Classic cars: Jaguar E-type

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Back from the dead

The years following the announcement of the XK10 in 1948 were successful for the Jaguar company in almost every respect. On the track they notched up success after success with the C- and D-types while demand for the range of saloon and sports cars was continuous and ever-increasing. It was at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1961, however, that the company caused a sensation with the announcement of their two-seater fixed-head coupe, the E-type Jaguar yet another fine creation from the pen of Sir William Lyons.

The unique monocoque construction design was of similar appearance to that of the D-type, using 20 gauge sheet steel in conjunction with a steel tube front subframe to support the engine, gearbox and suspension. The rear final drive assembly unit was bolted to the rear of the bodyshell with rubber blocks.

The fabulous 3.8-litre straight-six engine was fitted, as in the XK150, with a cast-iron block and aluminium. With its three SU carburettors, it developed 265 bhp at 5500 rpm but it could still be revved to 6000 rpm without any apparent engine damage. With a 307 to 1 axle gearing, there was a claimed top speed of 150 mph. The gearbox was also out of the XK150, a manual gear change with four forward speeds and one reverse, with synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears. The clutch was a Borg and Beck with hydraulic operation. Electrics were from a 12 volt battery. The fuel tank had a maximum capacity of 14 gallons squeezed into the boot to the left hand side of the car, and fuel was fed by a Lucas immersed pump fitted inside the tank.

Cooling was via an aluminium crossflow radiator fitted with a header tank. A thermostat at the top of the header tank operated an electric two-blade cooling fan at 80 degrees celsius and turned it off at 72 degrees. Centrelock wire wheels were standard and complimented with Dunlop 6 x 40 15″ RS5 crossply tyres.

A few months later, production was underway and the E-type was then available to the public in July of that year. What value for money! Just a fraction over £2000 would buy a new super sleek two-seater fixed head coupe, with an opening rear tailgate, or the open two-seater roadster version available with a detachable hard top for an extra £76 10s. It was no surprise that famous personalities such as pop idol Adam Faith, dance band leader Billy Cotton and Sir Gwain Bailey soon acquired these tremendous cars.

In competition, the E-type had already won its first race at Oulton Park in April, with a dark blue roadster, registration ECD 400, driven by Graham Hill. Roy Salvadori, in another roadster, came third.

During 1961 the E-type caused a stir wherever it appeared. However for some owners and motoring journalists, one criticism remained — the seating position which made any driver over 510″ a little uncomfortable. This was remedied in 1962, when footwells were built into both driver and passenger sides, thus giving much improved leg room.

In October 1964, an all-new synchromesh four-forward speed gearbox, was installed, giving smoother gearchanges over the previous type, known as the “Moss box”.

1965 was the fourth year of production and saw a dramatic change for the E-type. A new bigger 4.2-litre engine superceded the original 3.8-litre type, and the bucket seats were replaced by plush padded ones, giving greater back support. The car, with its new engine and seats, synchromesh gearbox and further improved braking system, was a delight to drive. The external appearance, however, remained unchanged from the 1961 models. A year later, the family man could now think of owning an E-type, with the addition of the 2 + 2 model to the two-seater fixed-head and roadster models in 1966. The new 2 + 2 bodyshell was increased by 9″ in length. However the higher windscreen dimension meant that the sleek lines were lost. The 2 + 2 could also be purchased with a 3-speed Model 8 Borg Warner automatic gearbox.

The later part of 1967 saw a new external appearance. The glass headlamp covers were removed and replaced with a decorative chromium surround. This model was more commonly known as the Series 11/2.

Further changes were made in 1968 to all three of the E-type range to conform to US road safety regulations. That meant a completely revised layout to the front of the car, with sidelights repositioned to the underside of the full width bumper. This was repeated at the back with the number plate being set below the rear bumper.

The interior was updated — new dashboard rocker switches replaced the old “flick-up” type, and air conditioning, head restraints and a leather-bound steering wheel were available for export models. With these changes, the E-type became heavier and thus performance was reduced. The new V12 5.3-litre engine soon found its way into the E-type. A completely redesigned bodyshell with slightly flared wheel arches to accommodate the larger wheels and tyres, and the full chromium grille of the V12 distinguished it from previous E-types. Production of this great sports car, however, ceased in 1975. To end the final production run, a batch of 50 black V12 commemorative roadsters were built, each one bearing a gold plaque attached to the dashboard, showing its identity number.

Today the E-type is still one of the greatest sports cars in the world and, with the recent popularity and increase in classic cars, is a valuable asset. Prices for excellent examples are still increasing, as well as for examples requiring complete restoration. For example, little change could be expected from £50,000 for a good V12 roadster, but a recent concours example has even reputedly been sold for £100,000 in the north of England, although the 2 + 2 version can still be bought for around £20,000. Unfortunately, though, many of these are now being converted into roadsters by specialist firms.

