The Jaguar E-Type


When the Jaguar E-type was announced at last year’s Geneva Show it aroused World-wide admiration and was an immediate success. So naturally, everyone wanted to try it. But, apart from brief acquaintance with an early specimen down M1 and up A5, we had to exhibit patience, partly because certain teething troubles required sorting out — such as the rear wheels fouling the body, oil-loss from the chassis-mounted final drive unit, brake troubles, etc. — because there were too few E-types to share amongst a great number of motoring correspondents.

MOTOR SPORT could, nevertheless, have published a road-test report on this 150-mph Jaguar before now but we preferred to recount our experiences after a testing journey on the Continent rather than drive such a fast and powerful car in the thraldom of English traffic. Thus it was that plans discussed with Bob Berry, Jaguar’s PRO, at the London Show last October came to fruition late in May, when a 2-seater “soft-top” Jaguar E-type was delivered to our offices, its ignition and carburation suitably adjusted to enable French octane-ratings and 9-to-1 pistons to enjoy some degree of compatability.

Early Impressions

The evening prior to enplaning from Southend for Basle we tried the car on the journey home and over local roads. This first re-acquaintance with this fastest of production Jaguars was entirely reassuring. In pouring rain, we had not gone farther than the Bank before feeling entirely at home behind the wheel of this 265-bhp sports car. The 3.78-litre engine, for all its power, high-compression pistons and twin o.h. camshafts, will run contentedly down to 1.000 rpm in 3rd gear, even in top, with the standard 3.31-to-1 axle-ratio. From such modest crankshaft speeds acceleration was clean and instantaneous, with never a cough, splutter or flat-spot. On the Embankment a pedestrian stepped on to a crossing and on the rain-slippery road the servo-actuated Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels retarded progress surely, in a straight line, without any need to back-off on the pedal.

Past the derestriction signs the performance could really be used, 100mph became common-place, and the engine proved willing to rush up to 5,500rpm, although when the Jaguar, to which all eyes seemed to turn, was lolloping along at 95mph, the revs in top fell to a modest 4,000. Experiments on still-wet twisty roads showed that the rear-end is extremely reluctant to breakaway, even when the power and torque (2601b./ft. at 4,000rpm) were turned on hard in 2nd gear, such is the grip of the Dunlop RS5 tyres. The steering, by rack-and pinion with no lost motion and good stops at full-lock, is pleasantly light and quick, being geared 2 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock. The suspension of the E-type is soft enough to give an excellent ride over rough roads, yet is fully in keeping with the car’s phenomenal performance, for there is very little roll, it is possible to “dodge” unexpected obstructions with alacrity, and, apart from a trace of “tail-happiness”, there are no vices whatsoever. The steering characteristic is, indeed, virtually neutral. At the front torsion bars and wishbones are used, at the back the new Jaguar i.r.s. with stressed articulated drive-shafts, lower wishbones and trailing links with coil-springs. We have always advocated properly-designed i.r.s. and the Jaguar E-type and Mk X endorse our views!

This preliminary canter certainly whetted the motoring appetite and made us eager to shake the traffic congestion of England from our chunky 6.40 x 15 tyres.

Since the earliest versions foot-wells have been provided and the pedals have been re-positioned. Although six-footers still find the E-type impossible or exceedingly uncomfortable to drive, as average-height mortals we were very nicely accommodated and found the driving position ideal, although it came as a mild surprise to discover that it is not possible to “heel-and-toe” on these race-bred cars. The adjustable and low-set wood-rimmed steering wheel, with its three drilled metal spokes, is particularly commendable.

