The car above is Mazda's last prototype to race at Le Mans. Only it wasn't just a Mazda. It was a Jaguar. Only it wasn't a Jaguar, it was a TWR. Only it wasn't a TWR, it was a Porsche. This is the strange story of the orphan prototype that won Le Mans twice in a row and nobody seems to remember it existed.

The car pictured above did not win Le Mans, but there's a reason why I'm posting it. I'll get to it shortly.

Here's the very brief version of this car's story.

[Photo Credit: Jaguar Heritage Archive]

In 1991, this car was designed by a company called TWR. Formula One legend Ross Brawn oversaw the car's development and the car was given a Ford F1 V8 and branded the Jaguar XJR-14. You can see it above, racing on the bumpy, fast and possibly recklessly dangerous Mexico City circuit in 1991.

As a Jaguar, the car won the 1991 World Sportscar Championship, and then Jaguar killed off their racing program.

Then TWR built five more of these cars for Mazda, which had just won the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mazda dubbed the car the MXR-01, stretched the chassis out and stuck an off-the-shelf F1 V10 in the thing. They were fast, but not quite fast or reliable enough to win Le Mans again, and Mazda then killed off their racing program.

The car was now an orphan. TWR even had an extra chassis lying around. Thanks to a bizarre series of rule changes, Porsche then partnered with TWR to stick one of their twin-turbo flat six engines in the extra chassis (as well as one new chassis) and cut its roof off into an open-topped car. It wasn't labeled as a Porsche, but rather as the very evocative TWR WSC-95. That car then won the 1996 and 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans. And by that car, I mean that car.

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That single leftover chassis won the '96 race, then they just wheeled it out a year later and won the race again. It is one of only four cars to achieve this feat. One single chassis Gulf Ford GT40 won the 1968 and 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Bentley "Old Number One" won the '29 event, was re-engineered and won the '30 event as well, and Joest's 956B-117 won the '84 and '85 events. This TWR ties those cars as the most successful individual chassis in Le Mans history.

What I find funny about this car is that nobody seems to remember it.

Jaguar never talks about the car because it never won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jaguar did win the 24 a couple of times, so it spends its PR dollars taking pictures and putting out press releases about those cars, the XJR-9 and the XJR-12. The XJR-14 gets left out in the cold.

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Mazda never talks about the car because the thing never won Le Mans for them either. Mazda did win the 24 in 1991, but it was with a rotary engine. Mazda loves talking about the history of their rotary engines, and the MXR-01, with its piston V10, just doesn't fit into that narrative. Most times you see this car, you're looking at the picture at the top of this article. It is often mislabeled as its predecessor, the famed rotary 787B.

Porsche never talks about the car because it didn't start life as a Porsche at all. After a last-minute change in regulations in America, the car was called a TWR and it actually beat Porsche's factory-backed and still-quite-publicized GT1 cars.

TWR never talks about the car because, sadly, TWR went out of business in the early 2000s. Not a lot of marketing effort going on over there.

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So the car was orphaned early in life, and it remains something of an orphan, even though it is not an understatement to say it is one of the most successful cars to ever race at Le Mans, the most important sports car race in the world.

Maybe that's why I love it so much.

Alright, now that the history is out of the way, I need to talk more about why exactly this car was so good, and why it refused to die.

[Photo Credit: Jaguar Heritage Archive]

Back in the '80s and '90s Jaguar ran an extremely successful racing program with their partner, a company called Tom Walkinshaw Racing or TWR. In 1991, TWR designed a new car for Jaguar for Le Mans' new formula. This formula required that all top-level prototypes had to use 3.5 liter Formula One-style engines. What was so crazy about TWR's design was that it didn't just use an F1-grade engine, the whole thing was designed like an F1 car, only with a closed roof and full fenders.

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Just look at how tiny the driver looks in the minute little cockpit in this photo.

[Photo Credit: Jaguar Heritage Archive]

Indeed, the guy who was in charge of the whole project was a man named Ross Brawn who went on to run Benetton and Ferrari when Michael Schumacher won about a gazillion championships. Later even, Brawn turned the ashes of Honda's F1 program into his own team Brawn F1. Brawn won the constructors and driver's titles out of nowhere in 2009.

