Two years with the Jaguar E-type

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Last month, and again this month, we have published letters from a reader, giving experiences with E-type Jaguars, both 3.8-litre fixed-head coupé models. I was particularly interested in these letters as I have just completed two years of E-type motoring myself, with a 4.2-litre fixed-head coupé. This car is used for home and continental motoring in the course of reporting on race meetings for Motor Sport, and other activities connected with keeping the monthly pages filled. I suppose I should refer to my Jaguar 4.2-litre as a staff car, except that when I do it seems to upset a lot of people who had the chance of working for our magazine in the early days, but could not see much future in it; also, nobody else drives the car so it really is for personal use rather than staff use.

It was delivered brand-new, in Carmen red with black interior, the day before the practice took place for the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in March 1965 and its first trip was to that motor race. It celebrated its second anniversary by taking me to Brands Hatch again for practice for the 1967 Race of Champions, by which time the odometer had clicked round to 71,776 kilometres (approx. 44,000 miles) and I had learnt a great deal about Jaguars and high-speed motoring.

The two readers whose letters we published both seem pretty satisfied with their 3.8-litre cars, but I was never very keen on that model. When it first appeared it looked terrific and I felt I wanted one, but when a Road Test car came along and I tried it I changed my mind. I liked the performance and I liked the steering, but I could not tolerate that awful old lorry-like gearbox and I thought the seats were pathetic. At the time I was Porsche motoring and the E-type felt a great dead lump of a car in comparison and I lost interest. When the 4.2-litre version was announced I renewed my interest, for it had a new all-synchromesh gearbox and new seats apart from numerous other improvements. This time when I borrowed the Road Test car from the Editor I was sold on the E-type fixed-head coupé and decided that it was what I wanted, so I turned my back on ten years of Porsche motoring and moved into a different world, a world of effortless high speed touring in the grand manner. The specification of my car was to suit my special needs, so it was left hand drive as 80% of my fast motoring is in Europe and I do want to see where I’m going when travelling fast. Motoring in Britain consists of short sharp bursts of speed, mostly overtaking slow moving vehicles and I find left hand drive very reasonable. The English stick in the middle of the road by nature, so I can look past them on the nearside before overtaking, and sitting on the left allows you to overtake using the minimum width of road, which is better for everyone. I had a 3.07 to 1 rear axle, which allows 100 m.p.h. at 3,800 r.p.m. and 8:1 compression pistons, instead of the normal 9:1 pistons, so that I could motor anywhere in Europe without worrying about petrol standards. I chose the red colour as I think all fast cars should stand out vividly, and red does this better than anything. It never blends with the background when travelling fast, so people see it coming and move over. The black interior was an obvious choice, me being rather oily and grubby by nature, and I covered the rather thin wood-rim steering wheel with a Romac leather sleeve, tightly bound on and it has proved to be the best 29/6d. worth you could buy. The standard wheel gets very slippery in hot weather and I hate wearing gloves, so this leather rim cover has proved to be the perfect answer. I also settled for a k.p.h. speedo instead of an m.p.h. one as time, distance and average speed running is vital to me in my European travels.

Reader Vose from Vienna suggests that the 1963 Jaguar is the best, but I disagree, for the 1965 cars had numerous improvements. The brake booster system was completely re-designed and is trouble-free compared with the earlier system, the gearbox is an obvious improvement, the electrical system incorporates an alternator instead of an old-fashioned dynamo, and because of the greater output it can support much more powerful headlights and a heated rear window, an item that is not necessary until you’ve had the use of one. I could not tolerate driving a car with a rear window that continually misted up or got covered in rain, for I do like to know what is going on behind me. He criticizes the arm-rest-cum-box between the seats, but I find this enormously useful and on the 2+2 this has been reduced to nearly half the size and it has become almost useless. It sounds as though he has done away with the air filter system for the carburetters on his Coombs-tuned engine, but that is something I would never do on a car being used all day and every day, especially on an E-type for the front wheels throw an awful lot of muck back into the engine compartment, in spite of rubber sealing strips. I fully agree with him that 100 m.p.h. is a good cruising speed for the E-type, and at that speed you can back right off the throttle and average 20 m.p.g. on European petrol, though if reader Lees from County Down is to be believed Irish petrol gives even better results (or is it Leprechaun Juice ?). Fuel consumption depends entirely on how you drive, if you keep the accelerator pedal hard down and accelerate at the maximum and run the engine to 5,000 r.p.m. all the time you will do 16 m.p.g. If you press on pretty effectively an overall 18 m.p.g. is easy to achieve; if you pussy-foot on the power you can do 20 m.p.g. and if you drive it with the performance of an average family bread and butter saloon you can do 22 m.p.g. I’ve no doubt that if you ambled along at 32 m.p.h. with no perceptible acceleration you could achieve 25-26 m.p.g. While running in for the first 1,200 miles I was getting a constant 22 m.p.g.

