E Type At 60: 10 Little Known Facts
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Out E-Type the E-Type experts in 2021 with these obscure E Type shaped nuggets of wisdom
On March 15th, 1961 Jaguar unveiled its new sports car, the E Type. Since then the car has rarely been out of the automotive headlines, lauded for its beauty, its performance and its desirability.
Many great cars have come and gone since Norman Dewis made his legendary dash across Europe to get the car to the Geneva Motor Show, but the E Type still prevails. At Great Driving Days it remains easily our most popular classic hire car.
That popularity has bred an army of armchair E Type experts. Since the car's 60th anniversary is likely to mean endless E Type-focussed conversations wherever two or more classic car enthusiasts gather, we've brought together 10 little known facts about the car that will help even the virginest of E Type virgins hold their own.
1. The E Type Looks Like an E Type Because of an Alfa
In the early 1950s car makers were experimenting with aerodynamics to create more efficient designs. Jaguar saw aerodynamics as a way to get more performance out of its aging XK engine and so win again at Le Mans. The firm's chief designer, Malcolm Sayer, was hugely influenced by the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante show car of 1952 and had photographs of it in his office.
The Alfa's influence is most obvious in the Jaguar D Type, which follows similar, albeit more voluptuous, lines. The D Type was the precursor of the E Type.
2. The XJ6 Began Life as a Four Door E Type
Early in the E Type's life Jaguar realised that they needed a 2+2 in order to compete in the US market. Before settling on a stretched version of the E Type coupe chassis using the existing coupe style, the firm toyed with more radical ideas. One of them was this two door coupe.
This design study was obviously seriously considered because a mock up was presented to Sir William Lyons outside his home, a traditional staging post for assessing new models. The E Type lineage is clear, as are the early elements of what became the XJ saloon. Many of these elements survived to the finished XJ saloon.
3. Designed For Le Mans But Never Raced There
The E Type was born out of tragedy. In 1955 a Jaguar driven by Mike Hawthorn was the catalyst for a catastrophic accident at Le Mans that killed spectators and drivers. To reduce speeds and improve safety the organisers proposed limiting engine capacity to 2.5 litres. This led Jaguar to develop the aerodynamic D Type, which won the race in 1956.
Without the accident there would have been no drive for aerodynamics and no D Type. No D Type means no E Type.
The events that led directly to the E Type occurred closer to home. In February 1957 a huge fire destroyed much of the Jaguar factory and most of the D Types in production, as well as its road-going cousin the XK-SS.
Success at Le Mans had been crucial to Jaguar's success, giving rise to the 'race on Sunday, sell on Monday' adage. Although the fire destroyed Jaguar's racing department and immediate plans to return to Le Mans, the firm still planned to return.
A clean sheet approach was not just needed but unavoidable. The result was the lightweight 2.5 litre E1A and later 3 litre E2A prototypes. These cars were deliberately designed to succeed at Le Mans, although only the E2A actually ever raced there.
Yet by the time Jaguar launched the E Type it no longer needed Le Mans. The fire had forced Jaguar's absence from Le Mans, yet it continued to sell every car it made. Clearly, an expensive racing programme wasn't really needed. Instead clever marketing rather than on-track success was the key to sales. So the firm never raced the car it had developed for Le Mans at Le Mans.
4. The M1 Was Its Test Track
With competition success denied its new car, early in the E Type's development Jaguar set a goal of achieving performance headlines, principally a 150 mph top speed. This created a practical problem: where to test it? The car would need a very long, straight section of road and few British test tracks could oblige.
The answer lay close to home on the newly built M1 that ran a few miles from Jaguar's Coventry factory. It was here that the company explored the outer reaches of the E Type's performance and conducted numerous shake down tests.
The E Type only reached 120 mph on the M1, but these tests were an important staging post to its later success cracking - just - the 150 mph barrier.
The M1 later gained notoriety for being the test track for the AC Cobra. But the E Type got there first.
5. The Coupe Was an After-Thought
Jaguar always planned coupe and roadster versions of the E Type, but the original designs were solely developed around the open top version. Considering how it is the coupe that regularly tops polls of the world's most beautiful cars - rather than the convertible - it is remarkable that it was a later 'grafted on' idea. Almost an after thought.
