Your Guide to the Jaguar E Type
In 2019, as in every year since we starting hiring out classic cars, our Jaguar E Types were easily the most popular cars on our fleet. To celebrate the fact we've put together a quick introduction to the car and answered some of the most common questions we get asked.
E Type Model History
Jaguar introduced the E Type in 1961 at the Geneva motor show, the firm's test driver famously driving one overnight from Coventry to Geneva in time for journalists to drive it. The E Type's life began as a test bed for new ideas to help Jaguar win again at Le Mans, in particular small capacity, high performance engines and excellent aerodynamics. At that stage there were no plans for a production car - but that changed along the way as the car got bigger and the small engine was ditched in favour of the venerable XK straight six.
You can tell that the E Type wasn't the result of endless customer focus groups and market research because it didn't fit any existing market segment when it was launched. Too soft to be a 911-bating sports car, too small to be a true GT car, it formed its own niche.
The first E Types had 3.8 litre XK engines with four speed 'Moss' manual gearboxes. A coupe and a convertible were available, both built on the same chassis. These early cars 'Series 1' cars are the most sought after and can be identified by their small rear lights above the bumper and fared in headlamps.
In late 1964 the 3.8 engine was enlarged to 4.2 litres and the adoption of a fully synchromesh gearbox that addressed the criticisms of the original car's slow, cumbersome change.
In 1966 Jaguar realised that, although the E Type was popular, its size wasn't ideal for the European and USA markets, which wanted either a small, focussed sports car or a large, comfy GT car. The E Type was not quite one or the other. The firm's fudge was the '2+2', a supposed 4 seater E Type with a 4 inch longer wheelbase, higher roofline and the option of an automatic gearbox. The 2+2 changes drastically altered the almost perfect lines of the original car.
A year later USA safety legislation forced the creation of the 'Series 1.5,' which can be identified by the higher headlights that are no longer fared in. In 1968 the rear lights suffered the same fate, moving below the bumper to create the Series 2.
In 1970 Jaguar announced the biggest changes to the E Type, all of which were designed to move it upmarket and define it more clearly as a GT car. The Series 3 adopted the longer 2+2 chassis for the the coupe and convertible models, the body grew wider with flared arches and power steering was made standard. Under the immense bonnet the car gained Jaguar's superlative V12 5.3 litre engine.
E Type production ended in 1975 with the launch of the XJS. It may be hard to imagine now but by the end the firm couldn't shift E Types out of showrooms and many languished unsold long after they left the factory.
Which is best?
At Great Driving Days we've been lucky enough to have every type of E Type on our fleet except automatics (and who wants one of those?). While early cars with the Moss box are sought after, for first time drivers the fully synchro gearbox is a must - the change is better and there is no need for double declutching.
Early cars edge it on looks, but as a daily hire car we prefer the Series 2 because it is more comfortable, quieter and easier to drive.
The Series 3 used to be the 'poor man's E Type' because of its compromised looks and generally softer countenance, but that is no more. The V12 engine and extra cabin space are welcome changes that add character and practicality to the car. But we're still not entirely sure about the looks.
For us the rare Series 2 provided the right compromise between early car looks and later car luxury and refinement. Which is why we have a 1969 Series 2 on our fleet - one of under 1,000 RHD models.
What are they like to drive?
E Types are, first and foremost, beautiful objects. Their primary appeal is the way they look and the sheer sense of occasion that comes when you first sit in one. In fact, that sensation is so strong that it doesn't fade with repeat use. E Types look sensational.
So we've got that out of the way. What are they like to drive? Good, but if you're expecting 911-like levels of on-road thrills, then you're probably not approaching the E Type in the right way. It drives well, it is remarkably smooth and Jaguar-like over rough surfaces, but it is not the last word in door-handling scraping, hedge-threatening cornerig prowess.
And it doesn't claim to be. The E Type is too long and narrow and with too heavy an engine to match a Porsche on the twisty bits. But it was never meant to. Jaguar's motto back then was 'grace, space and pace' and the E Type delivers all of those things in a way a Porsche simply doesn't. And, if you're looking for that kind of experience, you'll be glad of it. Because shorn of the need to approach every corner as if you're on a time trial at the Nurburgring, you can settle back and enjoy the E Type's multifold charms - the sense of occasion, the stunning view down the bonnet, the rumblng, lazy straight six and the fact that everyone in every car you pass is pointing and staring.
None of which is to suggest that the E Type isn't a great drive. It is. But at its heart it's a GT car, a motor for trundling down to Cannes in with a cheroot on the go and the bare minimum of luggage. And for that job, the idle passing through countryside at a quick trot, it is simply perfect.
Should I buy one?
We've run all types of E Types for many years and we maintain them ourselves in our workshop at www.fixclassiccars.co.uk. Of course, if you want to buy an E Type and you have the funds, buy an E Type. Because if you want one no other car will do.
But there are a few things to consider. Here's out quick checklist:
E Types were mass produced but not very well: most E Types were hand finished, which means that replacement panels don't fit without a huge amount of making do. So if your E Type needs bodywork (and eventually it will), it will be expensive
How much will you really use it? Many enthusiasts aspire to owning an E Type, but few cars cover many miles each year. This may keep the mileage down to help resale, but it does nothing for the car's reliability. Classic cars need to be used - when they're not used problems develop. Before sinking a large sum into an E Type, consider whether buying is right for you.
How well has the car been restored? E Type values have risen steadily over the last 20 years but there are still many cars out there. Not all have had the £100,000 not and bolt restorations that rusty E Types need. Restoring an E Type is a vry specialist job because of the body design and hand finishing when new. Check the history file and, if you don't have the knowledge, get a specialist to check the car for you.
Which model is right for you? Many potential owners approach the E Type longing for an early car. If you have the funds and can find the right car, fill your boots. But it is also worth considering the later cars - E Types changed for a reason, to make them more useable, more comfortable and more accessible.
Our workshop has considerable experience servicing, maintaining and restoring E Types. You can find out more, including E Type model histories and buying guides here.