Born To Perform: The Jaguar E-Type of Group 44

This article was first published in our May 2009 edition of Classic Motorsport. Some information or prices may be different.

In the world of amateur and professional sports car racing, few combinations have worked together as beautifully as Jaguar and Bob Tullius’s Group 44 Inc. Through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, this team set the standard for motorsports marketing, sports car race preparation, and race team discipline.

Beginning in 1962 with a single white Triumph TR3, by 1973 Tullius and Group 44 Inc. had delivered hundreds of victories and 10 SCCA national championships to its clients: Triumph, MG, British Leyland, Quaker State and Goodyear. However, when Tullius began racing sports cars in the early 1960s, no such dynamic existed. Race teams did not represent clients in sports car racing—or any other form of motorsport. Sports car racing was basically a rich man’s hobby, and Tullius was not a rich man by anyone’s definition. In 1962, when forced by his boss to choose between his job selling copiers for Eastman Kodak and his hobby of racing sports cars on the weekend, he made the difficult choice to leave his conventional career behind.

With a young family to support, Tullius had to create his own industry, making business decisions with no business model to follow. No books to read. No one to call for help. Not even the Internet, for God’s sake. Fortunately for Tullius, early on he discovered a remarkable but raw young talent. While working as a service manager for a sports car dealership in Arlington, Virginia, he met his eventual partner, Brian Fuerstenau. While a very capable driver with many national championships to his credit, Fuerstenau became truly invaluable to the team for his engineering genius.

Like other engineering giants of the day, such as Mark Donohue, Fuerstenau functioned on a higher level than his peers. Unlike Donohue, however, Fuerstenau was self-taught; he lacked the prestigious Ivy League training and credentials Donohue enjoyed.

But with the addition of crew chief Lanky Foushee in 1970, the duo simply operated on a higher plane than any of their competition from an engineering and implementation standpoint. There is no doubt that Fuerstenau and Foushee would have been successful in any type of racing across the history of the sport—and one of their biggest wins was yet to come.

Grace, Space, Pace

A single victory lap helped justify two years of hard work: Group 44 Inc. made the Jaguar XKE an SCCA national champion. Team boss Bob Tullius drove to the win.

By the early 1970s, Tullius was campaigning the Group 44 Inc., Triumph TR6 in the highly competitive C Production class. Unfortunately, the TR6’s days in C Production were numbered; thanks to a wave of Datsun 240Zs—cars heavily favored by the SCCA’s General Competition Rules—the Triumph had become largely uncompetitive.

Tullius itched to move up in class, and he believed that the V12-powered Series III Jaguar XKE offered a platform that Fuerstenau and Foushee could transform into a dominant entry in the SCCA’s B Production class, where Chevy Corvettes had held a decade-long stranglehold.

By then, Tullius had become close friends with Mike Dale, then executive vice president of sales and marketing for Jaguar USA. Together they came to the conclusion that running the Jaguar in B Production would serve several purposes. First, Tullius wanted to compete in A, B or C Production with a car he felt had an honest chance of winning. The TR6, destined to be demoted to D Production in 1975, would be a step backward for him as a driver.

Second, there were thousands of brand-new Series III E-types sitting at the docks in Baltimore. These cars were being held there until American dealers sold their existing inventories of E-types, a task that was proving increasingly difficult to accomplish. Successfully racing the E-type in SCCA against the Corvettes, Porsches, Cobras and Mustangs could reinvigorate the American Jaguar dealer network, they reasoned, hopefully resulting in improved sales of E-types in the States.

Third, Group 44 Inc. wanted more opportunities to show what they could do in the way of developing and campaigning high-horsepower race cars. The team was already successful with a Dodge Dart in the early days of Trans-Am, and Tullius knew that they had the talent to move up. Running the Jag would continue their evolution toward professional racing. The time was ripe, and pairing Group 44 Inc. with the E-type seemed like a marriage made in heaven.

By the spring of 1974, the team had grown to 10 full-time employees. With the addition of the E-type project, they were seriously outgrowing their relatively modest shop in Falls Church, Virginia. When first opened in 1965, the small facility had suited the company’s purposes reasonably well, but now they needed to move to larger quarters.

Unleash a Jaguar

The car might have been the star, but the Group 44 Inc. team was also a well-oiled machine.