The 3.8 and 4.2 roadsters, for an excellent restored car, would cost between £45,000 and £65,000, while a fixed-head coupe would be slightly cheaper at £25,000 to £30,000. Still just affordable are the Series I/II 2 + 2 models, but even these are bound to be subject to the whims of speculators and dealers and the prices affected accordingly.

My own experience with this sports car started in the mid 1970s, when a good running example could be bought for around £900, although I managed to buy a sound 1965 fixed-head coupe for £550. After an enjoyable two years motoring, I eventually sold it, and soon purchased an early 3.8-litre roadster, chassis no. 850018. I had then really caught collector mania and added chassis nos. 850014, 850017, 850021 and 850030 to my collection. All these cars needed restoration, but in worst condition was 850030, chassis number 30, as it consisted of just half a car. There was the bulkhead with its front frames, engine and gearbox attached to it and the rear axle somehow remained. The decision was made to rebuild it but, as with too many other cars, lack of funds rather than enthusiasm enforced its sale instead.

It was after a long interval that I received a telephone call from a gentleman named David Worrow, who told me that he had just purchased my derelict E-type roadster, no.30. We kept in touch while the restoration was undertaken and the promise was made that when it was ready, I could spend a day driving it, a promise which has just been fulfilled. Hoping that the Indian summer would last just a little longer — the E-type would not be allowed out on a rainy day — I set off on my journey from London to Devon, arriving bright and early and anticipating an enjoyable day. Being a car fanatic, he had built a large garage to accommodate his increasing collection of British Sixties cars, which includes the first 2.8 XJ6 Saloon, the original road test XJS, the earliest Austin Seven Mini and of course, his pride and joy, a white 3.8 Series One E-type roadster.

A quick glance at the car told me David was a perfectionist. The high standard of the restoration was breathtaking; every part was gleaming, and all the work carried out by him had taken a total of 4000 hours. No wonder it is under 24 hour close circuit TV security!

Asking David how he went about the restoration he told me that the engine and gearbox were moved, leaving the few remaining components to the bulkhead. The engine was stripped down and surprisingly found to be in excellent order, needing only minor attention, but the gearbox was rebuilt.

The remaining bulkhead was mounted onto a special body jig, while the floors, sills, boot floor and rear wings were carefully welded into place to construct a new monocoque. David decided to use original Jaguar panels he had obtained, rather than the reproduction type. Since the majority of its parts were missing, many visits were made to autojumble events, and he eventually located original electrical, mechanical and exterior chromium items. These were carefully numbered and stored before being fitted to the completed monocoque, which had to be etched, primed and painted with 18 coats of Old English white, a time consuming job but with perfect results. Interior parts, i.e. seats, dashboard, radio console and hood frame, were also purchased from autojumbles and eventuality it was completely retrimmed in its original colour of red. All the while I had kept my fingers firmly crossed for a chance to drive this beautiful machine. Then David handed me the keys…an opportunity not to be missed!

I squeezed into those bucket-type seats, taking care not to scratch the high interior leather-covered sill with the heel of my shoe; a slight adjustment was made to position the seat for a comfortable driving position. The first thing you notice once inside the cockpit is the layout of the many instrument dials fuel, ammeter and water guages and the speedometer with its maximum 160 mph reading. To start the E-type, the ignition key, which is set in the centre of the aluminium dashboard, was turned and the control lever pulled up to its cold start position. Automatically the sound of the submerged petrol pump could be be heard; the ignition button was pressed leading to a slight sway being felt as the engine turns over before springing into life with a huge roar.

The clutch pedal was depressed, first gear selected (a long travel movement) then, with a slight touch on the accelerator pedal, the handbrake released before gently moving off. At this stage the engine was still very cold and required a few extra revs. A full lock turn was necessary as we turned out of the garage and made our way out of the drive onto the main road. As we drove along, I couldn’t help but notice the long bonnet with its centre bulge.

With not a cloud in sight, we decided to put the hood down — a quick operation, releasing three toggle catches on the inside of the windscreen rail so that the hood could fold flat just behind the seats. We turned out onto the main road, changed into second gear (a little awkward at first), and as the speedometer indicated 30 mph, the change up to third. The smooth wooden spoke steering gave the impression of being in the next best thing to a D-type.

A fast fourth gear was selected as we sped rapidly towards a roundabout and then a change back down to third. Out of the roundabout, the engine slightly kicked back, telling us that it was still cold. We were now approaching the slip road onto the M5 motorway time for the real test, taking the E-type up to 70 mph and keeping within the speed limit. The wind noise was remarkably low and the car felt very stable on the road.

Our E-type seemed to be the main attraction of the five mile journey, turning people’s heads as it did 28 years ago. After 30 minutes of driving, I really got to grips with the E-type, and on the return journey put it to the test around the country lanes. Those Dunlop RS5 tyres stuck to the road as if they were on rails. Such is the condition of the car it is as if it had just come off the production line — it is not over-restored but no amount of effort has been spared in putting it back into its former glory. It was a wonderful experience being reunited with the car that I had once rescued from oblivion lying in a swamp so that it can now, once again, grace the roads of Britain. JD

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