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Pre-order the new Jaguar E-Type catalogue


  Ian Cushway profile Image

By Ian Cushway, 14th October 2019


The Jaguar E-Type, Origins


This is the story of the Jaguar E-Type and the history behind the evergreen icon...


The most beautiful car in the world? Very possibly. But the superlatives don't end there with the E-Type because it's also spectacularly good to drive, which explains why it has become one of the most iconic cars of all time. As Moss is about to launch an exciting new E-Type catalogue which is now available to pre-order, we're asking what is it about this timeless classic that seems to define an era, set benchmarks and hold a status that goes way beyond other cars of its period? It's a valid question, and maybe the answer lies in its evolution... So, where to start? Let's just say that the E-Type pretty much epitomises everything good about Britain, British-ness and classic cars in general for that matter. But, don't get us wrong, like relationships in general, our love affair with the E-Type hasn’t been without its ‘moments’ and actually it hasn’t always been adored in quite the same way it is today. More on that later...


The history of the Jaguar E-Type image 01

Credit: Photo by BOLDbold_studio on Pixabay


Racing start
The plan to develop a road-based race car to replace the D-Type was hatched in the late 1950s, with William Heynes overseeing the project and aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer responsible for the shape. The new car was to have the suffix E1A – the first of the ‘E’ series, with ‘A’ standing for aluminium.
Lifting the XK engine from the 2.4 saloon a prototype was made with a separate space frame chassis, riveted alloy body panels and a revolutionary independent rear suspension setup. Mike Hawthorn was drafted in for testing and so good were the initial results that William Lyons gave the project the go-ahead.

Pre-launch, a car was shown to the press using the same engine as the outgoing 3.8 XK150S with triple 2in SU carbs attached to the pre-war designed four-speed Moss gearbox. Dunlop calipers were also taken from the outgoing XK while the front suspension was based on the D-type racers with torsion bars at the front coupled to rack and pinion steering. The independent suspension at the rear was housed in a separate frame with the diff mounted with universal jointed driveshafts which doubled as upper wishbones. Beefy lower wishbones supported twin coil springs over dampers each side, with accompanying in-board discs. As we now know, it formed the perfect recipe for the perfect road car, being light yet lithe with scalpel sharp handling.

A necessary pre-requisite was that the car had to be able to achieve 150mph and Autocar and Motor were invited to test a fixed head coupe and an open two seater. Despite several unfortunate mishaps, including a door flying open on one run along a section of unused autoroute in Belgium, the goal was achieved. The official unveiling was at Geneva in March 1961. The rest, as they say, is history.


The history of the Jaguar E-Type image 02

Credit: Photo by Rabenspiegal on Pixabay


Not quite perfect
Somewhat embarrassingly, the first hand-picked owners highlighted some of the car’s initial design oversights. Shallow floors, lack of seat height adjustment and the fiddle of having to get out of the car to release the bonnet were all mentioned as criticisms although by mid-1962 most of these issues had been ironed out. Oh, and the centre instrument panel was changed from aluminium to a more finished-looking crackled black in 1963. Ironically, it’s these early ‘flawed’ models that are in most demand today and unsurprisingly two thirds of production went to the US. Despite pre-production cars breaking the magic 150mph barrier, production cars failed to exceed 147mph – not that it mattered given the 0-60 time was a scintillating 7.1 seconds in the open car and an even more brisk 6.9 seconds in the fixed head version. That would feel fast today, but in 1961 it must have been akin to a short range missile. It also impressed in terms of value for money; at £1,480 (plus £617 purchase tax) at twice the price Aston’s DB4 looked ludicrously expensive.


The history of the Jaguar E-Type image 03

Credit: Photo by dumitrub on Pixabay


Torque show
Things were moving on apace in the early Sixties, and in October 1964, the E-Type gained a torquier 4.2-litre engine and all-synchromesh gearbox which made it quicker and easier to drive. Stated power output remained the same at 265bhp which, incidentally, was closer to 220bhp in the real world. The seats were also improved while the brakes received a new vacuum servo to replace the old bellows brake booster arrangement.


2+2 equals
Jaguar knew the US was always going to be the E-Type’s biggest market and a 2+2 was added in 1966 to meet demands for rear seating and an automatic gearbox – the extra 9in allowing room for a Borg Warner Model 8 transmission. In reality, the extra space is only sufficient for two small children or an adult sitting sideways but usefully front legroom and head height was also improved. In today’s market the plus 2 is the least sought after model, yet it sold well and offers a modicum of practicality over its siblings.