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The XJR-14 had all kinds of trick engineering. It was the second prototype racer to use a really modern formula car-style carbon monocoque, by that I mean it had a carbon tub that didn't have a cutout for the door. The XJR-14 just hinged the side windows at the top of the bubble roof, just like its rival the Peugeot 905 and every closed-roof prototype since.

[Photo Credit: Jaguar Heritage Archive]

Less admirable is the car's front wing arrangement. All of the space that would today make up a carbon safety structure to protect the driver was taken up by, uh, empty space. The car had some trouble passing its crash tests.

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The defining feature of the XJR-14, though, was its truly colossal biplane rear wing. This is where it looks like the car's designer Nigel Shroud and technical director Ross Brawn borrowed most heavily from their predecessor, the great Tony Southgate who penned Jaguar's previous Le Mans winners. What Brawn and Shroud did was fix the lower element of the two-tier wing so low that it acted like an extension of the car's diffuser. You can see a full exposition of how that all worked right here.

Composites fabricator Mike Fuller of the wonderful Mulsanne's Corner explains just how much downforce TWR was able to get out of the XJR-14, particularly when it retired from European competition and raced in the short street circuits of America in '92.

The end result was the XJR-14 generated 5880 lbs. of downforce for 1400 lbs. drag (figures quoted at 200 mph). Brawn et al effectively matched Tony Southgate on their first attempt.

Absolute downforce numbers increased substantially when the XJR-14 was brought to IMSA simply because downforce was the only thing that mattered. In typical IMSA configuration the XJR-14's downforce could be increased to 7800 lbs. with 1700 lbs. drag. Though when the situation called for it, amazingly even more downforce could be extracted; Ian Reed, TWR USA Technical Director, "We did some aero development at Manchester, UK, for a 'Street Fighter' version. We put on absolute maximum rear wing and added a long front flap extension. We got over 10,000 lbs at 200 mph but at huge drag. This worked well on street circuits."

They had a spec called 'Street Fighter!' And it could make 10,000 pounds of downforce! Forget driving upside down in a tunnel, the XJR-14 could drive upside down in a tunnel with a fully grown 15-foot rhinoceros strapped to the roof.

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Well, not really. The Street Fighter spec made so much drag that the car couldn't ever top 150 miles an hour, but it's still amazing.

You can see pictures of a similar high-downforce configuration right here thanks to a Jalopnik reader.

The huge downforce numbers meant that the XJR-14 was only a few seconds slower than Formula One cars of the day. It didn't matter that the Cosworth/Ford HB V8 was detuned to 670 horsepower; the 750 kilo car could've qualified for F1 races that year.

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As Motorsport Magazine recounted, driver Derek Warwick's first words after getting out of the XJR-14 for an instillation lap were "this car is fucking amazing." To put this in perspective, Warwick was then also an F1 driver who had raced for Renault, Williams, and Lotus. The car could take so many corners flat out that Martin Brundle, another F1 driver who also piloted the XJR-14, said that he sometimes broke out laughing behind the wheel.

[Photo Credit: Silverstone Classic]

Since it didn't win Le Mans, the XJR-14 isn't idolized like other Jags, and that makes it hard to remember now just how good the car was. When it first qualified at Suzuka in '91, it was nearly two and a half seconds faster than its rivals. Two and a half seconds! It only took a few races before every other team in the field started to copy its design, but not before the XJR-14 won enough events to secure the 1991 World Sportscar Championship.

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The thing is, Jaguar lost its main cigarette sponsor Silk Cut, and dropped out of the 1992 world championship. It was all a little abrupt, as one racing team owner from the period remembered. Now, while Jaguar had won the 1991 championship, they did not win the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Thanks to a bit of a rules loophole around the car's rotary engine, it was Mazda that won that race, but their rotary was effectively banned for '92. This left Mazda without a car and TWR without a team. I don't know which group contacted the other first (or if it helped smooth things out that Mazda was tied to Ford at the time, which then owned Jaguar), but it wasn't long before Mazda went ahead and contracted TWR to build them five Jaguar XJR-14 chassis, fitted with off-the-shelf 3.5 liter piston engines.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

That car was called the Mazda MXR-01. It wasn't exactly the same as the XJR-14, but it wasn't far off. The big difference was that Mazda stretched the chassis to accommodate off-the-shelf 3.5 liter Judd V10s. That and the car got headlights. The TWR design was finally going to enter real endurance races, night running and all.

