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Jaguar E-Type: the most beautiful car in the world?

So beautiful, in fact, that it's considered a milestone in automotive design, and has entered the collections of one of the world's leading contemporary art museums.

So daring, in fact, that Enzo Ferrari himself, who is usually so quiet about his work, was reportedly full of praise for it when it was released.

So desirable, that those who haven't had the chance to drive it invent faults for it; so rare, yet produced in 77,000 units in its various versions.

Introducing the Jaguar E-Type, the iconic sports car of the sixties, which we can safely say has never and will never leave anyone indifferent.

Presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1961, the Jaguar E-Type caused a sensation.

A real thunderbolt! Incredibly modern and terribly seductive, it boasted superior performance to most of the great sports cars of the time, for a production car price.

The E-Type bears no resemblance to any other sports car, and is closely derived from the Jaguar racing cars of earlier years, the D-Type, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1955 to '57, and the short-lived E2A at Le Mans in 1960. As such, it puts into practice and offers in series production the technical principles and lessons learned from racing, including the aerodynamic research carried out by Malcolm Sayer applied to a technical architecture defined by William Heynes. The result is an astonishing line where the hood occupies half the car, combined with rounded flanks that half hide the almost streamlined wheels.

The ensemble probably surprised some visitors to the Geneva Show, more inclined to appreciate the conventional yet highly successful forms of contemporary Italian or British production.

However, the rest of the E-Type's specifications left no one in any doubt as to what Jaguar had launched in the small world of sports cars in March 1961.
Imagine: 4 independent wheels and 4 disc brakes combined with rack-and-pinion steering in a mixed semi-monocoque structure with a tubular trellis for the front end, powered by the familiar, but still modern, 6-cylinder, double overhead camshaft and 3 carburetors. Top speed was given as 240 km/h, at a price barely half that of Italian rivals Ferrari and Maserati! A real paving stone in the pond. Because, in addition to the unbelievable price tag, no sports car of the time was able to offer such modernity, and very few, such performance.

Hardened observers will still note the presence of the old Moss gearbox, solid but slow, inherited from previous models and somewhat dissonant in the midst of this anthology of novelties.
It's also possible to imagine that traditional Jaguar customers found themselves a little disoriented when faced with the E-Type. Indeed, when compared to the venerable XK150 it replaced, no continuity of style or proportion can be detected. One even gets the feeling that one or two generations of intermediate models are missing.

The three examples presented in Geneva were in fact prototypes, two of which had arrived from the factory by road, and the E-Type was still a long way from series production, which would only start a few months later.
Nevertheless, the Geneva demonstration coupé carefully prepared by Jaguar's technicians would soon demonstrate the new model's capabilities by reaching the 240 km/h promised in the catalog, a performance difficult to reproduce with a production model, even if a few in-form E-Types would manage to get close to it later on.

The new Jaguar's target clientele could not resist the appeal of the E-Type's sublime lines and astonishing performance for long. Orders poured in, and deliveries began in the 2nd half of 1961, at least in the early stages, exclusively for export. The United States was Jaguar's biggest market at the time, and would remain so for many years to come. Demand for the new E-Type was immediately strong, and around 2/3 of the model's total output was exported to the USA.

As we have briefly seen, in this category the E-Type offered features unheard of in 1961, closer to those of a racing car than to those of a car available from the dealership around the corner.
It's worth remembering in this respect that, even in 1961, Jaguar was a brand offering mass-produced luxury and sports cars. In this sense, it cannot be compared with semi-artisanal firms such as Ferrari or Maserati, whose annual production figures represent only a tiny percentage of those of Jaguar. In 1962, for example, Ferrari delivered 493 cars of various types, while Jaguar produced 6,253 examples of the E-Type alone (not counting the Mk2 and Mk X sedans assembled in parallel!).

These production volumes partly explain the E-Type's very contained selling price, while further highlighting the audacity reflected, for a manufacturer of this importance, in the design and marketing of a car so advanced in terms of styling, technical innovation and performance.

