A real sense of occasion but not fast now. Can be made though!
Surprisingly practical if thirsty. Likes to be used for health reasons
Easy parts supply – fairly DIY friendly too, but repairs can be costly
A lovely experience of course with a great club and social back up
Usually get what you pay for – some megga dear – buy with care
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So good looking that many reckon Jaguar should make it again! But what is the ultimate cat really like and can it live up to its iconic status? Renowned E-type expert Jim Patten has the answers
With the great Sir William Lyons at the helm, Jaguar never felt the need to look back. The post-war public was left spellbound by the XK120 in 1948 but when the E-type was first shown at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show, the pundits knew something really special had arrived. Unusually for a classic, the shape has stood the test of time with universal acclaim right across the age barrier – few other cars look this fresh as they approach their 50th anniversary. It’s a fact bourn out by the level of interest from new car followers still.Back in the 1960s the E-type was the must have fashion accessory for any self-respecting rock star, race driver or celebrity and arguably a better choice than any contemporary Aston Martin or Ferrari. The down side for the privileged few was the cost – just a third of the Italian stallion and something that accessible and ‘cheap’ simply would never do.
Which model to buy?
At launch only the open and closed cars came with a 3.8-litre engine, itself a carry over from the XK150S. Offering an alleged 265bhp (more like 250bhp in the real world) the production cars never quite hit the magical 150mph of the road test cars – these had blue printed engines, racing tyres and the front overriders were even removed for that last gasp of mph. Even so, showroom models did manage 145-147mph, and with the 0-60mph dash completed in just under seven seconds, the E-type was impressively quick back in 1961. Those first few cars had some shortcomings mind – the seat adjustment was limited, there was little room for the feet and the bonnet had to be opened with a separate T-key. But of course, such examples are coveted by the aficionados today. Then the car improved constantly throughout its lifetime with internal alterations to give more room and internal bonnet locks. As the 3.8 evolved into the 4.2 (with no model name change) so did power and torque. It also gained better seats, an all-synchromesh gearbox to replace the pre-war-based Moss unit and an in-line vacuum brake servo instead of the curious Kelsey Hayes bellows device. In convertible form, the E-type ticks all the buyer’s boxes – with an appropriate price tag. A 2+2 joined the ranks in 1966 and proved an extremely practical super car – it also brought an automatic to the party. In 1968 Jaguar finally admitted to a new model, the Series 2. Most of the changes were brought about by US federal emission and safety requirements, so smoothed internal switches and door handles reduced hazardous protrusions, while outside, the bumpers ran all around the front and rear with larger sidelight/indicator units to aid visual recognition. The upside was an improved cooling system with a larger oval-scoop in the bonnet. But it had already lost those delicious headlight covers in 1967 and even steel wheels in place of wire became an option. The Series 3 and its silky V12 finally ousted the six-cylinder in 1970 – but that’s another story for another time. Which E-type should you buy? Purists like the early 3.8s best but the more pragmatic will opt for the 4.2 – and like it as much. Naturally, sun seekers will want a roadster but in fact more coupes were made. Least popular is the family friendly 2+2 (especially in performance-sapping automatic guise) but it’s the cheapest way into E-type ownership and not half as bad as the so called experts claim.
Behind the wheel?
Few other cars look as fresh as they approach their 50th
Initially it can be a bit of a mission to get through those sculptured doors and over the high sills.Worry not, as the technique is soon mastered and is not an issue with the 2+2. Once ensconced, it is a classy seat with a full range of instruments in their classic form spread across the dash and a gorgeous long bonnet ahead. It can be intimidating at first, especially as the front section dives off to become invisible, but it’s easy enough to get familiar with it after a few miles. For such a long car there is surprisingly little adjustment in the seat, which makes it difficult for those over six-feet. The 2+2 offers more leg room as well as height, so it suits the taller driver. On the road the E-type is formidably quick, but, as always, brakes aren’t up to today’s standards. Good upgrades are available but it is more than possible to use the originals if all due respect is paid. The 3.8 is a totally different experience. Selecting non-synchromesh first is a long throw, with a pause from the prodigious acceleration as the lever is eased all the way through to second. Changing down can be entertaining as second-gear synchromesh is weak requiring an increase in revs as the lever goes through neutral to help align the spinning cogs. The brake pedal feels hard as the bellows servo calls for extra help. But the later all-synchromesh gearbox and vacuum servo improved the situation hugely. Virtually all cars have a limited slip differential, with initially a 3.31:1 ratio as standard, but this soon changed to a 3.07:1 with a 3.54:1 as an option. Automatics had a very high 2.88:1 ratio. Tyres play a vital part in the E-type’s behaviour – there can be no compromise only the highest VR speed rating and the correct size tyre for the wheel rim can be used. For a while, E-types had a reputation for odd handling but this was always down to worn out suspensions. Everything has to be in its prime with the geometry set up perfectly for best performance.
