Model Guides : the E-Type
by Pascal Gademer
Geneva, March 16 1961... the star of the Auto show is unveiled to the world and the world of sports car will be marked forever... Its name is the Jaguar E-type, or XKE as it will be better known in the United States, and it is not only stunning but it also sets new standards in terms of performance and price.
The early 60s were a time where most cars had drum brakes, live rear axle, styling still drawing heavily on the 50s, body on frame construction and performance that was often not so sporty. In contrast Jaguar brought to Geneva a 150 mph race bred monocoque sports car with independent rear suspension, disc brakes and styling that would become an icon of the 60s. In pure Jaguar tradition the price was as spectacular as the performance, £2,097 for the roadster which was almost half what its nearest competitor the Aston Martin DB4 sold for ( £3968 ). Yes, it is probable that if James Bond had been paying for his cars himself rather than the British government he would have indeed been driving an E-type... Seriously, on the all important US market, the XKE would be significantly cheaper that the Corvette, by almost 30 %.
The way the E-type was launched at Geneva is unique and dramatic in many ways. First, inside the show itself, a fixed head coupe was revealed to the press and VIPs by lifting up a huge crate which was covering the car, officially revealing to the word the most advanced sports car ever built. Then there is the second car, the press demonstrator, which was driven yes driven from Coventry to Geneva and arrived just in time to be quickly cleaned and presented to the press at a park. What a leap of faith to send an all new car on a 600 miles journey with only hours to spare Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons was on hand to personally demonstrate the car; incidentally he was known to prefer the styling of coupe to the convertible which may explain why both Geneva show cars were coupes.
Work on the E-type had started in the late fifties as a replacement to the successful XK 120 - 150 series and drew heavily on Jaguar's Le Mans winning D-type monocoque and front sub frame construction. Mechanically, the E-type used the same 3.8 liter XK inline 6 cylinder engine with triple carburetors used on the XK150S developing 265 hp. One of the new features was the development of an all new independent rear suspension, self contained in a sub frame, and featuring 4 shocks and springs with inboard disc brakes, mounted near the differential therefore reducing unsprung weight. This independent rear suspension system gave Jaguar an edge in term of handling, comfort, grip and noise. The basic design remained in use not only during the entire E-type production but would also be found on saloons like the XJ6 all the way until 1988. The front and rear Dunlop disc brakes were activated by twin master cylinders providing ample braking power by 1961 standards and reliability. The rack and pinion steering helped give the E-type its agile reputation with a short turning radius and light efforts. Another innovation was a separate header tank and the electrical cooling fan system, which would need improvement in the following years.
The elegant body shape, designed by aerodynamicist Malcom Sawyer, was a key element in achieving the magic 150 mph top speed. And 150 mph is something the E-type was capable of, as tested by the British motor press even though the car used was slightly optimized to reach the magic number with little details such as the front bumper overriders removed to reduce aerodynamic drag. Acceleration was impressive as well with Autocar magazine report 0 to 60 mph times of just under 7".
13 years before, in 1948, Jaguar had stunned the world by producing a 120 mph car, the XK120, something unheard of at the time. Original reaction to the car was such that Jaguar was not ready to mass produce it and it would take 2 years to finally create the tooling needed to produce the steel body instead of the hand made aluminum panel used on the early car. History would nearly repeat itself with the E-type which was also expected by Sir Lyons and his team to be a limited production car, that is of course until the world discovered it in Geneva.
Originally, the company producing the panels, Abbey Panels, was using concrete tooling rather that steel to produce the panels and deliveries were slow until the proper steel tooling could be made, with only 2160 cars produced in the first year. Things were aggravated early on the production runs as a labor dispute and a strike at one of the plants.
Two weeks after the dramatic unveiling in Geneva, the American public discovered the E-type at the New York Auto Show on April 1st and reception was equally enthusiastic, the Jaguar display being swamped with visitors. Magazines such as Road and Track or Car And Driver tested the E-type and praised the car for its styling and performance even though they pointed out a few shortfalls such as lack of interior space and the original gearbox with non synchro first gear. The US market will become very important for Jaguar with over 3/4 of the 72 000 E-types built during its 13 years production coming to the US.
Between 1961 and 1964, the E-type would remain unchanged until demand for a more powerful engine in the saloons prompted Jaguar to increase the XK engine displacement from 3.8 to 4.2 litre in 1964. Horsepower remained the same but reached at lower RPM and torque was increased by about 10 hp. The 4.2 liter E-Type also received a much needed new all synchromesh 4 speed gear box, new reclining seats and an alternator.1966 would see the launch of the first 2+2 model, featuring a longer wheelbase ( by 9" ) and a revised roofline, which some view as less elegant as the original coupe. The addition of the small rear seats meant the car was more practical and could even pass for a family car... sort of... as long as the children are small and understanding... Also, the longer wheelbase allowed Jaguar to offer an optional 3 speed Borg Warner Automatic gearbox..
