A history of the iconic Jaguar E-Type
The first E-Type was introduced in 1961, and more than doubled the speed of swift saloons of the period
The Jaguar E-Type is as famous as it is important in Jaguar’s history; take a step back in time and find out where it all began with our history of an icon
The Jaguar E-Type has been lauded as one of the most important and pretty sports cars of all time.
Yet it’s hard to fathom the effect this British machine had on the world in 1961, when 70mph seemed rapid for the average family saloon, never mind the claimed 150mph the E-Type could reach.
At its launch at the Geneva Auto Salon in March 1961, the E-Type not only stole the show but every front page. Enzo Ferrari was moved to say the Jaguar was the most beautiful car in the world, and few would argue the original Coupé and Roadster models are perfect from every angle.
However, the Geneva show nearly only had one E-Type on display. Sir William Lyons, the founder and boss of Jaguar, ordered another for the stand only days before the show opened. This meant a last minute dash from Coventry to Geneva in an E-Type Roadster by Norman Dewis, the company’s now renowned test driver.
Of course, the story of the E-Type started long before this legendary eleventh-hour dash. It’s clear the E-Type’s lines are descended from the D-Type Le Mans racer, as is the 3.8-litre straight-six XK engine under the bonnet.
However, the lesser known E1A prototype is where the E-Type’s story really starts, back in 1957. Styled by Malcolm Sayer, the E1A was smaller than the final production E-Type and had a 2.4-litre engine, but it showcased the new independent rear suspension design that went on to become a trademark of Jaguar models for four decades.
Subsequent prototypes refined the E-Type’s shape and dimensions, with the car growing larger as Lyons recognised the importance of the American market.
By the time of the E-Type’s unveiling in 1961, it had a 265bhp 3.8-litre engine and four-speed manual gearbox. The claimed 150mph top speed was a little optimistic for standard production versions, but with a list price of £2097 for the Roadster and £2196 for the Coupe, no-one seemed to care, because it was half the price of its rivals.
Autocar achieved an average top speed of 150.4mph and 0-60mph in 6.9sec with a Coupé model, registered 9600hp, and running on Dunlop R5 racing tyres. That car was almost certainly specially prepared for those tests, but it did the trick, and racing drivers and celebrities were soon queuing up to buy an E-Type.
Early racing success inspired Jaguar to sell a select few Lightweight models, with a body and monocoque constructed from aluminium instead of steel. These proved their worth on track in the hands of drivers such as Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, and this rarest of E-Types went on to inspire Jaguar to build a further six continuation Lightweights in 2014.
Jaguar carried on developing the E-Type road car by fitting the larger 4.2-litre XK engine in 1964. Although it offered the same 265bhp, the 4.2 came with more torque to make driving easier. At the same time, the manual gearbox gained synchromesh on all ratios. The following year, a 2+2 model joined the range for the sporting family driver.
In 1967, Jaguar launched an updated model that’s now referred to as the Series 1 ½, which was only in production for a single year from 1967 to 1968. It brought the new unfaired headlight design that went on to feature on the S2. Improved brakes also came as part of the update.
By now, racing was not a prime concern for Jaguar, and the E-Type shifted emphasis to become more of a GT car. This transformation was completed with the V12-powered S3 model in 1971. It had a wider track and less gainly front-end styling, but under the bonnet sat 5.3-litres of sweetly smooth engine.
The V12 was designed by Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy, who was technical editor of Autocar at one stage in his career. Jaguar’s real intent was for the V12 to be used in its new XJ saloon, but the opportunity to squeeze it into the E-Type was too good to miss. As a result, the E-Type soldiered on until 1975, when it was replaced by the XJ-S.
Today, the E-Type is rightly regarded as an instantly recognisable blue chip classic. Its legacy carries on in models such as the F-Type, so even now the E-Type’s impact on the world continues.