“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” For more than 5 decades this has been the case with the E-Type. People have complained for years about features of the legendary car claiming that the roof is to high, the bonnet is too long, or the car looks “awkward.” But when someone such as Enzo Ferrari claims that the E-Type is “the most beautiful car ever made,” only one statement can be used as ammunition to the criticism: haters gonna hate.
By March 1961, Jaguar had long come down from the high that 1950s Le Mans provided them. With the D-Type, Jaguar had gone on to win the world’s greatest marathon in three successive years, from 1955-1957. However, after the rule changes mandated for the ’58 race asked for a smaller 3-liter engine, the car began to spiral downwards up until the point that Jaguar decided to retire from the racing scene.
Now, after this quick series of events that sent Jaguar to the absolute top of the world and then to the bottom looking for the path back up, Jaguar had to find a way to reemerge as a dominating force. Thus, Jaguar’s racing department began work on a car that was to be the successor to the iconic D-Type, and would ultimately become a legend.
The first E-Type prototype, the E1A, was actually made in 1957, the same year as the final Le Mans win for Jaguar. The car was made solely for the purpose of testing and consisted of a fully independent rear suspension and Jaguar’s XK engine, but was eventually sent to the factory’s scrapyard. Three years later, the second concept car, the E2A, came along and experienced a bit more success, and a longer life. The E2A marked Jaguar’s return to Le Mans but, unfortunately, the car was forced to retire due to engine problems. The car went on to race in the States, and was capable of doing more than 190 mph, an astonishing pace in 1960. The car was eventually returned to Jaguar’s headquarters back in England the following year, where it was used for testing.
Finally, after four years of trial and error for a D-Type successor, the new Jag was ready. And in March 1961, at the Geneva Motor Show, car enthusiasts, potential buyers, and motoring journalists were presented with an astonishingly beautiful car. It’s almost hard to imagine for anyone who was born after the 60’s what it must have been like when the car first rolled up to the stage. The long, shining hood rolls past eyes for what feels like an eternity until the windshield suddenly raises the car up, and the back suddenly slopes down. It’s almost fictional, this car.
When the car was initially released, it had some distinct advantages over its competition. The first were the previously mentioned looks. Enzo Ferrari apparently liked the way the E-Type looked, so why shouldn’t anyone else? Attendees at Geneva were mesmerized at the beauty that the E-Type had, much better looking, in comparison to some of the other cars being presented to the audience.
The second, was power. The Series 1 E-Type initially came equipped with a 3.8-liter straight-6 engine fed by 3 SU HD8 Carburettors, sourced from the XK150S, though the 3.8 was jacked up to 4.2 liters in 1964. The 3.8-liter engine, which was also closely related to the engines used at Le Mans, produced 265 horses and churned up 257 lb-ft of torque. This power, mixed with an overall weight of 2,658 pounds, allowed the car to accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, and keep chugging along until the car reached 149 mph. Blistering in the sixties. Combine this with the third advantageous element, price, and you have a world-beater machine.
Power was sent, in proper sports car tradition, to the rear through a 4-speed manual ‘box, which did receive complaints for its lack of a syncromesh first gear. This was fixed, however, with the 4.2-liter E-Type in 1964 which came with an all-syncromesh Moss gearbox. The 4.2 also came with better power-assisted disc brakes than the 3.8’s, which were known for overheating when under certain extremities.
The car could handle, too. A central steel monocoque sat atop wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar up front, and lower wishbones, upper driveshaft links, radius arms, coil springs over dampers, and an anti-roll bar in the back. All E-Types included an independent coil spring rear suspension. Steering was rack-and-pinion, and all E-Type owners were able to experience the classic sixties body roll.
Series 1 E-Type production ended in 1968 and was then followed by the Series 2 version in 1969. Series 2 production ran up until 1971, with the most notable difference between the original E-Type and the remake being the headlights, enclosed on the Series 1, open on the Series 2, and the new grill cover. The car was practically the same aside from the difference in headlights, although the new car breathed better due to the new mouth and two electric fans.
Series 3 production began in 1971 and saw the most notable change in the E-Type. Production running until 1975, the Series 3 saw the boys at Jaguar shoving a huge, 5.3-liter V12 under the mile-long bonnet. However, the Series 3 only offered the V12 if customers bought either the convertible or the 2+2 coupe. 4.2-liter Series 3’s were still made, however in very low numbers, making the six-cylinder Series 3 the rarest of the rare when it comes to the Jaguar E-Type.
Even though Jaguar did make a Series 2 and Series 3, the Series 1 E-Type is the car that captured the imagination of customers and is the car most think of when someone says “E-Type.” But, it was the Lightweight E-Type that captured the hearts of race fans across the world. The car is surrounded by aluminum body panels anywhere they could fit, and featured a 300 horsepower 3.8-liter under the hood. And, while the car never experienced sending work’s drivers to the podium at Le Mans or Sebring, the car saw success in smaller races and with private owners.
When the E-Type came out, people fell in love with it. And quite frankly, it’s clear to see why. The car was arguably one of the most beautiful cars, if not machines, ever to grace human history. And, equip a beautiful work of shining, metal art with a great engine, equally great sports car feeling, and an awe-inspiring sound, it’s hard to not make an icon. Furthermore, in response to anyone that doubts the looks of the E-Type, I would recommend that I trip to the doctor would be in order.
This car is one of those cars that carries an essence of being almost mythological in nature. One of those cars that, if it were a book, would be a best-seller fiction novel. It’s difficult to make a car that’s claimed and hailed to be better than a Ferrari. It’s even more difficult to have the boss at Ferrari claim that the car is, indeed, something to be marveled at. Jaguar, then, made a car that has to be considered as one of the best cars in the world, if not at the top of the list. And it shows, for this car is one of those classics that people spend years tracking down for a buy, and others spend decades regretting not buying it when they could have. Poor blokes, I feel bad for them. #stuffoflegend –B.C.