John Lees says how he gets a thrill from flooring the accelerator at 100 m.p.h. and seeing the nose come up. This is so true of an E-type and when motoring on Autobahns, Autostrada or Motorways I find I am constantly doing this to avoid obstruction travelling at 60-70 m.p.h. The acceleration from 90 onwards is one of the real charms of the E-type and is my “standard” for the valuation of so-called fast cars, and not many match up to it. This acceleration goes on with a progressive feeling to 135-140 m.p.h. and after that every m.p.h. can be counted, the most I have achieved being 143 m.p.h. by rev-counter reading.

When friends heard that I was getting an E-type they said “A good car, but you will spend all your time picking up little bits that will fall off.” They were quite wrong, as were those who said everything but the engine would wear out. As regards the engine they were right, in 40,000 miles it has had routine oil changes, routine (10,000 miles) plug changes, new points at the same time on principle rather than necessity, routine oil filter changes and the top timing chain adjusted twice and is still going like a bird. Oil consumption in the first 10,000 miles was appalling, but after that things settled down and now it is just heavy but reasonable. Jaguar are still working on this problem, but they never seem to do anything in a rush at Coventry. For the first 10,000 miles the gearbox was “all right” but nothing to rave about, but after that it improved noticeably and is now a joy. The movement was stiff and notchy to start with but as it became “run-in” it loosened up nicely and from experience I can say that it is a far better gearbox when you are using it with the right hand from a left driving position, the movement being so much nicer. I kept a detailed log of the mileage I covered and by 10,000 miles nothing had happened apart from the original RS 5 Dunlop tyres being completely bald and the front brakes pad non-existent. I had followed the routine service instructions thoroughly, doing the work myself as I don’t trust the average garage mechanic, and the only fault that had arisen was that the indicator flasher light on the instrument panel failed, though the flashers themselves were still in order. At 20,000 miles still nothing had gone wrong or fallen off, but the rear axle started growling at about 15,000 miles. I was about to set off on a trip to Italy and the noise sounded as if I would not get to the coast, let alone Italy, but there was no time to worry so I just motored on. Other Jaguar owners consoled me by saying the back end was built like the Forth Bridge and it would not break, and the noise was pinion bearings. By the time I got back I was so used to the noise, and as it had settled down and was consistent, I ignored it and at 40,000 it was no worse, but while having a new clutch fitted I had the axle unit replaced as a precautionary measure, at that mileage.

I had given the car a trouble-free target of 10,000 miles, which it achieved easily, and at 20,000 miles nothing had broken, fallen off or let me down, but for the next 10,000 miles I suffered the way my friends told me I would suffer in the first 10,000 miles. The dirt and rust of ages got at one of the front disc brake calipers and it went on and stayed on, which meant stripping the whole unit, then the alternator/water pump driving belt gave up from old age and broke, and one of the motor-cycle type silencers under the tail fell off (old age and bad design). I welded it back on and stiffened the mounting, but then the other one broke, so I threw them both away and made up a straight-through pair of tail pipes which are slightly noisier but not obtrusive and they will not fall off. The nylon driving dog for the electric rev-counter motor wore out and though a new one cost only 1s. labour costs to replace it would have cost £2 10S ! An expensive fault was at 25,000 miles when the alternator voltage regulator burnt out and with 30 amps being churned out the battery knelt down and quietly died, which left me stranded for a few hours until parts could be found in Milan. Then the Calabrian mountain roads broke the right hand bonnet catch, which involved more welding, since when the bonnet has never fitted quite as nicely. At 36,000 miles I motored too rapidly over some undulating Austrian roads and wrote off one of the exhaust down pipes from the manifold, these being very vulnerable and I did it again on an English road at 43,600 miles. This is partly due to using lower profile tyres than the original Dunlops, so Jaguar cannot be blamed, but ground clearance is a bad point on the E-type if you are like me and drive in a rough and unruly manner on undulating roads. At 38,500 miles an expensive trouble intervened when the alternator packed up, the diodes having burnt out, and a new A.C. alternator is no simple financial problem like an exchange dynamo, but such is the march of progress and you have to pay for improvements. In spite of the cost I would not think of returning to the old-fashioned D.C. dynamo system with its limited output, for with the alternator you can have 200 watts of light shining forwards, wipers, heater fan, heated rear window, fuel pumps, ignition, clock, instrument lights and radio all working at once and the battery is still kept charged. As Monte Carlo Rally competitors have often found, a load like this just creases the average D.C. dynamo. Having just got over this problem I suddenly ran out of brakes and this was the first serious fault to arise, with the mileage at 39,000 miles. Fortunately it was on a slow 2nd gear corner and I was able to scrabble round without an accident. A rubber piston in the brake system slave cylinder developed a tiny score mark, which let the fluid past and I was without any front brakes and back brakes only are pretty ineffective, especially as mine by this time were getting oily from a rear axle seal that was leaking, so as 40,006 miles came up I decided it was time for a pretty thorough overhaul, in preparation for another 40,000 miles of hard use. The front brake discs by this time were rather like corrugated iron and the suspension ball joints were a bit loose and rattly and the clutch, though working perfectly, was obviously going to wear out soon, for like the brakes, if you really use an E-type, it does a lot of work dealing with over 250 b.h.p.

