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Low drag was the key to CUT 7, Jaguar’s first try to match Ferrari’s GTs. Matthew Franey took it back to Goodwood with the new XKR, the true successor to the E-type

It was never meant to be an out-and-out racing car. The intention to take on the might of Ferrari was never there from the start. It was, first and foremost, a road car from its long, raking nose to curving tail. The trouble was, it was a good road car... too good. From the minute the press caught sight of it, from that first mention of the magic 150mph barrier, its future was set.

The E-type, said Jaguar, was a direct descendant of the Le Mans-winning D-type and, as it said so, inadvertently dumped the weight of the company's racing heritage on its graceful shoulders. Looking back, it hardly seems surprising, but by the time the first road car was unveiled in March 1961, the prototype upon which it was based, E2A, had already been bought by Briggs Cunningham and raced at La Sarthe.

You have to look back a good five years to understand the thinking that led to Jaguar's most famous car. The bitter-sweet victory for Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb in the tragic 24 Hour race of 1955 led to a swift rewriting of the sportscar racing rule book and while the appetite for motorsport never waned completely, jaguar took stock of the new rules which insisted on a production run of at least 100 cars to race in the over 2.5-litre category. The D-type, primarily a racer, had been rather less than successful in the showroom. The replacement, it was decreed, had to be suitable for "purposes other than racing."

And so it was that Jaguar designer Malcolm Sayer sat down to create the shape that would become a trademark of 1960s British motoring. Borrowing heavily on his experience of aerodynamics used in creating the streamlined the new car was blessed with looks as provocative as its predecessor, but came also with the most modern levels of ride, handling and performance to match.

The E-type, unsurprisingly, was a hit and jaguar was soon stretched to provide enough to go around. In those early days, just seven had been built for competition purposes with an upgraded 3.8-litre straight six engine and a close-ratio gearbox to boot. Success was instantaneous, Graham Hill driving Tommy Sopwith's Equipe Endeavour car to victory at Oulton Park.

As the season went on, the cars continued to impress drivers and engineers alike —John Surtees, Innes Ireland and Bruce McLaren all owned private examples and spoke highly of them. The only blot on the horizon came courtesy of Ferrari. In the early days the 250 CT Short Wheelbase proved the car's nemesis, Stirling Moss uncatchable in races all over Britain. Then, in '62, came the 250 GTO, a purpose built racer that never fulfilled the required production run but raced and beat the E-type, nevertheless.

Jaguar's answer to the Maranello GTs was to shave weight from the portly steel-bodied machine, and find ways to make it even more slippery through the air. Through the corners, the E-type was often a match for the Ferraris but in a straight line its extra bulk was proving a liability.

At the end of the car's first year the team looked at ways of improving its track performance. Thoughts had turned to the possibility of a factory-supported team in 1962 and Sayer had begun to explore ways of paring weight and drag from the standard car.

Doors and bonnets were fabricated in aluminium and other steel panels were thinned down to the bare minimum. Perspex windows replaced glass, the entire roof and tail section was redrawn and the suspension and its pick-up points were also changed. The 'low drag coupe' was born. And then it died.

With the design teams stretched and policy beginning to shift away from this halfway house compromise towards full-house 'lightweight' E-types (boasting an aluminium monocoque as well as panelling, uprated engine, suspension and brakes) the low drag project was officially dropped. However work (lid continue slowly after hours on the car, which gained a full race-specification 3.8-litre engine with the by now obligatory wide-angled head and dry sump. It was fitted also with a lighter flywheel and slide throttle fuel injection. Even so, the plan for the car was that it should remain very much a test-bed, staying at Browns Lane to be used as a comparison with other racing E-types and Ferrari's 250 GTO. Aerodynamic wind tunnel work showed the low drag coupe to be 10 per cent more efficient through the air than its Italian rival and nearly 20 per cent better than standard E-types.

