Although automotive styling is subjective, the one vehicle that seems to top more opinion polls naming the most beautiful car in the world, the Jaguar E-type. Styled mainly by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, with significant input by Sir William Lyons, the coupe and roadsters caused a sensation when unveiled in 1961.
In short, the E-type redefined the way in which we all viewed sports cars, and how little it could actually cost to buy a 150mph car (it cost £2098, when an Aston Martin DB4 was more than £5000). Except that those famous 150mph runs in pre-production models were never replicated by owners.
Despite that the E-type was still fast enough to redefine what was expected from top-drawer manufacturers, such as Aston Martin and Ferrari. And yet, there was nothing new about the E-type – all of its significant componentry had been seen before: the 3.8-litre XK engine was married to a beautiful and aerodynamic body designed by Malcolm Sayer (and inspired by the D-type and XK-SS), underpinned by all-independent suspension.
A massive impact in 1961
Although the E-type coupé was the fastest and most useful of the breed, it’s the Roadster that attracts the most attention (and greater values) today. The open-top car was just as effective to drive as the coupe, thanks to a stiff under-structure. It was popular in the USA as well as Europe, and a high survival rate means that there are still plenty around.
But in 1964, the 3.8-litre was superceded by the newly-expanded 4235cc version of the XK engine. Although maximum power output remained unchanged at 265bhp, torque was increased, improving driveability. Performance remained pretty much unchanged, and many owners gave up tying to match the 150mph claim, as it simply wasn’t possible with an unmodified car. But the 4.2 actually felt more grown-up to drive, thanks to its lower red line and greater torque at lower revs prompting some to say the zest had gone. Another improvement that came in with the 4.2-litre engine was the Moss gearbox (often retro-fitted to older cars).
Despite its global success and accolades, Jaguar knew that E-type sales were being held back by the limitations of being a two-seater. And that’s why it introduced the 2+2 in 1966. It was created by extending the wheelbase and cabin by nine inches to make room for kids in the back. But there were some visual compromises, such as the taller, more upright windscreen. With the arrival of the 2+2 came a useful boost sales, with the new variant outselling the fixed-head coupé from day one. Not as pretty, that’s for sure, but today it’s the easiest way into E-type ownership.
Running revisions along the way
In 1967, there were further revisions to the range, creating what has become subsequently known as the Series 1½. It was only on sale for a year, and the Series 1½’s main purpose seems to have been to introduce new style headlamps with no covers but more chrome trim. They didn’t look as good but they certainly worked better. The 1968 S2 brought more significant changes, like the larger grille opening, heavier front bumpers and bigger lamps.
Mechanical changes were limited to an improved cooling system and improved brakes, which were changed from Lockheed to Girling. Power steering was also introduced an option, ushering in the era of the ‘soft’ Jaguar E-type. The 2+2 in Series 2 form received the same upgrades (‘changes’ is perhaps a better word), as well as a more significant change. A new windscreen was introduced – its base had been moved as far as the bulkhead
would allow to increase the rake, improving aerodynamics. It also received with stiffer front torsion bars to counteract the additional weight.
Out of the lot, the Series 2 Coupes are the rarest of all the E-types. Fewer than 5000 were built, and they represented the end of the original shorter-wheelbase coupé body style.
The biggest change of all
In 1971, the E-type would receive its most far-ranging changes. Walter Hassan, one of Britain’s pre-eminent postwar engineers and mastermind behind the Coventry Climax Formula 1 engines, worked with Jaguar technical boss Harry Mundy to produce an all-new V12. It was Jaguar’s first production V12-powered car, designed for maximum smoothness. Maximum speed was still shy of 150mph, and fuel consumption was atrocious going into the 1973 energy crisis.
The front-end styling with its prominent chrome grille lacks the grace of the earlier cars’, and the suspension was softer too, but as Jaguar was looking towards the American market, these changes were inevitable. The V12 was only 36kg heavier than the straight six, and handling balance wasn’t too drastically affected. Although many E-type fans criticised for being a cruiser and not a sports car, the E-type Series III still has massive appeal.