The minor controls, too, are not only impressive to look at but are sensibly laid-out. A r.h. stalk works the direction-flashers and the full-beam signal flasher. The headlamps are dimmed by a r.h. flick-switch on the facia, the matching tachometer and speedometer (reading to 6,000rpm and 160mph, respectively) are immediately before the driver, there is the usual Jaguar warning-lamp for handbrake-on or brake fluid at a dangerously low level, and, of course, the normal warning lights, including one as a reminder that refuelling is due. The central instrument panel carries four matching dials, comprising ammeter, fuel gauge, oil gauge and water thermometer, and a row of six flick-switches, divided by ignition key, cigar igniter and starter button, which look after the various services. These switches are sensibly located, for the left hand goes out naturally to washers and 2-speed wipers switches and, moving one place to the left, selects the map light. The other three switches, reading from I to r., control interior lamp, panel lighting, (which can be bright or dim), and 2-speed heater fan.

The bonnet is easily released by turning toggle-handles on each side of the bulkhead sill and operating a safety-catch at the rear end of the “power bulge”. The boot is released by pulling a knob behind the driver’s seat; this was hardly a one-man operation, because it was also necessary to press down the trailing edge of the lid. More serious, on several occasions, as 120mph on a rough piece of road came up, the lid would open of its own volition, a fault not confined to this particular E-type. Fortunately the lid is spring-loaded, so attention to probable loss of luggage is drawn by blanking the view in the mirror, but this does not exactly contribute anything to Gran Turismo!

The heavy bonnet stays open on its own and there is then excellent accessibility of the beautifully-finished power unit and entire front of the chassis. The rear-view mirror tended to vibrate and shift, but otherwise no criticism of the Jaguar’s detail arrangements is called for, except that the horn-push in the wheel-centre sounded a rather unpleasant horn which became erratic for a few miles on our return to England. The hood had a big rear window, stows easily, and is covered by a hood bag; there still remains space behind the seats for a brief-case and oddments. The spare wheel lives under the floor of the boot, which contributes to the limited luggage space.

The lights-switch is reminiscent of that on a pre-war Derby-Bentley and a specially pleasing feature is the labelling of each of the controls in clear lettering along the base of the panel, illuminated, to two degrees of brightness, at night. The Smiths clock resolutery refused to tell the time (like our Smiths travelling clock) but everything else functioned with precision. A big tunnel separates the two bucket seats, central gear-lever and handbrake are located conventionally, the stayed windscreen has triple wipers, there is a small open cubby-hole, you get in and out over wide chassis sills (if you aspire to a boyfriend or sugar-daddy with an E-type, girls, you will need slacks) and the doors have glass windows wound up fully with 3 turns of the handles. So much for a preliminary look round this most impressive Coventry-built motor car. Impressive the Jaguar E-type most certainly is, in action for obvious reasons, at rest in appearance, from its long all-enveloping front-hinged bonnet with its big bulge over the cam-boxes flanked by louvres, those on the off-side covering the triple 2-in. S.U. HD8 carburettors, to is low hood (or hard-top) and its cocked-up tail beneath which the twin tail-pipes and silencers sneak upwards.

We had elected to take the open 2-seater sans hard-top, in the hope of sweltering weather in the South of France. In this we were disappointed, but this did not occasion any worry, for the easy-to-erect, high-quality hood (made in Jaguar’s own trim-shop, each one individually tailored), braced truly rigid and drum-free by triple toggles on the screenframe, is fully weather resistant, and the heater very effective. Indeed, let us here and now offer the highest praise for a sports car into which not a drop of water penetrated, or so much as dripped from under the dash, even in thunderstorms of tropical intensity — no mean achievement at the customary high cruising speeds of the E-type!

Channel Air Bridge

One object in making this journey to Monte Carlo was to sample the new Channel Air Bridge service from Southend to Basle; the others, quite obviously, were to submit the Jaguar to a searching and revealing test and to watch the Monaco GP. The new Southend-Basle service, which is complementary to similar services now in operation to Geneva and Strasbourg, is flown in four-engined aircraft, known as Carvairs, which are Douglas DC-4s modified by Channel Air Bridge to carry 5-6 cars and 23 passengers. The Basle and Geneva services operate in the afternoon, enabling Midlands’ motorists to travel easily to Southend Airport in the morning, and so at tea-time, with the burbling exhaust-note of our dark green E-type once again in our ears, we found ourselves driving along that “no-man’s-land” that is a reminder that Basle is half in Switzerland, half in France. After an easy passage through the frontier there followed a rapid drive into the setting sun (the last time it shone in earnest!) for an adequate dinner and bed at the Grand Hotel et Bains in Bescancon.