Tiny changes
So many changes occurred in the period from mid-1967 into 1968 that this era of E-type has retrospectively been called the ‘Series 11/2’. Included in the myriad of virtually unnoticeable changes were the deletion of the headlight covers in July 1967, along with the addition of a revised radiator and twin cooling fans which ‘just happened’ early the following year. At about the same time, fluted cam covers replaced the sexier polished alloy items, a change that’s generally considered to have been taken from the Coventry Climax F1 engine, the company being owned by Jaguar at the time.


The history of the Jaguar E-Type image 04

Credit: Photo by MikesPhotos on Pixabay


Bumper issue
With increasing awareness of safety and lighting requirements, the E-Type’s bumpers grew in size and became fully wraparound front and rear with larger sidelight/indicator units – the new car being coined the Series 2 when it appeared at the Earls Court Show in October 1968. The headlights were also moved forward and pressed steel chrome plated wheels were offered for the first time. Driven by demands from the US market, a square number plate recess also appeared which necessitated the ‘flattening’ of the twin tailpipes. For the 2+2, the screen was also redesigned to give less rake in an attempt to balance the styling. There were changes inside too, made with safety in mind, with a collapsible steering column, rocker switches replacing the old toggle devices and flush door handles. More importantly, the rubbish Dunlop calipers were replaced by improved three-piston Girling affairs at the front. Air conditioning was offered as an option in hotter climes.


Less power to the people
In the late Sixties, the Americans were the first to act regarding exhaust emissions and this resulted in Jaguar having to ditch its triple SUs for twin Zenith-Stromberg carbs, which slashed power from their quoted 265bhp to a measly 171bhp. Needless to say, the heavier 2+2 with this set up (from 1970) along with the accompanying manifold and charcoal canister fitted to reduce emissions, mated to an auto box, air conditioning and the now optional power steering was considered to be the pup of the litter.


The history of the Jaguar E-Type image 05

Credit: Photo by dwphoto on Pixabay


Third time lucky
The full-fat Series 3, based on the 2+2 platform to accommodate the extra bulk of the new V12 engine, appeared in 1971. An early electronic ignition system was used with an Opus amplifier, later dubbed as ‘opeless’ by owners due to its tendency to overheat and fail.
The car featured a wider track and reinforced bulkhead, necessitating flared wheelarches despite the use of Dunlop’s new range of low profile 70 section tyres, first developed for the XJ6.
Two bodystyles were offered, an open top and 2+2 coupe, and a revised Borg Warner Model 12 gearbox helped with refinement. While the interior remained largely the same, a whole raft of modifications such as ventilated discs at the front and anti-dive suspension along with standard power steering took place under the skin.
The car was generally well received but the oil crisis in 1973 inevitably dented demand for a car that often struggled to get into double figures when it came to mpg. Indeed, with the XJS in the wings, Jaguar stopped production of the coupe in the same year, with only the open car surviving into 1974.


The history of the Jaguar E-Type image 06

Credit: Photo by JarkkoManty on Pixabay


Saving the best 'til last
Jaguar couldn’t bear to let such an evocative creation become extinct with just a whimper, so the very last 50 E-Types were finished in black with a special commemorative plaque, signed by Sir William Lyons on the dashboard. In fact, only 49 were black – one was painted British Racing Green. In truth it was more of a marketing ploy by Jaguar because by this time the car was proving difficult to shift and indeed many hung around at dealerships unsold – which accounts for the number of low mileage cars still in existence.


And finally…
So in a nutshell, that's the evolution of the E. While the general desirability of the model waned, arguably it grew in maturity. Like an unruly adolescent, with the arrival of the 2+2 model, the hugely refined V12 and various other creature comforts, it undoubtedly become more adult like. And actually, more versatile and affordable – but more on that in a further blog story. But before we finish, did you know that Jaguar originally offered the car with a choice of 20 exterior colours and 13 interior trims? Warwick Grey, Willow Green, Beige and Dark Blue were added for the 4.2, while Ascot Fawn, Light Blue, Sable Brown, Regency Red and Signal Red were new for the Series 2. When the Series 3 arrived, Fern Grey, Turquoise, Green Sand, Heather, Lavender Blue, Azure Blue and Silver Metallic were added to the palette, making a total of 37 different exterior hues during the car’s lifespan. See, even with the E-Type, variety is the spice of life.



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