After Sir William Lyons, ‘Lofty’ England was probably the single most influential manager in Jaguar. He rose to fame as manager of Jaguar’s sports car racing team in the ‘Fifties, the period in which Jaguar won Le Mans five times. After Jaguar withdrew from motor racing in 1957, England moved into the mainstream management of the company and was extensively involved in the negotiations with BMC, which led to the formation of British Motor Holdings and, ultimately, British Leyland. Along with Lyons, he ensured that Jaguar retained a degree of independence – especially with regard to design and engineering – within BL. Following Sir William’s retirement in 1967, Lofty England and William Heynes succeeded him as joint managing directors, with England becoming chairman in 1972.
Born in 1915, England joined Daimler cars as an apprentice in 1927. It was there that 6ft 5in Frank acquired the ‘Lofty’ nickname, which would remain with him for the rest of his life. In the final year of his apprenticeship he finished second in the 1932 RAC Rally, driving a Daimler Double-Six belonging to Laurence Pomery.
Following his apprenticeship, England found that his mechanical skills and interest in motorsport meant he was in great demand as a race engineer, though nothing lasted more than a couple of years. At this time many ‘racers’ were wealthy men who were basically indulging in a pastime and not massively interested in doing mechanical work themselves. England worked for ERA and Alvis for a year – he was sacked from the latter by Raymond Mays – but was immediately taken on by up-and-coming Grand Prix driver Dick Seaman. This, too, was short-lived as later that year Seaman signed as a driver for Mercedes. However, his Delage was sold to the Siamese Princes Chula and Bira, and England moved with it. England ran the cousins’ racing team well, many race wins followed and the team established a reputation for exemplary preparation.
In 1938 England moved out of racing, returning to Alvis but as a service engineer at the company’s headquarters in Coventry. After the Second World War, lofty found Alvis had been severely damaged by the wartime bombing of Coventry, so through good friend Walter Hassan he moved to Jaguar, initially as a service manager. At this time Jaguar was not involved in motorsport but from 1948 a few ‘privateer’ owner-drivers were racing the new Jaguar XK120 with great success. Hassan’s straight-six XK engine had huge tuning potential and England saw the benefits of a works motorsport effort. In 1949, six top drivers from the pre-war era (including Prince Bira) were supplied with lightweight prototype XK120s and the results were extremely encouraging.
Despite this, it was clear to England and William Lyons the XK120 was too heavy and not sufficiently aerodynamic to win at Le Mans. The solution was installing XK120 drivetrain in a lightweight chassis with ‘slippery’ bodywork. The XK120C (Competition), later known as the C-type, made its debut at the 1951 Le Mans.
To secure victory, England devised a technique; he realised his cars were not necessarily faster than the opposition, but they were stronger, so it was a case of racing hard from the start, in the hope others would fail through trying to keep up. The plan worked. Stirling Moss and co-driver Jack Fairman stormed off to a fast start and established a new lap record of 105.232mph, before failing after 92 laps. However, the Ferrari and Talbot Lago competition also failed, allowing the second Jaguar, driven by Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead, to inherit the lead, which by the end of the race had been extended to nine laps. This was the first example of England’s the ‘good of the team’ principle of management.
1952, by comparison, was a disaster – body modifications led to overheating and all three works cars failed. However, the C-types returned in 1953 with the original bodywork but improved engines and disc brakes all round. The team came first, second and fourth. In 1953 the Jaguars were originally excluded due to an alleged technical infringement, but eventually reinstated, with Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt winning.
For 1954 England decided that a new car was needed; hence the famous Jaguar D-type made its first appearance. First time out, Hamilton and Rolt lost, by just one lap, to Ferrari’s Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant. 1955 was to be a direct battle between England’s Jaguars and the Mercedes team run by Alfred Neubauer. An accident, triggered by Mike Hawthorn’s D-type, killed Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh along with 83 spectators. Some hours later Neubauer withdrew his team and invited England to do the same, but England kept his cars racing, eventually winning. England was criticised for his decision, but maintained that Hawthorn was not responsible for the tragedy.
Le Mans 1956 was the last outing for the works Jaguar team and the new longnose D-type could only manage sixth place. Fortunately for Jaguar, Lofty England had always encouraged privateer teams and ensured that serious contenders received as much help as the works could offer, and it was one of these, Ecurie Ecosse, which scored the D-type’s victory that year – and again in 1957.
With Jaguar’s withdrawal from racing, England returned to his former role as director of the service department and was never again involved in active motorsport. Rather, he began to move up the corporate ladder within Jaguar which, in 1960, merged with Daimler, the company he had started with. He became assistant managing director in 1961. However, despite being heavily involved in management, England invited his old friend Hassan to rejoin the company and develop the V12 engine he had previously developed for motorsport use into a road engine. This unit finally appeared in 1971 in the final Series 3 version of the E-type Jaguar.
Although the agreement that led to the formation of British Leyland had promised Jaguar a degree of autonomy, from 1972 England found his position difficult due to corporate decision-taking and increasing industrial tensions. He retired in 1974, aged 63, moved to Austria, and had no further involvement with the company. He died in 1995, aged 83.