Jaguar E-type | Jaguar XKE In America

The E-type | XKE

The Jag E-type (or Jaguar XKE as it was known in America) was first revealed to the public in March 1961 at the Geneve Motor Show. Sir William Lyons, head of Jaguar, expected the car to sell a few hundred. In fourteen years it sold over 70,000.

The Making of a Myth

The test fleet Jaguar supplied to the press impressed many with their 150mph top speed, the supercar benchmark of the day. But it was only years later that Jaguar admitted that the test fleet had received extra tuning to ensure they could hit the magic 150mph figure. For production vehicles 140-145 mph was more realistic.

And, unfortunately, like many a car it got slower with age. Eventually regaining some of its former glory in the V12 version but as with so many cars the original was the best.

Series 1 Production (1961-67)

Over 38,000 of the Jag E Type Series 1 were built. Designed by Malcolm Sayer it has always being considered one of the most beautiful cars ever built. It cost little more than its immediate predecessor, the Jaguar XK150S, and weighed in at over 500lbs less. And at just over £2,000 in Britain it was also affordable compared to other "pure" supercars of its era. In America it sold for $5,600 at its launch, compared to the Aston Martin DB4 which was $10,400, and the Ferrari 250GT Cabriolet which was $12,600.

A 1963 Jaguar XK-E Roadster on display in Indianapolis Photo by Dan Smith.
A 1963 Jaguar XK-E Roadster on display in Indianapolis Photo by Dan Smith.
Pic by Stephen Foskett Own work, copyleft: Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5 and older versions (2.0 and 1.0)
Pic by Stephen Foskett Own work, copyleft: Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5 and older versions (2.0 and 1.0)

The "Flat-Floor Cars"

The most costly of the surviving cars to buy are the first of the Jag E Type Series 1, the "flat-floor cars" made only for the first year. Later models had recessed foot wells to give occupants more space. These ran until 1964 when the engine was upgraded from its original 3.8 litre specification to 4.2 litre capacity. Power stayed the same but torque was increased making it easier to drive. The gearbox was also updated to an all-synchro box at the same time, along with brake and seat improvements. These modifications were generally considered to improve the car by making it easier to drive without slowing it down at all.

Roadster interior by Thomas Doerfer
Roadster interior by Thomas Doerfer

American Success For Jaguar XKE

Following the car's success in America production and development was tailored to the American market. Suspension was made softer, power steering (when it was introduced in the Series 2) was made progressively lighter and the brake effort made easier, and Jaguar started to look for a way to fit the XKE with an automatic gearbox, an option that hadn't being considered for the British and European markets.

Jaguar E-type Series 1 by Karrmann
Jaguar E-type Series 1 by Karrmann

The First Major Upgrade

In 1966 the Jag E Type underwent its first major upgrade when Jaguar inseted another 9" in to the wheelbase of the fixed-head coupe to create a 2+2 with a small rear seat. Two inches was added to the height by raising the roofline making it easier to access the rear seats. Unfortunately it also diluted some of the cars sports car pedigree by adding weight and slowing it down. But one advantage to the modifications was that the longer wheelbase allowed an auto box to be squeezed in.

The Series 1½

As Series 1 production started to draw to a close in 1967 Jaguar's suppliers began to supply parts for the new Series 2 model. Unfortunatley Jaguar hadn't got their production line geared up for the Series 2 at that point so there was period when in order to sustain production some Series 1 cars were fitted with a range of Series 2 parts. These cars became known, unofficially, as the Jag E Type Series 1½ and are popular with buyers but it is not known exactly what the specification of any of them is with any certainty or exactly how many were produced. Most of the changes were around switchgear, lighting and suspension.

Series 2 Production (1968-70)

The new Jag E Type still used the old XK4.2 litre engine but it had suffered a significant decline in power to meet emission laws, so top speed was down to a fairly feeble 119 mph in US spec. Hardly a big step forward from the Series 1's top speed of 140+ mph.

Power steering was now fitted along with improved air conditioning and lighting alterations to meet American regulations.

Prices hadn't changed much at Jaguar as they were facing competition from the Corvette which was cheaper and faster. But a new Aston Martin DBS was now $17,900 and a Lamborghini Miura P400S a whopping $19,750.

The Series 2 had lost much of the elegance of the Series 1 and a noticeable amount of performance. (The old XK engine was thirteen years old when Jaguar first started using it in the Jag E Type in 1961.) One of the major reasons the Series 2 was only produced for two years. Back at the Jaguar factory the engineers had been working overtime and in 1971 their efforts were revealed to the world.

Series 3 Production (1971-75)

In a first for Jaguar they launched their new model in America rather than Britain or Europe. Hardly surprising really as that was where a large part of the sales for the Jaguar XKE were coming from.

The Series 3 was now only available in the long-wheelbase model in convertible or fixed-head coupe body styles. But under the bonnet was Jaguars new 5.3 litre V12. The price had risen to $7,000 but the Jaguar XKE was still cheap compared to the Ferrari et al.

With the longer wheelbase and more raked windscreen the car was turing in to a GT rather than a pure sports car but that seemed to be what most of the (American) customers wanted.

The 5343cc engine kicked out 272 bhp and was ususally mated to an auto box so performance still couldn't match the first Series 1 cars but most people seemed happy considering the car was now over a decade old and nearing the end of its production life.

Total Jaguar Production Figures From 1961-1975

Quantity Produced
E-Type Series 1
E-Type Series 2
E-Type Series 3

The End Of The Line

In 1973 the Jag E Type fixed-head coupe was dropped from Jaguar's line up and in 1975 the convertible followed it in to extinction.

The Jag E Type was selected for permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1996 and in a 2004 poll by the British Newspaper, the Sunday Times, it got 81% of the vote as the "UK's Best-Loved Car".

Over the years over two-thirds of the cars built were sold in America and convertibles invariably sell for more than the coupe. An immaculate Series 1 would sell in the UK now for around £50,000 and a modernized version could be well over £100,000.

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