Leave an E-type stored it will sulk. Exercise and it thrives
Not only can an E-type be worked everyday, it almost demands it. Forget overheating issues or dodgy Lucas parts, once a car has been fettled to the point where the gremlins have been evicted it will start and run everyday. Of course there are down sides, though – one being the attention it attracts. Leave it parked anywhere and there will be crowds and even marriage proposals! On a more practical note, all models are difficult to keep water tight, as heavy rain can force an entry through the doors or under the hood on open models. There is always a line of water as the door is opened after a downpour. If left, it will fall into the floor pans to encourage the dreaded rot. Unlike the MKII counterpart, the E-type heater is very efficient, although a heated rear window was a rare item when new (replacements are available today). To be brutally honest an open car is not a serious option in the UK. It’s insecure and, with a British climate, hardly conducive to a fun drive. There is also a serious space issue as there’s virtually no room behind the seats and a tiny boot, so only a minimalist would be contented. But the coupe and 2+2 especially come into their own. Looked at as a high performance hatchback it has no peers. Perhaps the only issue being that of security as everything in the back is on view. When it comes to running costs it is possible to get 25mpg but only when the road conditions allow it. Throw in a bit of congestion and that figure plummets. On the upside, if you don’t mind a bit of modernity, electronically mapped ignition, fuel injection and a five-speed gearbox conversion can nudge economy up to nearer 30mpg plus make the cat much more usable – as can XJ6-sourced overdrive, but only if you are prepared to graft on the transmission tunnel from the automatic 2+2 at the same time!
Ease of Ownership?
Leave an E-type stored and it will sulk and throw a tantrum with minor part failure. Exercise it regularly and it will thrive. Yes, it is an expensive car to repair, as the components are complex. The independent rear suspension can easily absorb £2000 in repairs, the engine another £3-4000. The good news is that there is – and always has been – a flourishing spares back up. Bonnets are still available from the factory and Dana, the original suppliers of the differential, can complete an overhaul using all new parts, repaired on the original tooling. But everything is long lived and, if well, maintained should last for years. Regular checks of suspension geometry and greasing of every point is vital for longevity. While the upper wishbones have renewable ball-joints, the mating surface in the wishbone can wear. Companies like SNG Barratt provide an exchange arm with balljoint for around £140. However the lower balljoint is Jaguar across the range and from XJ40 was sealed for life and can be used on the E-type.Wire wheels can take punishment if the performance is used to the full so the spokes have to be checked, as do the splines. If you’re not worried about matching numbers, then the 8:1 compression 420 engine can be used (after swapping the sump and oil filter housing). There are plenty of upgrades available, including brake and suspension improvements and even a full-blown air-conditioning system from Clayton Heaters. Alloy wheels as used on the lightweight models (only 12 ever built) make an interesting low-maintenance option. If we were pushed then a Series 2 2+2 would probably be the ideal model – it has better braking, improved cooling and extra load space. Forget taking two adults in the back, one sitting sideways is about as good as it gets. Remember too that the plus two can still make 137mph! Whatever the choice rust-proof it annually – and use it!
E-type announced at Geneva Motor Show boasting all-new monocoque construction, MK10 IRS rear end, engine and gearbox from the XK150 (which survived in production for a short while) and one of the greatest shapes ever, both as a roadster and a coupe.
Modification to the floor front footwells to increase leg room. Early cars then dubbed ‘flat floor’ and become the most coveted cat of them all. Changes during development in that year included modified propshaft and solid driveshafts – German cars got steering lock/ignition, too.
Various changes included choice of axle ratios (3.07 for most European countries, 3.54 adopted across the Atlantic but UK has 3.3:1). Rear brakes made thicker and new Mintex materials specified and improved door sealing rubbers are fitted during the year.
4.2 cars announced that October featuring enlarged 4.2-litre engine, improved cooling, alternator, new brake servo, trendy all sychro gearbox (replacing old Moss design) and completely new seating. And sadly the deletion of aluminium cabin detailing…
Bigger-bodied 2+2 launched in March with extended 108-inch wheelbase and higher roof line (plus better driving position) as well as an improved heatingand ventilation system. Automatic transmission is now an option. 1967 Stop gap Series 11/2 E-types announced featuring deletion of headlamp fairings and detuned cleaner emission engines for the US market. Steel wheels now an option over wire variety. During the year the rear seat upper squab was modified.
Series 2 range announced with US safety laws in mind; raised bumpers, safety switchgear for cockpit, redesigned seats. Mechanically the car gained much improved braking and cooling. Styling of 2+2 is improved with revised steering rake.
Displaced by the Series 3 V12 although a handful of cars were made with 4.2 XK power. Late ’68 engines had XJ6 fluted cam covers fitted and improved ignition timing scale pointer. Revised camshafts installed for Nov 1969 – the best year for E-type sales!
You only need a little courage and commitment, not to mention a healthy bank balance, to make a Jaguar E-type work. The car won’t mind – in fact it will thrive. Accept the odd parking dent and scrape and you will have a smile on your face everyday.
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