At the time of its release, the E-Type replaced the XK 150, which had derived from the XK 140 and 120, the latter having been introduced in 1948.
Although they too had benefited from the lessons of racing, the XKs remained classic in design, inherited from the pre-war era. The 4-disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering of the XK150 could not overshadow the old-fashioned spar chassis and rigid leaf-sprung rear axle.

Incidentally, these attributes were quite common in 1961, and Ferraris and Maseratis alike still relied (and would continue to do so) on a chassis, albeit a very well-designed one, but also featuring a rigid axle and leaf springs.
The E-type's monocoque bodywork, complemented at the front by a tubular trellis supporting the engine and suspension, is a novel solution for a production car, carried over from Type D racing cars. The independent rear suspension with 4 combined coil springs/shock absorbers is another innovation. As for the one-piece tilting hood, it's very practical for accessing all the mechanical parts, and creates a spectacular effect when opened.

This design also offers the advantage of a significant reduction in weight, with the E-Type weighing in at a minimum of 200 kg less than an XK 150 on the scale. You don't have to be a mind reader to realize that, powered by the same 265 hp, 3.8-liter, 3-carburetor engine as the XK 150 S, the new E-Type will prove far more agile and quicker.

Our test drive of a 1963 Jaguar E-Type 3.8l cabriolet

Stand in front of a Jaguar E-Type and you'll immediately understand what the majority of visitors to the Geneva Motor Show felt.
Sixty-two years on, the effect seems to be intact!
This car is magnificent. From every angle. It looks tiny and almost unreal, so unlike any other. Its proportions are unbelievable, yet the result works, amazingly.

No unnecessary decoration or superfluous ornamentation. Just slim, tastefully interrupted bumpers, delicate almond-shaped lights, a small mouth, bubble headlights and large hood vents. Some automotive stylists of the time probably lost sleep for a while after seeing an early E-Type!
Another unusual fact: the cabriolet is just as successful as the coupé, and at no point gives the impression of a version that has had its roof hastily cut off, as is often the case when the closed version is very well balanced.

The 1963 3.8 l convertible that awaits us confirms this sentiment and looks absolutely sublime in its Golden Sand metallic gold paintwork.

Opening the (very) small door reveals a very high threshold forming a wide pontoon that you have to step over to reach the seat below, one leg after the other, avoiding putting a foot through the large steering wheel. This is particularly difficult when the soft top is in place, or if you're over 1.80 m tall and not very flexible.

But once seated, your efforts are rewarded by a rather extraordinary environment.
In the foreground, a superb steering wheel with varnished wood rim and hole-punched aluminum spokes precedes a very aeronautical-style instrument panel, lined with gauges and other pressure gauges at its center, to which a series of toggle switches, lined up as if on parade, respond one floor below. On most 3.8-liter models, the center console normally features a hammered aluminum finish, which our car curiously lacks. Beyond the dashboard, through a tiny windshield with a minimalist frame, your eyes wander to a hood that looks as if it's never going to end, with a large boss at its center that you'd never have guessed was so imposing from the outside. Yes, you have to fit that big 6-cylinder XK, a monument to verticality, into such a frail car.
The bucket seats are as beautiful as they are uncomfortable. The fixed backrest doesn't go any higher than your shoulder blades, and they don't move back far enough to make you feel comfortable, if you're still over 1.80 m tall. Fortunately, the steering wheel can be adjusted in depth, allowing you, as best you can, to define a relatively acceptable driving position.
The small gearshift lever is very well positioned, which is fortunate, and we'll see why later.

Ignition key in the middle of the switch battery. One press and the XK starts up with a roar that is as evocative as it is pleasant.
The sound of this engine is undeniably one of the great pleasures delivered by the E-Type!
A pleasure that can be immediately spoiled by the sinister growl emitted by the gearbox sprockets if you've engaged 1st gear with too much haste... In fact, the antediluvian Moss gearbox, whose 1st gear is not synchronized, has just reminded you! Inherited from previous generations of Jaguars and retained for reasons of economy, the only quality of this gearbox is its solidity, and its main drawback is its slowness, unsuited to a modern sports car such as the E-Type was when it first came out. This shortcoming would be corrected on the 14.2-liter series in the summer of '64, with an all-new gearbox designed by Jaguar.