In late 1967, the E-type would undergo various changes mostly prompted by increased regulations in the US, the car's largest market. Among these, the most easily noticeable were the replacement of the covered headlights with open headlights to improve their effectiveness. Turn signals would move under the bumpers, the toggle switches and aluminum center panel were replaced with rocker switches and a vinyl panel, the knock offs on the wheels would loose their ears requiring the use of an adapter to change a wheel. However, to make matters confusing for collectors and restorers, all these changes were not implemented at the same time but instead phased in throughout 1968 as inventories of older parts ran out. 1968 cars are often called series 1 1/2 even though this is not officially documented by Jaguar.
By 1969, with the installation of various emission control devices the E-type had become the Series 2 which, when equipped with the dual carburetor US spec engine, was starting to become low on power with a net rating of only 175 hp This explains why triple carburetors conversion and elimination of some of the emission control system are sought after by series 2 owners.
In parallel to the E-type struggling to meet tougher emission standards and loosing performance in the process, Jaguar engineers had been working on a V12 engine intended as an optional power plant for the new XJ6 saloon. Once again, history repeated itself with Jaguar launching a new engine designed for a saloon in a sports car, just like they had done with the XK engine in 1948 and as they will do again with the AJ6 engine in the mid eighties and even the V8 in 1996.
The V12 E-type turned out to be a comfortable, high performance and very smooth car which restored all of the performance lost with the years. Top speed was once again very close to 150 mph and 0 to 60 acceleration was back down to just under 7 seconds. Very little was changed to the interior but what was changed was not for the best the stylish wooden rim steering wheel was replaced by a leather version and the central leather covered console and tunnel cover replaced with molded plastic welcome to the 70s...
In addition to the V12 engine, the E-type suspension was redesigned with a wider track, wider tires and flared arches to accommodate the changes. The 2 seater coupe was dropped in favor of the 2+2 and the convertible was now built on the same longer wheelbase. Unfortunately to some, the E-type lost some of its sports car character and evolved in a grand tourer.
After 13 years in production, and now facing not only competition from more modern cars but the oil crunch of 1973, the last E-type rolled off the assembly line in 1974. The last 50 E-types were all roadsters, painted black and featured a commemorative dash plaque. Over 72 000 E-types had been produced and Jaguar had permanently left its mark on automotive history for the E-type is one of most recognized car ever manufactured.
While the E-type is one of most recognizable classic car, it is not as out of reach as it may seems. Yes, E-types are more expensive than other British cars like MGs, Triumphs, etc but some models / years can be found for far less than other classics, yet be extremely enjoyable to drive and admired.
Exact dollar value will vary from year to year but many decent solid E-types can be purchased for the price of a small modern sports car or medium sedan think about this driving an icon for the price of a Miata, S2000, MR2, etc Obviously, $ 20 000 will not get you a Concours winner roadster but it will put you behind the wheel of a good Coupe or 2+2.
2+2s, with their higher roofline, are usually the cheapest E-types, especially the 69s through 71s which, in the US, suffer from restricted performance because of the pollution control efforts implemented at the time.
Roadsters are more expensive and you will have to spend at least another $10 000 to enjoy top down motoring in a decent car, again not a restored Concours winner , but these are reasonable prices considering what youre getting.
Series 1 E-Types, with the covered headlights and original unmolested styling are the most valuable especially the roadsters. Very early cars with flat floors, outside bonnet latches, etc. usually fetch a premium and while the classic car market has not recovered for the early 90s tumble, values have been on the rise and the very best specimens are consistently selling near or above the 6 figure marks at high end auctions.
If you're thinking of buying an E-type as an investment, you are mistaken although you are welcome to try this excuse to convince your wife... and subtle use of key words like Enron, AOL, Nasdaq may actually work like a charm. Although not an real investment, the value an E-type is unlikely to go down and they may not be as bad as it seems; at least you can take take you E-type for a ride and enjoy it... can't do this with your Worldcom stocks... Compared to modern exotic sports cars, awell cared for classic E-type will maintain its value, unlike its new counterpart which will depreciate the minute it is driven off the showroom floor.
On the other hand, restoring an E-type is very costly and like most other classic cars, you are far better off buying the very best car within your budget rather than getting one in need of a complete restoration. Parts are easy to get and can be reasonable but there can be a lot of parts needed and lot of labor to put them on especially in the body department.
Rust is the major concern on Jaguars, and particularly E-types because of their monocoque construction where the body shell doubles as the structure no frame. Again, body panels can be found ( new or used ) but are expensive to install. So it's no surprise that the first thing to check on any E-type is rust especially in any structural area like the sills, rockers, firewall, rear suspension mounting points. Any car thats been sitting outside for a while, especially unused, should be considered suspect and carefully checked.