It may seem as though I have had endless troubles but really it has been more a question of maintaining the ravages of hard usage and a rough life. My E-type does not spend much time shut up in a heated garage, nor does it do any quiet commuting or any town driving, it lives in the mud and roughness of the country and is used consistently for long and short journeys and is used well, being afforded nothing in the way of pampering other than a sympathetic mechanical ear and a mechanical “feel” to the driving. When this article is taken down to the village to post it the E-type will take me there at a highly illegal speed, and even faster on the way back, there being strict times and places to achieve 4,000 r.p.m. in top gear, but as reader Vose says, it will be in the “safety category” at all times, for it has such vast reserves if used as a fast touring car. For one short 10-mile dash, on the Targa Florio circuit, I tried using it as a GT car, reducing the reserves to a minimum. I kept the engine at 5,000 r.p.m. by really using the gearbox, used the brakes and acceleration to the full, and cornered over the limit of the Goodyear tyres. It was very exciting but very dangerous, and convinced me that the E-type in standard form is not a GT car; if you use it as a T car for Touring in the Grand Manner it is very nice indeed and well ahead of a lot of GT cars anyway. It is a safe car providing you do not provoke it, unlike cars such as the Porsche 911, the GT 40 Ford, a Lotus Elan or the new Dino Fiat, for they revel in being provoked and seem to say “come on, have a go, it’ll be all right, we’ll stay with you.” The E-type seems to say “watch it chum, don’t do anything unruly that might embarrass me.”

Tyres, like oil, plugs or petrol are mostly a matter of personal choice and after many experiments I am happily motoring on Goodyear G800 radial-ply tyres with 30 lb./sq. in. in the front ones and 35 lb./ sq. in. in the back ones. An E-type on equal pressures front and rear is a rather dangerous joke, no matter what make of tyre. I put Autolite plugs in the engine and just forgot about them until a routine renewal was due, and I pour Castrol oil in the engine by the quart and fill the tank with any Super grade petrol, from the most expensive Esso to cut-price unknown brands and “free-gift” Total petrol. However, I must disagree with Mr. Vose on the tank capacity of a nominal 14 gallons being adequate, especially on inter-continental trips and 17 gallons would have been ideal. The reserve warning light is first-class: mine starts flashing after 267 miles from a full tank, and I run completely dry after 330 miles, so you have 66 miles of warning of low fuel level. I find that you can have peace of mind all the while the orange light goes out under hard acceleration in second gear and the remaining fuel surges to the back of the tank; when it stops doing this you really must look for a petrol station.

If there is one complaint I have about Jaguar in general it is the way their agents seem to be letting the side down. I don’t expect to get spare parts over the counter in foreign countries, but I do expect it in England, just as I don’t expect to get everything for a VW or Porsche in this country, but I do expect it in Germany. Oddly enough I seem to be able to get everything for my various Volkswagen machinery at my local agent, whereas my local Jaguar agent is just a joke. It has a very famous name and poor Mike Hawthorn would turn in his grave if he could read this. It is not as though I ask for rare and complicated bits, far from it, but it would be quicker and easier for me to drive up to Coventry and visit the works. Another Jaguar agent with famous racing associations, in Guildford, was no better, the storeman happily telling me the part number of the bit I wanted and adding “but we haven’t got one.” When I got on to Henly’s main depot in London, who are well stocked, it proved to be the wrong part number anyway! A Jaguar agent in Malvern gave the impression of never having heard of an alternator, while another in Barnstaple had every sort of driving belt for the alternator apart from one for an E-type. However, they were very helpful and made a jury-rig that got me to Plymouth where Pike & Co. Ltd. were 100% efficient and everything that a Jaguar agent should be. The thought of having the car serviced and maintained by the average agent would make me lose interest in the car, for it would spend most of its time sitting in the workshops waiting for the inefficiency of the stores to catch up. The sort of things that I consider let the side down are the first exhaust down-pipe that was produced from the stores that was so rusty that I refused to accept it; the second was reasonable but the welding was cracked, but as it was all that was available I took it and re-welded it myself. Later I did not bother to try and get a pipe, it was quicker to get the hacksaw and welding plant out and make my own exhaust system. When a slight error of judgement broke the plastic side-light/indicator lens the local stores took a week to produce a new one, which was delivered, but the following week another one was delivered ! Too much or not enough seems to be the motto for service.

Like our two readers Messrs. Vose and Lees I am a very satisfied Jaguar user and will probably stick to E-types until we have enough readers to justify the expense of a Ford GT 40, Ferrari GTB, or Lamborghini Miura. Having got used to 250 b.h.p. and real acceleration at high speed in an effortless manner, coupled with a docility with which Auntie could cope, I would be reluctant to motor in anything less than a 4.2-litre E-type, which means that I shall stick to the very satisfactory way of life that is Motor Sport and race reporting. — D.S.J.

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