Group 44 Inc. kicked off 1975 by moving into a larger facility. The new shop, located a few minutes from Dulles Airport in Herndon, Virginia, featured an engine dyno room, formal paint booth, body shop, wash bay, and proper loading dock—the team could finally load and unload the cars without using ramps. Tullius himself enjoyed increased office space and room for a secretary, Pamela Compton, and a public relations person, Paul Brand.

For this year, John McComb took over driving duties of the TR6, now running in D Production with an actual chance of winning. Fuerstenau continued driving the MGB, and John Kelly moved to the MG Midget, ending the Group’s tenure campaigning Spitfires. Tullius would now focus his driving talents on the big Jaguar. The season was a tremendous success for Tullius and the E-type. They won seven times on seven different tracks, including the SCCA finale at Road Atlanta—once again hyped as the East Coast versus West Coast “Jaguar Race” Mueller’s Huffaker-prepared car suffered another DNF due to rear end failure attributed to a spin during practice, but Tullius and his gleaming white E-type sat on the pole and led every lap, dominating the field of 14 Corvettes and one Porsche Carrera.

The East Coast’s Group 44 Inc., and the West Coast’s Huffaker Engineering operated independently of each other, but they pursued the same goals. Together they demonstrated the XKE in a light most favorable to its manufacturer, winning as many races as possible along the way. When the two teams met at Road Atlanta for the Runoffs, it was a highly anticipated face-off.

Before the race, Mike Dale had some directives for Tullius: The quicker of the two Jags in qualifying would take the win, while the slower would throw the race. The two cars were not to compete against each other and risk taking both of the Jaguars out of the race altogether.

Although Tullius sat on the pole anyway, the pre-race fix was ultimately not necessary; the Huffaker car met its demise during the pace lap. Although it would have gone against his competitive nature, Tullius recalled that he would have honored the team orders if he had been on the “losing” end of the equation. He understood that this race was crucial for Jaguar.

The Art of Performance

Group 44 Inc. was a class act both on and off the track.

The importance of the U.S. Jaguar competition program and the 1975 Road Atlanta win cannot be overstated. So significant was this race to the company that Lord Donald Stokes himself, the managing director of British Leyland, was at Road Atlanta to witness firsthand the results as they unfolded.

Interestingly, Jaguar enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the E-type throughout the course of the 1974 and 1975 seasons, both at the dealer and consumer level. Tullius, ever mindful of his perceived duties to his clients, ensured that the public relations department for Group 44 Inc. visited every track’s closest major market center. Before each 1974-’75 race, they’d stop by to promote the event, the cars and, of course, Group 44 Inc. This included print media, television and radio promotions.

Additionally, local dealers were given the opportunity to attend the races; where possible, Tullius arranged for the cars to be displayed in the dealers’ showrooms either before or after the race weekend. The enthusiasm was palpable and contagious, and it carried over to the consumer.

For its part, Jaguar USA advertised heavily, proudly showing off its extremely successful, and beautiful, Corvette-dominating V12 E-type. Although the company had decided to focus its future energies on the XJS and halt production of the E-type long before the end of the 1975 season, Jaguar sold every E-type it had by the end of that year. Dale and Tullius were proved right.

Today, the Group 44 Inc. championship-winning E-type—chassis number UE1S/24250—properly resides at the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust on Browns Lane in Coventry, England. There it takes its place as one of the few cars that the company calls “a significant milestone in the continuing development and growth of Jaguar Cars and its related companies.” Thought of by many as one of the most beautiful racing cars ever built, this E-type stands as a testament to the ingenuity, dedication and competitive spirit of Bob Tullius, Brian Fuerstenau, Lanky Foushee, Mike Dale, Jaguar and Group 44 Inc.

Their contributions would be further recognized in 1981, when Tullius was presented with the Sir William Lyons award for his dedication and contributions to Jaguar. Lyons, the co-founder of Jaguar Cars, was still living at the time this award was presented, although he was by then officially retired. The notoriously detail-minded Sir William no doubt passed approval on the well-deserved award.

About the Author

As a youngster, Russel C. Tullius grew up in and around the shops of Group 44 Inc., and at race tracks such as Marlboro, Cumberland, VIR, Daytona, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta.

“Funny thing,” he says, “I didn’t realize then that what my dad and his race team were doing was any different than what any other dad did. After all, each weekend at the races, there were lots of other dads and lots of kids. That was my world. Obviously, in hindsight it is clear that what my dad and his race team were doing was special.”

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