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The American muscle car that changed British touring car racing forever

Jaguar ruled the roost in the early days of British saloon car racing, but that domination came to an end 60 years ago thanks to an invasion from the world of NASCAR

Jack Sears, Ford Galaxie

In April 1963, a Jaguar was the only car to have if you wanted to win races outright in the British Saloon Car Championship. Since the series now known as the British Touring Car Championship began in 1958, Big Cats from Coventry had won 43 races, spread across the legendary Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, plus – bizarrely – a single success for the XK150.

Jaguar’s domination stretched back even further, to the very beginning of tin-top racing in the United Kingdom. Stirling Moss had won the production touring car race at the 1952 Daily Express International Trophy meeting at Silverstone, the forerunner of British Saloon Cars, in a massive Mk7.

But Jaguar’s era ended abruptly on 11 May 1963. When Jack Sears arrived at Silverstone with a John Willment Automobiles-entered Ford Galaxie, a race-winning model from the world of NASCAR, he triggered the start of a period when American V8 power would be de rigueur at the front of the field. It would last for more than a decade.

After a troubled practice before the correct Firestone tyres arrived and a careful start from pole to look after the clutch, Sears blasted past the leading Jaguars on Hangar Straight as he hit 135mph and disappeared down the road in the seven-litre V8. “To my surprise I passed all three Jaguars in the one manoeuvre,” said Sears in Gentleman Jack by Graham Gauld.

Despite drivers of the calibre of reigning Formula 1 world champion Graham Hill, Roy Salvadori and Mike Salmon, the Jaguars were left behind. Hill suffered tyre failure and Salmon also hit trouble, leaving Salvadori to chase the big Ford.

After setting a new lap record, Sears eased off in the closing stages but still won the 12-lap race by more than 20 seconds despite running most of the race in fourth gear to protect the clutch. Incredibly, this event also marked the debut of the 1100cc Mini Cooper S, which topped its class and took fifth overall with John Whitmore at the wheel.

There would be no keeping up with Sears for the phalanx of Jaguars driven by Salvadori, Salmon and Hill

There would be no keeping up with Sears for the phalanx of Jaguars driven by Salvadori, Salmon and Hill

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The presence of the Galaxie at Aintree at the end of May, a non-championship event, “made the outcome almost a foregone conclusion” according to Autosport. The main challenge for Sears in this 100-mile race was tyre wear. Sears therefore nursed the Galaxie from the start, keeping early leader Salmon’s Jaguar at arm’s length to win.

Any thoughts that the Galaxie might be beatable at a more twisty track were banished at Crystal Palace, the next BSCC round in June. Sears was joined by Gawaine Baillie’s Galaxie and, while the second V8 qualified third and finished fourth, Sears comfortably beat Jaguar men Salvadori and Hill once again.

The Galaxie didn’t take over without a fight but its biggest obstacles were off-track. Perhaps predictably, various technical questions about the American import were raised. The Galaxie’s rollcage was one of the those, resulting in changes that weakened it so much that “in the event of an accident it would have been quite useless”, according to Autosport at season’s end. The car was withdrawn from the non-championship, six-hour Brands enduro, but the V8 invasion was here to stay despite the sniping.

The Willment team was forced to convert the cars back to drum brakes over night after the RAC refused to let them run discs on the front. It made little difference; Sears reckoned the Galaxie’s drums were decent anyway

On-track, the thundering monster continued to blow the 3.8-litre Mk2s away. Sears beat Salmon and set a new lap record in a non-championship bout at Snetterton and then Sears and Baillie headed to Silverstone for the British GP support race.

There was yet more controversy. The Willment team was forced to convert the cars back to drum brakes over night after the RAC refused to let them run discs on the front, though the use of discs would become the norm.

It made little difference and Sears reckoned the Galaxie’s drums were decent anyway. He powered into the lead from the start and won by more than 5s. Salmon heroically led Baillie for two laps before the second Galaxie rumbled by to complete a 1-2. “Nothing could live with the titans,” said Autosport.

Sears’s winning streak in the championship finally came to an end at Brands Hatch in August. He suffered a flat tyre while battling for the lead, leaving soon-to-be-crowned F1 world champion Jim Clark to win – in another Galaxie, run by Alan Brown. Autosport was already convinced by the “splendid spectacle” the V8s provided: “It was Clark ahead of Sears, the two Ford Galaxie pilots wrestling at the wheel, working as never before.” A hard-working Hill topped the Jaguars in second.

Clark ended Sears' winning run at Brands Hatch, but it was in another Galaxie that the Scot took the spoils

Clark ended Sears' winning run at Brands Hatch, but it was in another Galaxie that the Scot took the spoils

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Sears switched back to Willment’s Ford Cortina GT with which he had started the campaign for the next round at Brands, winning his class in third overall. Galaxie honour was left to Bob Olthoff (Willment) and Salvadori (Brown), with Olthoff victorious.

Dan Gurney and Hill scored a Galaxie 1-2 at Oulton Park, with now double champion Sears third on the debut of the Ford Lotus Cortina.

Rubbing home the end of Jaguar’s reign, Sears was quickest in practice for the Snetterton finale driving the Galaxie, then switched to Willment’s Lotus Cortina for the race. He followed Clark and Taylor in a class 1-2-3, while Jack Brabham won in Brown’s Galaxie. Salmon was fifth in the leading Jaguar: the hitherto dominant machines were now outgunned by V8 muscle and outhandled by Colin Chapman’s new wondersaloon.

PLUS: When an F1 champion ruled the BTCC

Sears and the Galaxie remained the combination to beat in 1964, while Clark in the iconic Lotus Cortina famously took the crown and is now remembered as a giantslayer. But Clark was the only driver to win a BSCC race outright in the 1600cc twin-cam marvel and a look at the 1964 results shows five Galaxie wins (four to Sears) and three to Clark. The Cortina would have been capable of ending the Jaguar hegemony, but the Galaxie got there first.

The Galaxie, which took its final series win at Goodwood in April 1966 courtesy of Brian Muir, soon gave way to the Mustang, the Falcon and the Chevrolet Camaro in British touring car racing. Smaller-capacity cars often won the title thanks to the idiosyncratic scoring system that awarded the same number of points for class wins as overall victories, but American power would hold sway at the front until they were banned in Britain at the end of 1975. By then, the championship was a very different beast.

The Galaxie truly had changed the game forever. And, six decades later, Jaguar is still waiting for win number 44.

Want to see the cars in action?

All three models race regularly but one 2023 highlight should be the Transatlantic Trophy race for pre-1966 touring cars at the Silverstone Festival. Ford Galaxies and Cortinas will mix it with Mustangs and Falcons at the 25-27 August event. The original Jack Sears Galaxie that won at Silverstone in 1963 will also be on display.

For more information, click here.

The Galaxie remained the car to beat for years afterwards, with the likes of Jack Brabham turning out to drive them

The Galaxie remained the car to beat for years afterwards, with the likes of Jack Brabham turning out to drive them

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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