Is the Jaguar E-Type the most beautiful car ever made?
The Stunning Jaguar E-Type
It must have been hard for the motoring public to grasp the looks and performance of the stunning new Jaguar E-Type when it was introduced at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show.
For those who were running around in pre-war cars and there were an awful lot in 1961, this sleek and fantastically fast car would have seemed like a spacecraft.
Of course Jaguar had made the world stop twice before, first with the introduction of the XK120 in 1948 and then later the D-Type which swept the board at international sports car races in the 1950's.
Early E-Types were the fastest of all E's with their 3781cc, 265hp versions of the legendary XK engine first seen in the XK120. The engine had been in production for some 13 years by the time it was fitted in the E-Type so the car could hardly be described as totally new, but it leant heavily on the design of the D-Type using a similar body structure with subframes front and rear to carry the engine and suspension and a central monocoque. Where it did score was in having independent suspension all round - the first Jaguar to be so equipped. It was a rare feature for any car in the early 60's but at the Jaguar's almost unbelievably low price of just over $3000 on introduction it was just another sensation confirming its role as the world's number one sports car.
1966 Jaguar 2+2
The E-Type survived in various forms until 1975 and during that time got progressively softer and more overweight. The XK motor increased in size from 3.8 litres to 4.2 litres in 1964 and powered the car until the magnificient 5.3 litre V12 was introduced in 1971. Bodystyles altered with the introduction of a 2+2 in 1966 and even automatic transmission became an option to cater for the US market. Somehow the purity of those original lines was diluted as the car was battered with safety by safety regulations and demand for a 'family' E-Type. But despite this 72,520 E-Types of all denominations were built in the car's 14 year lifespan. It was fabulously popular and attracted attention like nothing else on the road.
A friend of mine has just had restored one of the early fixed head coupes with the desirable 3.8 litre engine. A few weeks ago he said after an extensive 18 month restoration,he'd just picked it up and how about coming over and we'll take it for a spin.
Coming to the car cold it is staggering how simply stunning those lines are. Even today they are fabulously futuristic, probably much more so than say a decade ago when styling trends favored a much more angular approach. Today's cars are more rounded in the modern idiom and the E-Types marvellously sensual curves fit in admirably: there isn't a hard edge or straight line in sight anywhere on the bodywork. The frontal aspect with its faired in headlights flanking the gaping, grille less air intake is a sight to behold. Everything looks shaped by the wind, the indicator lamp clusters, for example, clutching onto the the sides of the body as if in danger of being swept away in the slipstream. The bonnet, that long, long hood with its three humps covering wheel arches and engine, stretches half the length of the car until the smooth profile is broken by the curiously upright windscreen, small and with three wipers.
The almost impossibly narrow doors lead onto the raised flanks over the rear wheels which bulge out and then taper round to strip-like rear lights sitting atop the thin three quarter bumpers. The roofline descends in classic fastback fashion over the flush fitting and handleless rear trunk door to the numberplate which sits above the two chromium exhaust pipes. The description is every schoolboy's dream, the execution every designers dream.
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In the engine bay
Lift that curvaceous hood to the limit of its travel and the full beauty of the XK engine is revealed. It's an extraordinarily aesthetic unit, almost a piece of sculpture to look at with the enamelled exhaust manifold on one side, the row of SU carburettors on the other and the twin camshaft covers in between. Sensitively restored as this one is with just the right amount of sheen on the alloy fittings and with the right domed nuts holding them on, with everything painted correctly including the cylinder head - gold signifying 3.8 litre - there are few more beautiful sights.
A wonder of the World - An E-Type Engine bay
How does the E-Type drive?
Squeezing oneself over the high sill and into the small fixed bucket seat is a job for the athletic but it is very comfortable once installed behind the large wood rimmed steering wheel.
Ahead of you lie two large dials, tachometer on the left and speedometer on the right, the raised facia being echoed on the passenger side of the car. In between lies the recessed panel that carries the auxiliary controls - lights in a central position between ammeter, gas, oil pressure and water temperature gauges. Below is a row of switches including the starter button. Heater and choke controls are matched on each side of the car and there's a small lidless glove box for keeping the driving gloves in. Two bucket seats and a flat carpeted floor behind them make up the rest of the furniture inside.
To start the engine, turn the central electrics switch on and the gauges and fuel pumps spring into life. Press the starter button and after a couple of seconds of ghastly inertia-engaged starter clatter, the engine fires cleanly and settles down to a smooth tickover, There's just the right amount of tappet noise, a hiss from the carburettors and a gorgeous exhaust note but nothing else. There's a fairly long throw on the stick to select non-synchromesh first in the Moss box but the clutch is light and throttle progressive as the car moves off with that characteristic whine. First to second is a slow change to avoid beating the weak synchro but the changes from then on are quick and light.
The engine and exhaust notes on acceleration are real spine tinglers and the car is never quiet - but then who would ever want it to be?
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Ride along in a semi-lightweight E-Type in a E-Type Challenge race at Donington
How does the E-Type Perform?
On the open road the Jaguar feels solid and taut though hustling down some twisty bits demands strength as the steering verges on the heavy side, but the engine is superb pulling so smoothly and with a fabulous growl from the lowest of revs. Dunlop disc brakes pull the car up well enough to today's standards ; back in 1961 they must have been phenomenal. Although back then it would have had crossply tires as standard.
It's easy to see how this car was faster than almost any road car at its introduction. A measured top speed of 150mph and 0 to 60mph acceleration in 7 seconds is quick even today.
Imagine how it felt in the early sixties.
Briggs Cunningham's Jaguar E-Type as raced by him at Le Mans in 1963
The Lightweight E-Type Story
The Lightweight E-type was produced by Jaguar to take on the Ferrari GTO's. All were made just for privateers and only 12 were ever constructed.
The focus was on weight saving. They all had all aluminium monocoque plus aluminium engine blocks. The body panels were also mostly made out of aluminium too.
Although they should have been race winners, they weren't. Briggs Cunningham entered three at the 1963 Le Mans. He was placed highest at ninth.
Incredibly, out of the 12 made, 11 survive. The missing one was involved in a horrific crash at Le Mans in 1963 involving Roy Salvadori who was thrown out of the rear window.
The construction shaved 250 pounds off the standard weight but also power from the 3.8 litre was increased by 35hp to 300hp.
Jaguar recorded 18 chassis numbers before they built the 12. Last year they announced that they were going to construct the missing six to the exact specifications. All six were sold within days.