It’s been called the most beautiful car ever made by Enzo Ferrari. It was aerodynamically designed in an unconventional way. It’s the perfect marriage of form and function. The curves and the power of the Jaguar E-Type have inspired and astounded drivers around the globe.
We can’t talk about the E-Type without first talking about the D-Type. The D-Type was a revolutionary racecar that brought aviation engineering and technology to the racetrack. It had a unique monocoque (like unibody) construction and the aerodynamics were clearly aeronautic. It was basically a racecar that was designed like an airplane. That radical engineering and styling paid off in aerodynamics making the car very competitive even at Le Mans.
A secondary advantage of that aviation inspired design was an incredible look. The D-Type was around in the mid 1950’s and nobody had seen curves quite like that on a car before. Jaguar capitalized on the success and style of the D-Type by bringing some of its virtues to a production car.
That production car was the E-Type. It replaced the XK150 which was stylish in a more old fashioned way. It had curves, but it was nothing like the E-Type. After the E1A and E2A concepts were built and tested, the Series 1 E-Type came out in 1961 known as the XK-E in the US. It was designed by aircraft designer Malcolm Sayer who worked on the C-Type and D-Type racecars. He used an unconventional method of taping pieces of wool to the body of the E-Type and taking photos of it going around a track. Analyzing these photos told him exactly where the air was moving around the car in real life conditions. He took this data and used mathematics that most of his colleagues didn’t understand to perfect the aerodynamics of the E-Type. Form, meet function.
The early E-Types borrowed the triple carburetted 3.8-liter inline-six engine from the XK150S. This engine was famous for its responsive power and acceleration. A few really early E-Types had external latches on the hood that required tools to open and a flat floor. While these features are a bit annoying, they’re rare, valuable collectibles today. The latches quickly moved to the inside and the floors were dished for more legroom.
In 1964, the old 3.8 was replaced by a 4.2-liter straight six. The new engine had the same 265 bhp power rating and the same top speed of 150 mph, but torque was increased from 240 to 283 lb-ft. What was the point of making a new engine with almost identical numbers? The new engine made peak power at a higher rpm and it had better throttle response. This was a good improvement for a luxury sports car since you could more comfortably accelerate without downshifting. A couple other tweaks over the old motor include a new alternator and an electric radiator fan.
There were several modern features of the E-Type that were still quite uncommon in the early 1960’s. It had a similar monocoque construction as the D-Type as opposed to the traditional body-on-frame construction of most sports cars and independent front and rear suspension rather than a solid axle. E-Types also boasted four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes and rack and pinion steering. These features came together with the outstanding engine, pleasant interior, and unmatched good looks to make the E-Type a legend.
A car this fabulous must have had an astronomical price tag, right? It only cost £2,200 GBP which was about $2,700 USD. In 2016 money, that’s a little over $61,000 USD, almost exactly the starting cost of a new Jaguar F-Type. The E-Type wasn’t cheap, but it was an affordable sports car. That was a small price to pay to go 150 mph and to be seen in such a gorgeous car.
Originally a 2-seater as a coupe or convertible, a 2+2 version of the coupe and an automatic transmission was introduced in 1966 which expanded the audience for the E-Type. In 1967, the glass covers on the headlights were removed and the Series 2 E-Type was introduced in 1968. The main reason for the Series 2 was to comply with US design legislation. On the Series 1, both the front and rear bumpers were split. The front was split to display the oval grille bearing the Jaguar emblem and in the rear the license plate was flanked by two chrome bumpers. On the Series 2, both bumpers wrapped all the way around the front and back of the car. The taillights and the turn signals were relocated as well. A few interior changes were made like toggle switches being replaced by plastic rocker switches and the ignition was moved from the dashboard to the steering column. The Series 2 was slightly choked of performance in the US switching from the three-barrel to a two-barrel carburetor which reduced about 20 horsepower.
The E-Type Series 3 was produced from 1971-1975. Several noticeable changes were made to the final run of the E-Type. The biggest difference was the 5.3-liter V12 engine. A few I6 Series 3 E-Types were made, but low demand for the I6 quickly made the V12 the only engine option. Originally developed for racing, the V12 made 272 hp, but only had a top speed of 135. Despite being slower than the original I6, it remained competitive with other sports cars worldwide. Big, ugly rubber bumper over-riders were introduced to comply with impact regulations, but the car was still beautiful. The traditionally open mouth of the car received a cross-slatted grille for the Series 3. The short-wheelbase two-seater coupe was no longer available, you could either get a two-seater convertible or a 2+2 coupe.
Since the end of the E-Type, Jaguar has made a few attempts at recreating its magic. Some are forgettable and the current F-Type is an outstanding successor, but there’s still a style and personality to the E-Type that can never be duplicated.