The coupe was also not designed by Malcolm Sayer, the E Type's erstwhile designer. Although he finessed the fastback's final designs, the original lines were by Bob Blake, another member of the design team. It was developed very late in the E Type story - only around 12 months before the car was launched.
6. The E Type Was Never a Sales Success
According to sales projections sketched out before the E Type's launch, Jaguar expected to sell 100 per week within a matter of weeks of launch, with further growth expected. Production only ever averaged 92 cars a week. During the car's first 7 years, when the iconic Series 1 cars were made, only 85 cars a week left the factory (showing that later Series 2 and Series 3 models were actually more popular).
Much of this shortfall can probably be explained by the painful process of building each E Type. The car's complicated design meant there was a high level of hand finishing, which inevitably blunted factory capacity. But the fact that Jaguar never addressed this or expanded production resources suggests that demand was never quite there for this most individual of sports cars.
7. The E Type Was Almost Fuel Injected
Late into the E Type's development there were serious plans to launch the car with a fuel injected version of the XK engine. It was hoped that this would extract more power from the elderly unit. But exhaustive tests indicated this was unlikely and this version struggled to achieve reliability.
The fuel injection issue emerged again with the launch of the V12 E Types. The new engine was meant to be fuel injected from the start, but again problems with reliability scuppered these plans. Jaguar wanted to launch the new engine in the E Type before the XJ12 saloon, which meant the V12 E Type was again sold with carburettors.
Despite those early plans, no production E Type was ever fuel injected.
8. The V12 E Type Killed a New E Type
In the late 1960s Jaguar was developing a replacement for the E Type, codenamed XJ21, as well as a V12 version of the original car, codenamed XJ25. XJ21 was a 6 cylinder sports car that went through a number of design iterations based on existing E Type running gear, whereas XJ25 evolved the original style to create more of a GT car.
Each of these projects was due to launch in 1970. Jaguar's insistence on launching the V12-engined E Type before the XJ12 saloon meant that the XJ25 project took precedence. Gradually XJ21 fell down the agenda, eventually falling off it entirely as British Leyland ownership sapped and trimmed Jaguar's ambitions.
9. The Series 2 Used Lotus Rear Lights
Jaguar's founder Sir William Lyons, was a great aesthete. His great eye is responsible for several of the world's most beautiful cars - the E Type, Mk2, XK120 and original XJ saloon. But he was also a famous miser.
These two conflicting characteristics came head to head in the design of the Series 2 Jaguar E Type. In 1968 the car had to be updated to meet stringent new American safety regulations, in particular raising the headlight position and redesigning the iconic rear lights to make them more visible.
Sorting the headlights was a fairly easy job involving slightly redesigning and retooling the bonnet. When it came to the rear end, the job was a bit more complicated. To tool up for new lights Jaguar would need to invest £30,000 with supplier Lucas. Lyons baulked at this.
Luckily - or perhaps unluckily, depending on your aesthetic outlook - Lucas had just tooled up to make new rear lights for Lotus. And so it was that the Jaguar E Type came to share its rear lights with the Lotus Elan.
10. The Man Who Gave us The Jensen Healey Persuaded Jaguar to Build a V12
Kjell Qvale is one of those car people who has an uncanny habit of popping up at key moments in motoring history. This car salesman from America made the very British Austin Healey popular stateside. He gave the world the Jensen-Healey (he bought Jensen in 1970) and he parted the Phoenix Four from the last remains of their BMW dowry - he sold them the business and car that became the MG SVR. And he was the man who persuaded Jaguar to develop the world's only mass produced V12 engine.
In the 1960s Qvale was one of Jaguar's biggest US distributors. When William Lyons quizzed him about the new V8 engine that the firm was planning to develop, Qvale stopped him mid-sentence. V8s, he explained, were ten a penny. What would set Jaguar apart would be a mass produced V12. The rest is history.
Great Driving Days lets you get behind the wheel of Jaguar's icon for less than £100. There are many different E Type-based driving packages available. For more details click here.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days