So it wasn't until 1963 that the low drag coupe finally made its way from factory to race track, and then thanks only to the persistence of respected E-type ricer Dick Protheroe. A good friend of Sir William Lyons, Protheroe convinced the boss to sell him the car once the lightweight E-type project was well under way. So began a busy competition life for the car that was to be registered CUT 7.

Three decades on, as its owner prepares the car for its return to Goodwood and the circuit revival meeting, the jaguar cuts a fine figure sitting in the paddock. Gunmetal grey, its sleek bodywork draws the eye in a continuous sweep over its curving roofline and seamlessly down to the integrated tail section. Evidence of the wind tunnel abounds; the car's frontal area is nearly a square foot less than the standard Jaguar, courtesy of a couple of inches less headroom for its driver.

Not that CUT 7 is an uncomfortable car to drive. The leather seats form a more than adequate bucket in which to wedge yourself, and while the three-spoked steering wheel points slightly upwards, the overall picture is one of purposeful aggression — less grand tourer, more hard racer. Below the screen two enormous dials glare out, a rev counter indicating safe passage to 6000rpm and a speedometer with room to spare the far side of 150mph. The tall gearshift leans towards the wheel, keeping necessary movements to a minimum, while pedal spacing is excellent. Visibility, as you might expect from a car with over six feet of bonnet stretching out in front of you, is far from ideal, but the view backwards through the shallow but wide rear screen is probably better than many regular E-type racers enjoyed. It is, nevertheless, hard to escape the feeling as you reach for the starter that you are surrounded by a whole lot of car.

CUT 7 is as ‘on the button’ as you could want from a racer of its age and settles down quickly into a low but more than audible hum, its six cylinders thumping out a signature every bit as recognisable as that of a Maranello V12. After a long wait to raise sufficient heat in the sizeable oil tank, the first of its four syncromesh gear engages with a firm nudge. If you should ever find yourself pointing CUT 7 in the opposite direction in which you are intending to travel, get someone to push you backwards as reverse, by contrast, is not easy even to find, let alone select.

At speed, as in so many competition cars, the E-type's idiosyncrasies all but vanish, the notchy shifts transformed into quick, solid changes as the car approaches its 6000rpm redline for the day. In their day, E-type racers squinting through the red mists might take the straight six as high as 6750rpm but with valve clearances of just 60 thou, it was a brave driver who did it regularly. In CUT 7, it is needless, too. A top race-prepared 3.8 would produce a GTO matching 300bhp and bring bags of torque with it. In the low drag coupe it is the ease with which the car pulls from low in the power band that makes it such a contrast to its multi-cylinder rivals. From as low as 3000rpm the Jaguar squats down on its rear tyres and growls its way effortlessly around the speedometer. Weight transfer under acceleration is enough to make the long nose rise noticeably, but with all that mass out front, it is neither disconcerting nor harmful in a straight line.

Where the car does suffer slightly is when the power is fed back in higher speed corners. Here the heavy front end loses the battle to hold its line far earlier than the rear, and the resultant understeer just a gentle reminder to the driver that this car should not be pushed too hard too early. For its regular use CUT 7 runs on Pirelli mad tyres which are more than adequate until you reach those final few percent. Racing demands a higher specification rubber and for the Goodwood meeting it will, in accordance with Appendix K rules, be fitted with Dunlop L section racing rubber; the understeer should dial itself out as a result.

Unlike the true lightweights which followed, the low drag coupe was built around a steel monocoque and what it sacrificed in weight is more than made up for in tautness of chassis. Once the excellent disc brakes are up to temperature, retardation becomes an afterthought, the car retaining its poise and shedding velocity without complaint via a firm pedal. Feedback through the steering wheel is also of the highest order and camber changes around the back of the airfield circuit fail to unsettle the car at speed. But it is the unflinching ease with which the car transfers its power onto the track that gives the E-type such tremendous drive onto the straights. Exiting the tight chicane in second gear in the middle of the powerband, there is no need to caress the throttle, just get on the power as quickly as possible and let the car do the rest. Body roll is scarcely noticeable and the steering so sharp and perfectly weighted that it feels as if CUT 7 could cut it with cars 20 years its junior.

