It might seem hard to believe that a car that was briefly produced in the early 1950s could trigger a 21st-century courtroom drama, but that's what happened with the Jaguar C-type. The lightweight racer enjoyed considerable success in its day, including outright victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951 and 1953, and original cars now change hands for heavy sums of cash. In subsequent decades, the combination of handsome design and simple construction also saw the C-type become a popular choice for replica builders. That came to a head last year when Jaguar Land Rover won a copyright lawsuit in Sweden against replica builder Karl Magnusson. Shortly afterward, Jaguar announced plans to make its own officially sanctioned Continuation version of the C-type, a limited run of 16 cars.
This isn't it. The Ecurie Ecosse LM-C is careful not to make any claims to be a C-type (for fairly obvious legal reasons), although it clearly takes inspiration from that car. The name is taken from a Scottish privateer team that would go onto to win Le Mans twice itself in Jaguar D-types. But unlike the Continuation C-type, the LM-C is street legal—in the U.K. at least—and, although expensive, massively cheaper than the new-old factory car. It's also gorgeous from every angle.
The LM-C is substantially bigger than a C-type. According to Chris Randall, who heads the new Ecurie Ecosse outfit, it's four inches longer and two inches wider than the original car, that difference giving it a cabin better sized to modern occupants. Construction uses the same techniques, with hand-formed aluminum panels over a spaceframe made mostly from steel tubing. But in addition to the dimensional spread, the LM-C has been given various nonperiod enhancements including structural-reinforcement plates and relocated suspension mountings.
The engine has also been reworked, mostly to allow the LM-C to meet the modest emissions standards necessary to pass the U.K.'s Individual Vehicle Approval test and be registered as a new car. The base engine is a reworked version of the DOHC inline-six that powered the original C-type (and every other Jaguar sports car until the introduction of the company's V-12 in 1971). But rather than carburetors, it uses fuel injection, and the exhaust features a lambda probe and even a catalytic converter. Displacement has been increased from an original C-type's 3.4 liters to 4.2. Randall says the engine makes 300 horsepower, which is tasked with motivating about 2200 pounds.
Despite the claimed Scottish heritage (and the splendidly Highland background in the official images), our drive took place near Ecurie Ecosse's showroom in Henley, England, less than 30 miles from London. The climatic conditions, though, were authentically Caledonian, with rain, wind, and slick road surfaces. This would emphasize both the LM-C's near-total lack of weather protection as well as the grip offered by its period-pattern Avon Turbospeed tires.
The fuel-injected engine is set up to be more tractable than a carbureted race-spec engine, but it still has a lumpy idle, a sensitive throttle pedal, and abrupt clutch engagement. Smooth low-speed progress isn't easy, and since the car turns the head of every pedestrian, stalling will bring public disgrace. It also gives plenty of go-faster vibes, with unassisted steering that's taut and slack-free even at urban speeds as well as weighty and accurate shift action from the modern Tremec five-speed gearbox.
Passing into rural Oxfordshire, the increased speeds and chassis loadings quickly confirm that the tires' adhesion levels are indeed low on damp asphalt, and also that this doesn't matter. The LM-C flags its limits as unambiguously as a semaphore signaler, with the steering lightening as slip angles build at the front and the snug-fitting bucket seat's tightly clamped position making it similarly easy to gauge yaw from the rear axle. The sensitivity of both the steering and the accelerator pedal makes it easy to push both ends of the car to the edge of adhesion and then play on the balance between them, all at speeds far short of antisocial. Southern England's many roundabouts gave the chance to experience mild understeer, gentle oversteer, and even what felt like the fabled four-wheel drift that '50s race drivers seemed to regard as the epitome of cornering behavior.
The LM-C is more than quick enough. Acceleration is forceful when the rear tires have traction—Ecurie Ecosse reckons the car is capable of a 4.8-second 60-mph time—but the sensory overload of the battering slipstream makes it feel even quicker. And while the engine will rev to its 5800-rpm redline, it feels happier when shifted well short of that, making use of its broad spread of midrange torque.
On the move, the lack of roof is less of an issue than you might expect in miserable conditions. Given enough speed, the cut-down Perspex windshield and movable glass wind deflector do a good job of repelling rain and spray. One omission is a fixed rollover hoops, something commonly added to historic race cars and that Jaguar says the Continuation C-type will have (even if owners later remove them). While this preserves the LM-C's elegant styling, potential buyers might prefer the additional protection.
The LM-C's cockpit is short on distractions, although more plushly trimmed than the genuine C-type's bare metal. It has a leather dash, and switchgear is more modern than it would be in a real C but mounted unobtrusively in an offset panel. There are no Jaguar badges to be found here, or anywhere else on the car, with the dials and the center of the wooden-rimmed steering wheel bearing the Ecurie Ecosse logo.
The Ecurie Ecosse LM-C isn't an accurate historic reproduction of the car that inspired it, but it is a lovely thing and much more suited to regular use than an actual C-type would be. It's a bargain, too—in relative if not absolute terms. For £430,000 (about $580,000 at current exchange rates), the LM-C is less than half what Jaguar's Continuation car is expected to cost—and in 2015, a genuine 1954 ex–Ecurie Ecosse C-type racer sold at auction for £8.4 million.
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