Classic: 1961 Jaguar E-Type
Easily the sexiest car of its day
By Fraser Martin
Despite the carryover of successful wins in the 1955, ’56 and ’57 LeMans 24 hour races in the spectacular D-Types and the continuing success of the XK Series 150s, there was no doubt that the Jaguar name was beginning to represent less of the bad-boy image it had held until the mid-fifties. It was beginning to get a reputation for slightly flash, if a little dowdy, motor cars. All that would change, as indeed would the face of the British motor industry, with the introduction of the stunning E-Type in 1961.
A couple of prototype cars had been secretly prepared during the summers of 1957 and 1959, designated E1A and E2A, and these were to shape the fundamental engineering propositions that would first see the light of day as the Jaguar E-Type Fixed Head Coupe at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show, and in so doing, take the industry by storm. At a UK price of fifteen hundred pounds sterling (about $3000) and capable of a projected 150mph (240kph), the Jaguar was to change the world of motoring by setting new standards in ride, handling and speed that would last for a decade.
Utilising the much tried and trusted XK straight-six engine of 3.8-litres and the Moss 4-speed gearbox from the Mark 2 saloons, the alloy-headed and cast steel block engine was tweaked to give 265bhp in standard form, up 45hp from the saloon installation. With independent suspension front and rear, and the sometimes troublesome inboard rear brakes (which were prone to overheating) the E-Type was as classless and inspiring as the Mini of the same period, but was twice as fast.
The sleek cigar-shaped bodywork was an aerodynamic marvel in its day. Not quite able to hit the desired 150 mark without a few minor tweaks (removing the front bumpers, for example), the E-Type was still the ‘must-have’ car for the up and coming cad, and with luggage room, at least in the pre-drophead cars, it became an instant success as a cross-border express.
The car photographed here is one of the slightly later US export cars, with the bored out 4.2-litre engine and automatic gearbox, delivering the same power at slightly fewer revs. It is almost too immaculate to believe, having undergone a nut-and-bolt rebuild over the last seven years before being imported to the UAE by its current owner, Stephen Exelby. Originally supplied to Frank Millar Sports Cars in California, it would have been a relatively rust-free car for most of its three-owner life, but sitting at Dubai Marina in its original opalescent blue paint, you could easily mistake these photographs for period catalogue shots, such is its condition.
Trimmed in dark blue leather with matching carpet, this 1966 California car is probably better put together than it originally was when it left the factory. It has won a number of Concours competitions and has a Jaguar Heritage certificate authenticating it as a sensitive and accurate rebuild, using all the correct parts. The car is fitted with wire wheels and whitewalls as befits its original delivery destination.
These E-Types were proper 2+2s, in the terminology of the day; the back ‘seats’ were no more than perches, and folded flat to give a realistic touring capacity to the luggage bay, which is accessed through the side-opening rear glass. Not quite a hatchback, in other words! A comprehensive instrument panel, finished in crackle-black paint completes the interior’s sporting ambience and is set off with a period wood-rimmed Moto-Lita steering wheel, as originally supplied.
No description that I could give would do justice to the clean and sensuous lines of what was easily the sexiest car of its day. The near vertical windscreen, sprouting from that seemingly endless clam-shell bonnet, wraps around the thinnest of A-pillars giving the line from which the side profile rises over the muscular rear wheel arches to the tapered tail.
Upswept exhausts complete the almost flying saucer shape, with the rear number plate housing reflecting the air intake on the nose. Neither of these features is hidden on this mid-period model since the bumpers were only corner protectors with over-riders, rather than the full width items that would appear in later, somewhat compromised versions of the car. When one thinks of an E-Type Jaguar, this is the model the mind conjures up!
From a time when customer comment was taken more readily than today, the US specification E-Type is about 100kg heavier than the earlier models, and sits on a chassis extended by 23cm to accommodate the two rear ‘seats’.
The screen is taller by almost 4cm and the doors are bigger, effectively increasing the frontal area by about five per cent over the original design. All this extra weight and change in aerodynamics take their toll, and performance with the three-speed Borg Warner auto was down around 10 per cent in top speed and acceleration. Still, with almost 220kph at the top end, the bigger E-Types were quick enough and would give a few modern cars a run for the money even today.