On the Thursday morning we set off in high spirits, the sun growing warm in the early morning and the Jaguar devouring the pleasant road towards Bourge, where we paused for fuel and oil and the E-type was much admired by the French mechanics.

In a car which, without exceeding 5,000rpm, goes to genuine maxima of 34mph in the 11.18-to-1 bottom gear, 63mph in the 6.16-to-1 2nd gear, 92mph in the 4.25-to-1 3rd gear (with maximum in this cog of 113mph at 6.000rpm and a usable 103mph at 5,000!), and which will leap to “the ton” in 16 sec., nothing comes up, even on French roads, to challenge it. A comfortable corrected top speed is 122mph at 5,000rpm but 5,500rpm can be held if you back-off occasionally, and that equals 138mph.

We lunched, appropriately enough as the Editor had been driving, at Corpse, and that afternoon were in the rally country of Gap and Sisteron. Indeed, innocently following some signposts to Nice, we took to the Col de Restefond, and ignoring the alarming unguarded drops to the valley far below and the appalling road surface, wound the Jaguar round innumerable hairpins, lowered gently over gulleys, steered it with inches to spare past huge fallen rocks, until — we came to a snowdrift. There was no alternative but to retrace our route. The rocks and boulders had opened up a small crack at the front of the unprotected sump through which Shell X-I00 30 began to seep and both exhaust pipes were considerably flattened. Whether exotic cars with Italian names would go over such terrain without damage we do not know but in our opinion a Grand Touring car should be able to do this, and the E-type thus proved that it is not a rally or G.T. car. Eventually we crossed by the Costa de la Cayolle, meeting a good deal of traffic and pausing at a garage to put up the hood against the rain that was to persist for the whole of our stay on the “sun-drenched” Cote d’Azur.

In driving for some 300 miles over continually twisting roads fatigue was obviated by the lightness and predictability of the E-type’s steering and the reassuring power and certainty of those entirely excellent Dunlop disc brakes, which the vacuum servo rendered light to apply and which remained entirely vice-free, squeaking only slightly under mild applications of the pedal.

In climbing the cols the gearbox was in continuous use, and it is the least pleasant feature of the car. The synchromesh is almost useless for rapid changes and causes jarring at the lever, and it is necessary to fully depress the heavy clutch pedal to effect quiet changes, which, with its excessive movement, is tedious. This is a pity, because the gears are quiet, the little rigid central lever nicely placed, and the engine unconcerned about being revved to 5,500 or used for long periods in the lower ratios. Long spells in 2nd gear cause the transmission tunnel and handbrake lever to get surprisingly hot, however.

As we wound the car for ever upwards and round corner after acute corner, the long bonnet nosing to the sky-line, and then dropped it swiftly downwards round hairpin upon hairpin bend, the enjoyment of 265 obedient horses and impeccable road-holding endowed by all-round independent suspension was marred only by a persistent tapping noise that suggested something amiss in the valve gear.

At last level roads were regained and we approached Nice in a traffic stream, being passed for the only time in the entire 2,800 miles of the test, by a Simca Sport that slipped past in a 50kph speed limit that we thought it prudent to observe, in view of the interest the French motorcycle police were displaying in our fierce-looking English “racing-car!”

