Jaguar D-Type, Shelby Cobra prototype smash auction records in Monterey

One was raced to a victory at Le Mans in 1956, while the other laid the groundwork for a car that would become the stuff of legend, both on track and on the street. Last weekend, a 1955 Jaguar D-Type sold for a fee-inclusive $21.78 million, becoming the most expensive British car ever sold at auction. Also setting a national record was CSX 2000, the Shelby Cobra prototype, which sold for $13.75 million to become the most expensive American car ever sold at auction.

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(Photo: Patrick Ernzen)

XKD 501, the record-setting Jaguar D-Type, was the first non-works D-Type constructed, built to satisfy homologation requirements for the chassis and sold to privateer team Ecurie Ecosse. Equipped with a 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder engine fed by a trio of Weber 45 DC03 carburetors and rated at 250 horsepower, the D-Type was initially entrusted to driver Jimmy Stewart, brother to the later-famous Jackie Stewart. Jimmy’s time behind the wheel started in a less-than-stellar fashion, and in May of 1955 the elder Stewart suffered a pair of shunts in the car, each requiring a return to the factory for repair.

Indeed, car shoppers looking for a bargain can potentially find fleet gold at surplus auctions, where municipal, county, state, and federal agencies dispose of (usually) lightly used domestic cars and trucks. Knowing how those agencies use their vehicles can make or break the value of your find; buying an ex-Border Patrol Raptor in Texas may not be the best idea if you want a long-lived, trouble free truck.

A keen eye and a bit of luck, however, can yield a magnificent treasure. In 1979, a high-school shop teacher spotted this old Plymouth up for bid, and took it home for a measly $500. It’s no ordinary Plymouth, of course it’s the legendary Superbird, with the NASCAR-ready homologation wing and aero nose.

It’s up for auction again in October, though it’ll cross the stage under bright lights and TV cameras at the glitzy Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas instead of a dreary government service facility. As these rare Birds tend to trade for well over six figures, we’d have to say this is likely the best surplus find yet.

However, the story behind this example might make it worth even more: This particular Superbird was owned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

As sage muscle car guru Steve Magnante tells it on Barrett-Jackson’s site, the EPA needed a way to test the emissions of jet airliners, and the method they determined was to load up a car with sensors and testing equipment, then drag race the airplanes as they hustled down the runway. However, no normal car would suffice, so the EPA contracted Nichels Engineering of NASCAR fame to butch up this already lean muscle car.

The car’s next outing was at the Leinster Trophy race on July 9, 1955, where driver Desmond Titterington drove XKD 501 to a class win, finishing ninth overall. Ecurie Ecosse team driver Ninian Sanderson was next behind the wheel, delivering a sixth place finish at the 1955 British Grand Prix. Throughout the remainder of the 1955 season, Titterington and Sanderson continued to do well with XKD 501, delivering four wins and four additional podium finishes for the Ecurie Ecosse team.

The 1956 season began in a similar fashion, with the D-Type remaining competitive despite rule changes that mandated a revised windscreen, altering the car’s aerodynamics. Following the 1955 tragedy at Le Mans, the Circuit de la Sarthe was reworked for greater driver and spectator safety, delaying the start of the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans until late July. In addition to Ecurie Ecosse’s entry of XKD 501, Garage Francorchamps entered a second privateer D-Type, followed by a trio of long-nose D-Types entered by the Jaguar factory. In addition to revised bodywork, the works cars also received fuel injection instead of carburetion, in hopes that the setup would prove more fuel-efficient.

Luck was not on the Jaguar team’s side in 1956, and just a half-hour into the race two of the three works D-Types had retired. The third team car struggled with a fueling problem, leaving the privateer entries to fight for victory with the Aston Martin team entry, a DB3S driven by Stirling Moss and Peter Collins. At the end of 24 hours, however, it was XKD 501 that proved victorious, besting the Aston Martin by a full lap and the D-Type of Garage Francorchamps by 16 laps.

The race-winning car continued to be raced by Ecurie Ecosse into the 1957 season, but by then the team’s focus had shifted to the more powerful 3.8-liter D-Types acquired from Jaguar upon its departure from racing. XKD 501 was sold to Ecurie Ecosse financier Major Thompson, who kept the car until October of 1970, when it was sold to Sir Michael Nairn, who restored the car to its as-raced-at-Le Mans trim and livery.

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(Photo: Patrick Ernzen)

In 1999, the D-Type was sold to the consignor, who refreshed the car before presenting it at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it captured a best in class as well as the Road & Track Award. The subject of a 15-minute bidding war at last weekend’s sale, the D-Type bested the previous British-built record holder, a 1962 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, which sold at a December 2015 RM Sotheby’s auction for $14.3 million.

CSX 2000, the Shelby Cobra prototype sold for an American car record of $13.75 million, was the subject of an earlier feature in the Hemmings Daily. Reportedly purchased by an American collector, the Cobra beat out the previous record holder, a 1968 Ford GT40 in Gulf livery, which sold for $11 million at Pebble Beach in August 2012.

Other lots in the top-10 at RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale included a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C Lungo spider, which sold for $19.8 million; a 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France coupe, which sold for $5.72 million; a 1955 Ferrari 750 Monza spider, which sold for $5.225 million; a 1966 Ford GT40, chassis P/1057, which sold for $2.9 million; a 1964 Ferrari 500 Superfast Series I, which sold for $2.75 million; a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spider, which sold for $2.365 million; a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT/L Berlinetta Lusso, which sold for $2.09 million; and a 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback Sports Saloon, which sold for $1.87 million.

For complete results from Monterey, visit RMSothebys.com.

*Sourced via Hemmings Daily