Few would argue that, back in March 1961
, the British Motor Industry was sufferring a slump. Petrol was cheap, there were no overall speed limits and motorists could use Britain's fast-expanding new motorway system for the high-speed commuting purpose for which it was designed: The motorist of 1961
, not yet persecuted by Authority as worse than a common criminal, had a different way of life. All the ingredients were there conspiring to have a car manufacturer develop something special.
The Geneva Motor Show on March 16th was the scene for the unveiling of the sensational E-type, a car which, slump or not, was to bolster the prestige of the British Motor Industry and the pride of the still patriotic British public.
The Press eulogised about it, customers queued for it - and a month after its Geneva unveiling Graham Hill took the blue Equipe Endeavour E-type roadster to a fine and significant victory in the Oulton Park Trophy Race for GT cars, backed up in third place by Roy Salvadori's similar, but grey, example.
Television thrust this victory to a captive audience and the sight of this magnificent new Jaguar trouncing the Aston Martin DB4 GT
, at twice the price, and the Ferrari 250 GTs at three times the price left a profound impression on the enthusiastic motoring public.
Jaguar were able to use the victory to help boost the E-type into an export leader. And, in true William Lyons fashion, the price was set unbelievably low: £1,480 basic for the roadster (£2,097 15s. 10d. inclusive of Purchase Tax, while a hard-top could be added for an extra £76), or £I ,550 for the sleeker fixed-head coupe (£2,196 19s. 2d. inclusive of tax).
Those early '60s days of speed, reasonable freedom, value for money and an impressive stature for the British Motor Industry came to an end, and nothing seemed to signify this more than the demise of the E-type, the last of which came off Jaguar's Allesley production line around March, 1975
. The end of an era and the end of a breed of car which we're never likely to witness again. A symbol of wealth, a symbol of masculinity and/or virility, a symbol of speed and power, take it as you wish, but certainly a World-wide legend in its own time.
During the fourteen years of production, 72,584 E-types were manufactured, 85 % of which were exported. Of the total, 49,032 went to the USA, 2,439 to Canada and 8,793 to smaller export markets scattered across the globe, including Australia. Only 12,320 were manufactured for the British market. A breakdown of the various models shows that 15,481 3.8-liter versions were sold between the introduction in 1961
and its replacement by the 4.2-liter Series 1 in late 1964
; the latter model had by far the largest production run, 22,908 being built between 1964 and late 1968; 18,841 Series 2 4.2-liter cars were built between 1968
; and a total of 15,292 Series 3 V12 E-types were constructed between 1971
A six-cylinder version of the Series 3 was announced at the same time as the V12, however only one example was ever built specifically as such, though at least three more were converted from V12's in the Jaguar Experimental Department, which subsequently used them all for development purrposes. It is believed that all except one, which escaped to private hands, were broken up. (Please note - before you send us an email, the discrepancies in the totals above result from Jaguar's quoted figures, not our mathematics
The Final Highly Collectable 50
Jaguar celebrated (if that is the right word) the end of the E-type by distinctively finishing 49 of the last 50 V12 roadsters in black with chromium-plated wheels. The exception in the 50 was the next to the last E-type off the line (chassis no. IS 2871) which was specially finished in dark green to match the rest of customer Robert Danny's Jaguar collection. All 50 had a special dashboard identification plaque, though that of the very last one, chassis no. IS 2872, body no. 4S 8989, was worded somewhat differently, as befits a car which is to be preserved for posterity by Jaguar, moth-balled in their exhibition hall.
To the end the E-type remained a bargain. Amazingly no price premium was placed upon those distinctive last 50 cars, which today would represent an extremely valuable classic car collectors item.
The E-type was the epitome of a production road car which reflected the role of motor racing in improving the breed. It was no smooth-tongued PR exercise which caused Jaguar to claim in 1961 that their new 150 m.p.h. sports car was descended directly from the Le Mans
winning C-type (C-for Commpetition) and the D-type
, from which its type designation was a logical progression.
Although the materials differed, the E-type's construction, using a central steel monocoque with a separate tubular front subframe to carry the engine and front suspension, followed the D-type's general layout faithfully.
From the D-type stemmed the XK SS in 1957, literally a D-type converted into a road-going sports car, but without doubt an inspiration for the E-type. There was never any intention to build the XK SS in quantity, but any hope of completing a serious production run at all was halted by the disastrous fire at the factory which destroyed several of the model and left the final production total at 16.
The D-Type XK SS Rumour
Rumour had it that the XK SS was merely a ploy to use up the stock of unsold D-types languishing round the back of the factory; apparently the D-Types were dragged into Engineering, the rust being removed from their deteriorating disc brakes with emery cloth before the creature comforts were added to enable Jaguar to proclaim them to be XK SS road-going sports cars. But one could hardly say that the XK SS's accidental origins spoiled it, if this story is true at all. By all accounts it was, and still is, for the lucky handful who own them, one of the most exciting road cars ever built.
Design and development work on the E-type started in that year of the XK SS and the fire, but though the D-type and the SS inspired that sports car of the future, the most significant illustration of design progression by William Heynes, Jaguar's then Technical Director, and his team, is provided by a development car run overtly for Jaguar by Briggs Cunningham
in the 1960 Le Mans 24-hour race
. This lone car was reminiscent in shape to the long-nose D-types, but hind-sight was to show that its more svelte shape was more akin to the E-type. With a 3-liter, all-aluminum engine and driven by Waiter Hansgen and Dan Gurney, this unique Jaguar set fastest lap in practice at 124.11 m.p.h., but retired from the race. Subsequently Cunningham
took this car to the USA where, fitted with a 3.8-liter engine, it won first time out at Bridgehampton and finished third in the Road America race at Elkhart Lake before being returned to the Coventry factory.