Another critical structural part are the engine rail frames which not only carry the engine but also the front suspension. The material used on the rail frames cannot be welded and must be replaced is cracked, rusted or seriously dented . Unless you dont mind if your front suspension collapses at high speed Again, new frames can be purchased but they are not cheap and the engine / suspension have to come out to change them
The engines and transmissions are nearly bullet proof and can last a very long time so mileage is not really a critical issue. Both the XK and V12 engines are capable of achieving high mileage, although the V12 is a little more sensitive to damages resulting from overheating. If considering a car with a past history of running hot beware. There are 12 pistons, 2 cylinder heads, 24 valves, springs, etc... to replace or rebuild.
The rest of the systems (cooling, electrical, fuel, brakes, etc ) are fairly reliable if properly maintained. Until the late 80s, E-types were just used sports cars with fairly low values and as such were not always maintained as they should have been, often their low values meant people buying them couldnt necessarily afford to maintain them. This is also why some were converted to American V8 engines, lumps, a cheap fix which drastically reduces the value of an E-type Returning them to their original configuration can be expensive and time consuming, even though engines and transmissions can be found, because of the number of parts that had been modified or discarded in the process.
Parts are readily available from a number of specialists, either used or new. Some companies even specialize in upgrades ranging from brakes, suspension, 5 speed conversions and performance engine modifications. In most cases, quality and reversible performance upgrades do not have a negative impact on the value of the car.
The number one advice given to anyone considering an E-type is to get it inspected by an E-type specialist, or at least someone who knows these cars very well. Past maintenance record are important too and take your time, do not fall for the very first E-type you see Patience and discrimination are key in your search, walk away from a car if you dont feel comfortable about its condition or the seller...
Matching numbers (if verified) and original color are a plus toward the value of an E-type but in most cases will not make a real difference compared to overall condition. As always beware of fresh paint, which could hide trouble spots just long enough for the Bondo to crack and rust to become visible again... Automatic transmissions and steel wheels (on series 3 cars) do affect values negatively possibly by as much as $ 1000 each.
As with any other classic car, maintenance cost will be function of the condition of the car and the type of driving done. It is not unusual for new owners to spend some time going through their car system by system coping with problems and failures, especially if the car they bought wasnt driven much. Sitting undriven for weeks at a time is the worst thing that can happen to an E-type.
If items like hoses and belts have not been replaced in a long time ( 4, 5, 6 years or more ) you are probably better doing it in the comfort of your garage than on the side of the road Tires should also be replaced every 5 years as rubber will deteriorate with age. Ignition, charging and fuel pump/tank are also common cause of headaches on cars that where not driven much and although fairly easy to troubleshoot it can easily discourage a new owner.
The good news is that with little time, effort, and money once these initial gremlins have been eradicated, there are really no reason an E-type cannot be as reliable as a modern car. One thing is sure, they are much more simple with no electronics, computers and other gizmos... A little preparation, a few spares, tool and a service manual, will go a long way if stranded somewhere... try that with a modern computer driven car !
Which brings us to the second most asked question : Can an E-type be used as a daily driver ?
Sure once sorted out these are very reliable cars, fun and somewhat practical. The fun factor is obvious E-types look great, and attract a lot of positive attention from envious looks to thumb ups wherever you go. They are also excellent performers fully capable of dealing with modern traffic... and more. The near supercar performance of the 60s may have lost some of its shine 40 years later but an E-Type will still be able to keep up with many modern cars, and do it in style.
Practicality is subject to personal interpretation If you dont mind non power gadgets along with a little less comfort then you wont be disappointed. After all, these are 30 to 40 year old cars, from an era where drivers where far less demanding from sound and heat insulation, air conditioning and heater (climate control didn't exist back then), etc. However, these minor details are quickly forgotten and in most cases, a well maintained E-type makes a great driver.
The adjustable seats found in the Series 2 and Series 3 cars are very comfortable despite their age... I often drive my Series 3 on very long trips (up to 15 hours or more) and never felt any cramps or backaches...
Which one is best as a daily driver ? The E-type was revised and improved over the years so if you will spend a lot of time driving in real world situations, the series 2 or series 3 might be a better choice because of better brakes and cooling, more comfortable seats, etc. although some will argue that even the early series 1 are practical as well. The 2+2s shines as a daily driver thanks to their longer wheelbase making it much easier to get in and out of them ! Of course, the rear seat in a 2+2 is a plus, although too small for adults, they are perfect for kids up to 10 to 12 years old and its much cooler to be driven to school in an E-type than in a minivan
If daily driving isn't a consideration, then personal preference and (unfortunately) budget considerations will define what you will long for. Some prefer the narrow track look of the 6 cylinder cars, others like the more muscular look of the flares and wider track found on the V12s. The original XK engine will appeal to some, while others will want the exotic V12 engine. Considering how few people will ever have the chance of driving one, any E-type is a good choice !
Owning, maintaining and driving a 30 to 40 year old classic E-type might not be for everyone but it is much easier than you may think.