Looking Back At The Most Beautiful Car Ever Made, The Jaguar E-Type

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It is what Bach was to music, what Rodan was to sculpture. The Jaguar...E-Type, the highest expression of automotive art...
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 1971; and a total of 15,292 Series 3 V12 E-types were constructed between 1971 and 1975.

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.

The Briggs Cunningham Connection

It isn't so much the shape as the rear suspension which sets out the Cunningham car as the E-type's immediate ancestor, for in place of the rigid rear axle which had dogged the D-types on anything but ultra-fast circuits later in their careers, the Cunningham car had independently coil-sprung rear wheels and inboard disc brakes. Lord Montagu in Jaguar had pointed out that this arrangement wasn't quite so new to Jaguar as it appeared, the factory having tried independent coil-spring rear suspension on the V A (with rear-mounted JAP engine) and Ford 10-engined VB experimental light vehicles designed for the War Office in 1944. Whatever, the Cunningham's rear suspension with twin coil-spring damper struts each side certainly worked, providing far better traction and wheel control in circumstances where the D-type's live axle had been a liability.

It got Lyons' and Heynes' seal of approval and the E-type thus gained what proved to be in its early years one of the best compromises between good handling, road-holding and ride. From this developed the rear suspension which has been used on all Jaguars introduced subsequent to the Mk. 2 and Mk. IX. At the front the Cunningham car retained the familiar Jaguar torsion-bar suspension, pretty well to D-type specification, and this too was passed on to the E-type.

Malcolm Sayer And The Beautiful Aerodynamic Shape

No tribute to the E-type would be complete without an additional tribute to the late Malcolm Sayer, the brilliant designer and aerodynamicist who was responsible for the classic shapes of the C-type, the D-type, the Cunningham car, the E-type and the racing XJ 13. Even today, many still agree that Sayer's work will never be surpassed. Those early 3.8 E-types were not without their faults however, the Moss gearboxes were abysmal, the seats uncomfortable, the dynamo-inspired electrics unreliable and insufficiently powerful, as were the headlights and the braking system was suspect. But with their cowled-in headlights and small rear lights (inherited by the early Series 1 4.2-liter version) they looked beautiful and had performance to match: The gradual addition of better seats, trim and sound deadening, the heavier all-synchromesh gear-box added with the advent of the 4.2-liter car, pushed up the weight considerably and the performance dropped in proportion.

Only the 3.8's were capable of 150 m.p.h. and those fantastic acceleration times, which is presumably why, in spite of all their other drawbacks, good examples of those early models are so highly prized today. The 3.8 fixed-head weighed 24.1 cwt. compared with well over 30 cwt. for the V12 coupe, so that in spite of its 5.3-liter engine even the powerful last of the model couldn't hold the first in a straight line. The 2 plus 2 4.2-liter (upon whose wheelbase the V12 was based), introduced in 1966, was roughly 1 cwt. heavier than its two-seater brothers, and slightly slower into the bargain.

Jaguar V12 - "Not just a case of Ballyhoo and Big-o for its own sake..."

From Beginning To End Of The Straight-Six

E-types in 3.8 and 4.2 liter forms had power outtput quoted at 265 b.h.p. gross, a figure which in itself is suspect and which must have caused some embarrassment to Jaguar when, bowing to the Trades Description Act and other factors, they were obliged to quote the DIN figure of 266 b.h.p. for the V12. Even so, the last V12s had quietly been drained of some power by the tightening up of emission regulations, even the camshafts being changed.

Though Jaguar had withdrawn from motor racing officially in 1956, they were more than slightly involved with many of the successes E-types were to achieve in competition. In the E-type's first two seasons of competition, Jaguar were largely responsible for the famous John Coombs racing E-type, BUY 1.

When this and other quick E-types began to be uncompetitive against the new Ferrari 250 GTOs in 1962, Jaguar were concerned enough to design an E-type specially for racing, and in 1963 the lightweight E-type was born and then homologated for GT racing. Only 12 full lightweights were built, all hard-top roadsters with alloy monocoques and body panels instead of steel, special aluminum engine blocks crowned with wide-angle D-type cylinder heads and Lucas fuel injection.

Some 300 b.h.p. was the norm for the engine, though 344 b.h.p. gross, possibly the highest power output ever achieved from the XK engine, was squeezed out of the Peter Lindnerl Peter Nocker lightweight E-type which ran at Le Mans in 1964.

Early lightweight E- Types used the four-speed, close-ratio Jaguar gearbox, later ones the five-speed ZF. Though they were never to achieve the successes of the C and D-Types they were successful in upholding the Jaguar name in International motor racing. It remained a force to be reckoned with in historic racing for many years.

While there is always conjecture as to what constitutes beauty, few in our office dispute the E-type is the most beautiful monocoque car ever produced, a tribute to British design and engineering, which set new standards in performance motoring. To the designers, the cars, their previous owners and current custodians, we salute you.

Also see:

Jaguar E-Type Review
Jaguar E-Type Series 1 & 2 Technical Specifications
Jaguar E-Type Series 3 Technical Specifications
Jaguar E-Type Series 1 Brochure
Jaguar Heritage
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