We're going to have to deal with this reluctant gearbox and take our time shifting up and down the gears, with the help of a good double clutch. The precision and straightforwardness of the shifter come in very handy here, unlike the pedals which, at least on our model, don't allow heel-and-toe shifting.

And that's where the criticism ends, because the first time you accelerate, you'll be smiling from ear to ear, and the smile will get bigger as you take the first few corners.
Not only does it push, it pushes hard! There's plenty of displacement and torque to spare, available immediately. Revs are vigorous and very rapid. Acceleration is astonishing in all gears. The red zone is set at 5500 rpm on the 3.8-liter, but this is not at all frustrating, as acceleration is lively and straightforward throughout the rev-counter range.

This big engine has no difficulty in propelling the E-Type forward, whose contained weight of around 1,250 kg makes you smile today, compared with the pachyderms on offer.
The unassisted steering is direct and very natural. As you'd expect from a car of this era, it's not free from reaction and wobbles a little on uneven roads.

On the other hand, it provides a good indication of front-end grip. And that's a good thing, because cornering in a Type E is a delight! The car's balance is excellent, thanks to a perfect weight distribution, with half the weight distributed to the front and half to the rear, thanks to the engine's central front position. The suspensions, very modern as we have seen, are neither too soft nor too hard, and very well damped.

The result is an agile and incomparably considerate ride for a car of this era, while remaining great fun. The torque and power available make it easy to slide the rear end, predictably and progressively if you're used to it, in order to wind around corners with a slight drift, without forcing the car. A reasonably-tuned limited-slip differential then takes care of maintaining a good level of traction.

What a great car! A real sports car. Especially if, once again, you relate it to its time.
However, not everything about this first-generation car is absolutely perfect, and the first hard braking brings you back to some objective realities: the brakes are not up to the car's many qualities, especially as this is a 3.8-liter car. The 2nd-generation 4.2-liter 1-series will get rid of this problem by fitting a new braking system with correctly calibrated assistance. For the time being, however, this is not the case. You press down on the brake pedal and get, at best, barely half of what you expected, despite the 4 state-of-the-art discs. Add to this the reticent and delicate handling of the gearbox during downshifts, and you've got enough to curb your ardor!

An old gearbox and a poorly conceived brake system were the two faults of theType E in its first incarnation (March '61-summer '64): it's funny to remember that in the early sixties, only the gearbox was criticized, while the brakes seemed to satisfy testers as much as owners...

My personal experience is perplexing on the subject of brakes, in the sense that XK 150s, Mk2contemporaries, heavy MkXs or Type E 3.8-liter race cars, admittedly compliant in terms of equipment, have all left me with the memory of satisfactory braking. This has never been the case with any Type E 3.8 l I've ever driven... Could our test car, like all Type E 3.8s, be an older car that has been restored or, at the very least, maintained, but with the spare parts available today, has lost some of its original qualities? The question is asked, and answers from experienced users are welcome on our Carsup website.

Last but not least, the E-Type is, paradoxically, a comfortable car.

Obviously, this applies more to the coupé than to the cabriolet, whose waterproofing is, to say the least, perfectible. And more so for the 4.2 l versions of the 1 Series than for the 3.8 l, as we said, thanks to improved brakes and a new gearbox, as well as new seats. Nevertheless, you're well ensconced in a Type E, wedged between the side deck and the armrest of the center console, enjoying excellent outward visibility and well supported by firm suspensions that are just right and never tiring.

Having said all that, and even if we're repeating ourselves, it has to be said that we're in the presence of an extraordinary automobile. Beautiful to the point of blurring the usual benchmarks of beauty, small and slight, but housing a large engine made usable by modern design and elaborate suspension, fast and agile on winding roads and capable of long journeys at sustained speed, the E-Type is probably the first and one of the few cars to have combined, without deception, an appearance derived directly from racing with real Grand Touring abilities, at a reasonable price resulting from industrial mass production.

It's the car I've always dreamed of. In fact, I've got one, and it'll be the last one I keep.

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