Starting its racing life so relatively late in the day, the low drag coupe E-type was always going to be at a disadvantage. The more nimble lightweights were better equipped to take on the GTOs and by the time Protheroe prised the car from jaguar's grasp, development work on the cars was beginning to level off. Not that any of this deterred CUT 7's owner or hindered his success. Straight from the factory Protheroe won the GT class in the French Grand Prix support race at Reims, holding off the Ferrari of Lucien Bianchi. "Prestige," he noted in his race log was, "very high."

By the time you read this CUT 7 will have returned to the race track at Goodwood for the running of the Tourist Trophy race, to battle once again with its evocative rivals from the past. Prestige will, it seems safe to say, be on the rise once more.

Our thanks go to Lord Cowdray for the loan of CUT 7 and Lynx Motors for their assistance with this feature.

Jaguar XKR: the true heir to the E-type?

You don't have to look hard to see the styling cues that Jaguar borrowed from the E-type when it brought the XK8 into existence. The curvaceous, drooping nose and stretched oval air intake are as distinctive now as they were in the early 1960s, the contemporary XK managing successfully to straddle the gap between modern and old.

But while the launch of the E-type sent shockwaves through the motoring industry, Jaguar's latest GT lacked the sporting prowess that made its predecessor such an icon. Comfortable and accomplished grand tourer, yes. Out and out sportscar? Well, no.

Mindful of the heritage that comes with building an E-type replacement, Jaguar responded to the cries for more power with the uprated £59,300 XKR, the fastest car from A to B it has built... XJ220 aside. The company didn't have to look hard to find that power either, the brilliant 4.0-litre supercharged V8 engine that graces Motor Sport’s XJR saloon adding an effortless 80bhp to the XK8's already substantial 290.

Like the original E-type, the XKR possesses torque in liberal quantities, too. A gargantuan 387lb ft is on tap at 3600rpm and howls the car forward to 60mph in 5.2sec, topping out at a restricted 155mph.

Power is transmitted through a five-speed automatic gearbox bought in from Mercedes to cope with the extra strain, while double wishbone suspension with computerised damping via Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension system and traction control ensure that as the rear wheels start to break away, things don't get out of control.

On the wide expanses of Goodwood circuit, the XKR is instantly at home, the long drags from corner to corner dealt with in an instant, an indicated 135mph on the clock as you reach the braking point at the end of the back straight

Braking, however is another matter, the 305mm ventilated discs succumbing quickly to the stresses of having to slow a 1600kg car repeatedly from high speed. Early on in the day our XKR's brakes faded quickly, never to recover their initial sharpness.

Weight, too, is an intrinsic part of the handling characteristics of this powerful but hardly slimline car. The XKR uses all the knowledge gained from fine-tuning the acclaimed XK8 but allies that with stiffer dampers that allow you to attack corners with genuine aggression for a car of its size.

Steering is sharp and precise, the Servotronic system firming up to a point at which the Jaguar begins to feel like a genuine sportscar at speed. Here two small points make their presence felt, one which could be addressed, the other an inherent characteristic of the carThrough the fast corners around Goodwood, the car's degree of body roll — although not unexpected — is not equalled by support from the seats. More lateral bracing would help through the fast stuff.

But speed too brings enough body roll in the car — as well as driver — to unsettle the XKR if you are really trying. Through the adverse camber at St Mary's corner, the desire to lift as the nose washes out should be tempered by the fact that quite sudden weight transfer brings the rear round quite quickly. On the road, it should not be a problem; on the race track it is worth watching out for.

The XKR is arguably as close a car to the E-type as Jaguar could build in the 1990s. Comfortable, assured and devastatingly quick, it is just one more example of the revival at Jaguar