Jaguar E-Type History

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1963 Jaguar E-TypeA result of four years development to celebrate the British marque’s success at Le Mans, the E-Type was unveiled to a stunned public at the 1961 Geneva motorshow and immediately caused a stir due to its good looks and price tag of £2097 (around £38,000 by 2013 standards) for the roadster and £2196 for the convertible; both prices which undercut rivals from Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche by a significant margin. Furthermore, the E-type was ‘initially sold at a cheaper price than the outgoing XK150’. The series 1 cars made until 1968, were initially built for export only with the first batch rolling off the Coventry production line in March 1961 and models for the UK domestic market arrived in the July of that year. Unsurprisingly however, the E-Type’s initial production was plagued by strikes within the British motor industry and despite Jaguar’s initial projection of producing 150 cars per week, by August 1961, just 383 cars had been produced due to external interruption and the company deciding to restrict production to 2160. Fortunately by the following year, Jaguar – who by this point had managed to tap into the US market due to the E-Type’s good looks and performance – increased manufacturing to 6266 cars for that year. Whilst it was the “most beautiful car ever made” by Enzo Ferrari, the E-Type didn’t necessarily have the easiest birth, and until 1963 when the car was revised, it didn’t have the easiest time from the motoring press as its flaws were exposed to cheaper and less exotic models. Jaguar E-TypeDespite original cars having a ground breaking monocoque chassis which featured on race cars and a 3.8 straight six engine that Jaguar claimed would reach 150 mph, the engine found its roots in the immediate post-war period and was looking increasingly out-dated in comparison to the engine boundaries that were being pushed by rivals from Italy and Germany. Furthermore, the high oil consumption, cramped interior and uncomfortable seats led to Motor magazine claiming the performance as ‘phenomenal’, but “the seats felt awful” and “firms like Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Lancia or Ferrari gave the customer confidence; Jaguar did not.” The main criticism of the first E-Types was not their uncomfortable seating or thirsty nature, but the lack of a synchromesh first gear which was featured on far cheaper cars such as the Ford Cortina; as a result, observers began to wonder whether the E-Type was already outdated in the brave new world of the 1960s. In 1963, the car underwent a thorough technical revision that saw improved electronics and seating in addition to the introduction of a 4.2 straight six to satisfy the US market despite power remaining at 265bhp. The much improved car claimed much praise from the UK motoring press, with Motor Sport magazine correspondent Denis Jenkins claiming “I realised I was going to enjoy life living with an E-type. The ride and comfort were first class and the seats came up to all the claims made by Jaguar when they were introduced. On the Italian Autostrada a leisurely gait was 105mph… I found all day at 105mph adequate for my need.” In addition to the larger engine, 1963 also saw the addition of other features such as vinyl replacing the aluminium centre console as well as optional chrome wire wheels and the much needed four-speed synchromesh gearbox for 4.2 models. Jaguar E-Type CoupeThree years later due to the success of the E-Type amongst buyers such as George Harrison, Steve McQueen and Brigitte Bardot, Jaguar expanded the range and once again at the Geneva motorshow launched the E-Type 2+2. Despite this model being the most popular E-Type in Jaguar’s history with 6880 leaving the factory, the car’s length was extended by 9 inches to 8.9 feet and gained an extra 63kg to cope with the strengthened chassis. The E-Type as a result was getting slower and road-tests in The Motor and Autocar provided top-speed figures of 136.2mph for the 3-speed automatic and 139mph for the manual respectively. The decline in performance continued in 1967 when Jaguar announced the arrival of another revised car, the E-Type series ½. This car – the rarest of all E-Types, with just a handful of right hand drives being produced – was born as the result of a new US health and safety criteria which required new open Perspex headlights (as opposed to the covered units on previous models), a change from toggle to rocker switches and a downtuned engine which gave a performance output of 140mph with the hood raised and 130mph retracted. By the turn of the decade it became apparent that the US was the E-Type’s main market and the Series 2 – introduced in 1969 – reflected this. Undoubtedly the new car was an improvement on the old model, but with open headlights, a wrap-around rear bumper and repositioned front indictors which now lay below the front bumper, it seemed that the safety demands from the US had softened the E-Type; an upsetting aspect for Jaguar purists. Furthermore, performance, whilst still remaining respectable on European market models due to the SU carburettors (according to Autosport, 0-60 was 7.2s and the top speed was still 142mph), it suffered dramatically on US models with power now greatly reduced to 171bhp, almost 100 less than when it was introduced just seven years previously. E-Type JaguarIn 1971 when the last generation of E-Type was introduced, it was clear that the car had become out-dated and a replacement was needed. Irrespective of these clear indications, Jaguar shoehorned its highly acclaimed 5.3l V12 engine which was described as being “a magnificent engine” in an out-dated chassis. The engine was too big for the chassis to cope with and the car struggled to keep in touch with the similarly powered but better engineered XJ12 saloon in terms of handling and precision. In spite of the car’s ageing nature, Jaguar pushed on to double its production figures by 1975. However, the oil crisis in the initial part of the decade as a result of the Yom Kippur war rendered the E-Type almost monolithic and in a decade where cars needed to get smaller in the face of the oil crisis, the E-Type’s 15mpg now seemed obnoxious; performance figures showed it was no faster than the 3.8 with a top speed of 135mph with an automatic transmission… … Then there was the small matter of yet more US health and safety which maintained that the car should have ungainly rubber bumper over-riders and needed to have a fuel tank which would be able to sustain a 30mph impact which given its design, was something it just could not accommodate. In 1975, Jaguar announced that E-Type production had officially ended despite it actually finishing in the September of the previous year. In a world of increasing safety, smaller cars and steep oil prices, there was no place anymore for the E-Type. Sure, it was flawed and by tHe end of its life it had got a bit fat, but even by today’s standards some 50 years on, it can still turn heads… … And why? Just look it at… By George East

Jaguar E-Type Gallery