Importantly, it would show the unique levels of research, done by Neville and his team. It would show the authenticity and quality of the cars he builds. It would illustrate the attention to detail paid to the work and the passion for these cars, by all those involved. And critically it would prove, the significant involvement of the original Jaguar Competition Department people. And so it would establish Neville’s XJ13s as the the authentic replicas and prove Neville’s credibility as a manufacturer. In short, it would make potential customers comfortable ordering such a special car from an, as yet, unknown manufacturer.

The challenge

So, the first task was to make the documentary. A series of shoots were mooted, to show the key components being made and tested and to show the car being constructed.  We had already missed the chance to film the first part of the story. We could cover that in other ways. However, the best bits were still to come. I was excited.

It was obvious that for a project as amazing as Neville’s recreation of the fabled XJ13, this would need to be wonderful films, requiring total commitment from all involved. I could not have been more “up for it”. My approach would be to work as if on a high budget broadcast doco. I would shoot it on the latest 4K resolution camera from Sony. The FS7 documentary camera looked great on paper but would it deliver on its promise? Turns out the camera is not just a high pixel count tool, it produces beautiful pictures that can be graded to great effect. In fact, it so impressed me I bought one.

Production

Making Building the Legend – Part 1, was a labour of love. The first shoot was at North Devon Metacraft, Barnstaple. This was followed by a shoot at JR Fabrications, in the midlands.

Post Production

I did the offline edit at my place. Then I took the film to Glasshouse Media where I directed the online edit with David Scott who also did a Davinci Resolve grade. The film looked great. I had shot Jack’s War, a WW1 short movie, for Glasshouse Media and David had done an amazing job editing it. So, I knew I could rely on him to add value to Building the Legend. Finally the audio post-production was done at The East Wing by Rich McCoull.

Rich had previously composed and produced a full orchestral score for a corporate time-lapse film I made about the giant sculpture, Temenos designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond. The music exactly met my brief and was superb. As expected, these guys did a great job on Neville’s film. He was thrilled with it.

Disaster no 2

Then we had some devastatingly bad luck, 13 strikes again. There were significant delays in the engine rebuild and testing. This caused Neville extreme time pressures immediately before the London Classic Car Show 2016, where he had taken a stand to promote his project. Net result there was no time to make part two of the doco, which with part 1 was to be premiered at the show.

So, I had not seen the car come together. I had not seen it run and I had not heared the engine. Having worked so hard on the film, I was of course, very keen to see the car finished, in paint and running on a lovely circuit. I was particularly looking forward to hearing the engine “music” of the amazing 500 BHP quad cam V12 engine, around which the entire project was centred.

Plan B

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Rebecca, my lovely assistant.

Rebecca, my youngest, and I got up early and headed to the Midlands, to shoot the fun. I had my new Sony FS7 Super 35mm digital movie camera. I also took my professional 50 mega pixel Canon 5DS stills camera. I concentrated on shooting video. So, I only had time to shoot a few photographs.

On the other hand, Reb had my amazing Samsung Galaxy S7 smart phone. I chose this phone because it includes a staggeringly good camera, which is unusually good in those low light situations when the best photo oportunities so often occur. She flattened my battery, shooting over 2000 photographs. Some were production stills of me working, others were of the cars. She has a great eye and loves taking photos. When we were walking back from the circuit, to the paddock, near the end of the day, I turned around to see why she had dropped behind. She was framing up another shot of me walking along. I must have seemed surprised. She came-out with a great quote, “Always assume I am taking photographs.” I wonder where she gets that from? Her Grandmother would be so proud.

As if all that photography was not enough, she acted as my location runner and microphone boom operator. Well done Rebecca. Thank you for shooting so many lovely photographs for us all to enjoy. And thank you for all your hard work.

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Petrol-heads had a great day out.

Brilliant work Neville Swales, Lissie and all the many organisations and individuals who have contributed to this project.

Post-production

I am currently editing the video. I shot it mostly hand-held, to give it a raw energy, which I feel is entirely in keeping with these cars. It is looking good and I hope to finish and post it next week.

My involvement in this fantastic project, and my experience as a professional car photographer, lead me to develop Classic Car Portraits (international). This is an ultra-high quality bespoke classic car photography service, which I also launched at the London Classic Car Show 2016.

My portfolio of Classic Car Portraits as exhibited at the London Classic Car show.

If you would like a Classic Car Portrait producing, please get in touch. You can have anything you want, shot anywhere you want and printed pretty much any size you want. It is a truly bespoke service.

 

I am a creative Photographer and Filmmaker. I also work as a Lighting Cameraman & Director of Photography, in television, film and digital media.