1953 Jaguar Hansgen Special

An important piece of both American sportscar and Jaguar racing history

Whilst Walt Hansgen may not today be the most famous driver of his era, often overshadowed by the likes of Carrol Shelby or Briggs Cunningham, at the height of his career he was one of the best known and most successful American road racing drivers. Hansgen began racing in 1951 with a Jaguar XK120 that he had built and developed himself. He quickly established himself as the man to beat, with four consecutive SCCA Championship wins between 1956 and 1959. He also raced with distinction in Formula 1, NASCAR and at the Indianapolis 500 (where at age 44 he was the oldest – and fastest – rookie to qualify for the 500 to date). With just over 200 starts Hansgen has an impressive resume of 77 wins and over 120 podiums.

The archetypical engineer-driver, Hansgen helped develop many of the great race cars of the era, first as lead driver for the Cunningham race team and later for John Mecom Racing. It was in his role  as a works driver for Holman-Moody Racing, whilst testing the Ford GT40 Mk2 at Le Mans, he crashed on April 2, 1966. He died in Orleans, France five days later.

Hansgen’s number one choice of power throughout his career was Jaguar. He was incredibly faithful to the marque and was one of the primary USA Jaguar dealers of the 1950s and 60s. He was close to the Coventry factory, and instrumental in the development in 1960 of the Jaguar E2A, sharing the car at Le Mans with Dan Gurney. Gurney said of Walt:  “I had enormous respect for Walter – and he’d earned it. He was certainly among the best American drivers in his time. He sort of made a statement with his foot more than most. He wasn’t a braggart – he had everyone’s respect”

Pendine are privileged to be offering for sale the car that kicked off Walt Hansgen’s racing career –  his 1953 Jaguar XK120 ‘Hansgen Special’

After proving his racing prowess in cars loaned from and shared with friends, it was time for Walt to take his racing up a gear. In 1951 he managed to pull together enough money to purchase a Jaguar XK120. However, during the 1951 season, he found that the stock Jaguar was no match to the factory built sports racers he was up against. Walt was convinced the key to his success was in a Jaguar C-Type, but simply couldn’t not afford one. So he decided to design, build and race his own Jaguar to take on everyone, from the wealthy privateer to factory supported race cars. So followed a yearlong project to build what became known as the Hansgen Jaguar.

At the time, Walt and his father owned a body and repair shop, providing him with all the resources needed to build this extraordinary special. The metal craftsman who did the aluminium panel beating was Emil Hoffman who, like so many of the time, learned his craft during WWII in the aviation field. He was an excellent metal man. Much like Jaguar with the C-Type,  Walt used a wealth of components from his XK120,  hanging them from a tubular chrome-moly chassis, wrapped in a hand formed aluminium body. The engine was built to a similar specification and power rating was that of a C-Type. All said and done, the weight saving over his standard XK120 was almost 300kg.

As the 1953 season began Walt soon realised that he had built a racer capable of running with the best, as did the other competitors. It proved exceptionally successful and he had a succession of top finishes in that first season:

April 2              Thompson                                  2nd

May                 Cumberland                                1st

May 18            Bridgehampton Cup                 Race stopped with Walt in 5th

July 19            Cumberland                                 1st

Aug 29             Floyd Bennett Cup                    2nd

Sept 6              Thompson Raceway                  2nd (to Masten Gregory’s C Type)

Sept 19            Watkins Glen Grand Prix          1st place overall

Sept.                Turner Air Force Base               3rd     Albany, Georgia

Oct. 11            Thompson                                   dnf

Oct. 25            Sowega Intl. Races                     6th 

Oct 25             Sowega Intl. Races                     10th  in 250 mile race

Walt, with the Hansgen Jaguar, had well and truly made his mark, and his career was launched. For the 1954 season he found himself in Maston Gregory’s former Jaguar C-type and sold the Hansgen Jaguar to a friend, Paul Timmins, to whom he had previously loaned the car. Paul continued to campaign it with the same success as Walt had:

1954

 

May 16            Cumberland Sports car Race                                                              2nd

May 30            Thompson, SCCA New England Regional Road races             2nd

May 30            Thompson (2nd race) SCCA New England Regional Road races          2nd

June 13            Natl. Westover                                                                                          unknown

Sept 5              Thompson  SCCA National                                                                3rd

Sept 18            Watkins Glen, 7th annual Sports car Grand Prix                                 2nd

Oct 10 Thompson, SCCA National                                                                        dnf

Through the remainder of the 1950s. In June 1966 the car was bought by Ed Jurist of Nyack, NY, who shortly after sold the car to J.D. Iglehart. Iglehart completed in many events, as well as several hill climbs, including the Mt. Equinox Hillclimb in 1979. Also during his ownership the Hansgen Jaguar spent some time on display in the Watkins Glen museum.

In 1983 the Hansgen Jaguar was sold to enthusiast and historic racer Bob Milstein, who was to become a long term custodian. In 1988 Milstein set about a careful restoration preserving the originality of the car and ensuring it was just as Walt had built it, whilst also upgrading it to contemporary race specification.

A number of original components, such as the engine, transmission, Alfin brake drums

and the Boranni wheels were put to one side for safe keeping. The car was crowned the Jaguar Club of North America National Concourse Champion in 1989.

However, race cars belong on racetracks and after this accolade Bob Milstein proved Walt Hansgen still had the winning formula and continued to race the car throughout the 1990s and 2000s, logging an incredible 150+ races with many top 3 finishes and fastest times of the day.

After 31 years of love and care in the ownership of Milstein, the car was sold to Terry and Darlene Larson, world renown Jaguar restorers and collectors. Now offered publicly for sale for the first time in over 40 years this special car is an important piece of both American sportscar and Jaguar racing history. Today, the Hansgen Jaguar represents a competitive and unique entry in contemporary historic racing and events worldwide, and is accompanied by a large file of documentation, records, magazine articles and log book.

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