So to Monte Carlo. Next day British Motors Ltd. proved to be busy repairing exhaust systems and body dents in Jaguars that were taking part in a Jaguar DC Rally but on the Saturday morning they put the travel-stained E-type up on a hoist, drained out all the new oil with which we had just filled the sump, repaired the crack with Mr. Holt’s well-known cement and some black paint, and pronounced the tap in the valve gear as unimportant — we had previously checked the tappet settings and found them correct. Although Monte Carlo was crowded with cars, E-types competing for the attention of the passer-by with the Ferraris of the GP team, the cosmopolitan motoring atmosphere nicely emphasised when we looked from our window in the Hotel de Palmiers to see a 2c.v. Citroen cheekily hiding behind a MercedesBenz 220SE (later we had a good view of Princess Grace leaving a Red Cross reception in her Rolls-Royce, from the same window), it is possible, once a parking space has been found, to leave a car there for several days without being molested. So for much of our stay the E-type sat brooding to itself, while we got drenched to the marrow watching the 5-am practice on Friday, watched more practice on the Saturday and an extremely interesting race on the Sunday. However, the Continental Correspondent did “have a go” up La Turbie, and over the Turini and Col de Braus. He was impressed, but declared the Jaguar large, noisy and heavy as to steering and gear-change after a Porsche.

There was moments difficulty in finding the way onto the autoroute at Nice, a good deal of lorry and tourist traffic, various pauses at red traffic lights, market day and many lorries in Villefranch, a long detour along N460 and D28 between Dijon and Longres, where the vineyards give place to agricultural scenery, and a very slow deviation in Reims. There is a motor-road of sorts from Avignon to Valence but it is two-way, there is a semi by-pass at the latter town but the real one is under construction, pave and traffic lights slowed us in Cambrai with its rail-like tramcars, and a level-crossing bar fell, but rose again at the sight of the speeding Jaguar, here we scented coffee beans being ground in Bethume. Also, there were three stops for fuel, totalling 21 min., and a brief pause to shut the boot-lid, which had again sprung open, either because the catch rattles free or due to chassis distortion over bad surfaces. Food — we had it with us! The need for three fuel stops was a bit depressing, for I consider a GT car should require refuelling only once, at lunchtime, on a coast-to-coast blind across France (I note that the Aston Martin DB4GT has a 30-gallon petrol reservoir, the Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta and the GT Maserati each have 22-gallon tanks, compared to the Jaguar E-type’s 14-gallon tank).

All good things terminate eventually, the pessimists remind us, and a 4am on post-race Monday we stowed our luggage and pointed the long nose of the E-type towards the Nice autoroute (toll approximately 10s) en route for Calais.

However, as a sports car there is no denying that the E-type is a superlatively rapid and enjoyable means of crossing Continents. Always the speed seems to be between 90 and 120mph., “the ton” comes up along any piece of clear road, and a drop into 3rd lifts speed from 50 to 70mph in less than 4sec., from 80 to 100mph in under 5 sec. In sober fact, 0-50mph occupies 5.7 sec., 0-60mph takes 7.0-sec! Let us emphasise again that this was a normal run by a normal driver, that we had no thought of establishing a “record”, that the brakes never once went on hard. Yet twelve hours after leaving Monte Carlo we were beyond the pave of Lillers, the odometer indicating 736.6 miles, and the total distance of 777.7 miles took 12 hr. 41 1/2 min., or 12 hr. 20min. running time. To be able to average over 61mph across France is daylight traffic in comfort and security is really something: in a normal car the long straights of N7 can be tedious and thoughts would have turned enviously to those returning per Carvair. The bucket seats, not outstanding, nevertheless remain comfortable on such a journey, and we found the rather spongy front of the cushions and that ill-placed trim-rib under our bottoms acceptable on long acquaintance. In any case, any small faults that this 150-mph, disc-braked, all-independently sprung, 0-120mph in 24 1/2sec sports car may possess are entirely excused by its astonishingly competitive price £1,480, or £2,036 0s.3d. when purchase tax has been met. A hard-top is available for £68 and the coupé version of the E-type is priced at £2,123 5s. 3d. inclusive purchase tax. No car could be safer, more docile, instill greater confidence, than this stupendously clever 150-mph Jaguar, that is priced so modestly. WB