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The car was still fast. One scored a second place at the '92 Silverstone 500km and had a fairly impressive run in the '92 24 Hours of Le Mans. One of the MXR-01s blitzed ahead of the field in the wet early in the race, ultimately settling into some podium-place running for most of the event. The now-dead but very great website IMCA Slot Racing remembers that the car had some kind of gearbox problem and lost 40 minutes in the pits. Cheered on by British fans who saw it as a kind of resurrected Jaguar, the car managed to get fourth.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

Just as Mazda was getting a handle on the MXR-01, the Sportscar World Championship ended and Mazda cancelled their race program like Jaguar had. Sadly, the MXR-01 it never managed to win a race. Sadder still, Motorsport Magazine claimed that Mazda had plans for a new gearbox and even a whole new car for 1993 or '94.

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That might have been the end of the car's history, but some overproduction gave the car another chance. TWR had built three chassis for Jaguar back in '91. Jaguar ended up wrecking two of those three cars racing on America's bumpy tracks of the time, but TWR ended up with a third chassis just sitting around. In 1994, TWR was in kind of rough shape and Porsche decided they wanted a new prototype racecar to compete in America and since TWR had a spare chassis lying around and Porsche had a viable twin-turbo flat six engine they could use, the two partnered up for a new project.

[Photo Credit: Porsche]

Though Porsche supplied the 3.2 liter engine for the car, now with a redesigned open-topped body, it wasn't acknowledged as a factory program. Porsche saved that for their GT1 cars and called their prototype the TWR WSC-95.

[Photo Credit: Porsche]

You can see the XJR-14 bones in the WSC-95 particularly well in this no-livery photograph.

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TWR built two WSC-95s and entered them in the 1996 and 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans. The same chassis, car #7, won both races.

Seeing as the TWR-Porsche was beating them, Porsche took over the program for 1998 and gave the car its final name change to the 'Porsche LMP1 98.' By then the car had grown too old and slow, and ultimately both cars retired from the big event.

What I find funny is that the TWR WSC-95 could have won a couple of World Sportscar Championships, but the series disbanded in 1992 and there wasn't an organizing body handing out trophies until 1998.

[Photo Credit: Porsche]

In the end, this car gives us an interesting lesson in history. It seems like 'history is made' and that's the end of it. That an achievement stands on its own. This car's four-brand career, world championship title and back-to-back 24 Hours of Le Mans wins should secure it in the mind of every gearhead. But this TWR design is an example of how a car that should be legendary can be so easily lost to time.

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This TWR isn't regularly championed by PR machines, and it has been quickly forgotten. Do you think Jaguar made a note of their championship-winning XJR-14 when their Le Mans-winning XJR-9/12 made the media rounds the other week? Do you think Mazda touted their gorgeous MXR-01 when they showed off their newest Le Mans-inspired video game concept car back on Christmas? Do you think Porsche wheeled out a WSC-95 when they debuted their newest Le Mans contender, the 919?

History, this TWR reminds us, is active and not passive. It's a conscious act of remembering. Better, it's a continuous act of reminding. Without it, cars fade out of memory, no matter how great or accomplished.

[Photo Credit: Jaguar Heritage Archive]

Author's Note: I would like to give an extra thank you to Harry Metcalfe, Jaguar, and the Jaguar Heritage Archive for providing photos of the XJR-14 at the 1991 Mexico 430km and at Magny-Cours. These are wonderful images without which this article would not have been possible.

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For more information on the XJR-14 and its successive iterations, please check out these sources:

Purple Reign, Motorsport Magazine

FIA Group C Racing, Decline And Fall: the Last Three Years, IMCA-Slotracing.com

1991-1992 Jaguar XJR-14, Mulsanne's Corner

Was the Joest Porsche really a TWR Jaguar?, Autosport Forums

The Incredible Transformation of the XJR-14 Chassis To 24 Hours Winning Porsche, 24h-LeMans.com

Photo Credits: Mazda, Jaguar, Porsche, Getty Images, Silverstone Classic