- Best model: Roadster
- Worst model: 2+2
- Budget buy: Auto
- OK for unleaded?: Yes
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm): 4686 x 1676 x 1295
- Spares situation: Excellent
- DIY ease?: Generally, but some bits need specialist attention
- Club support: Superb
- Appreciating asset?: Gradually
- Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
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The S3 is often overlooked and yet it’s the cheapest E-type of them all. Arguably it’s also the best, too!
Pros & Cons
Cars don’t come more evocative than Jaguar’s E-type, but steady rises in values over the past couple of years have taken the cars out of reach for many. However, while everyone clamours for the earlier six-cylinder cars because of their greater design purity, the Series 3, or V12, is overlooked by many – despite being more usable thanks to its longer, wider bodyshell and superior engineering. These later cars may not be as beautiful as the Series 1, or even the S2, but if you’ve hankered after an E for years and you’re on a budget, the V12 is the car to go for. Don’t be put off by the higher running costs; fuel consumption isn’t that big an issue unless you plan to cover a signifi cant mileage each year – although maintenance costs can be high – and it really is a scalded cat to drive and live with.
The Series 1 E-type wowed the world when it was unveiled at the 1961 Geneva motor show; its design purity and performance were unprecedented at the money. When the Series 2 arrived in 1968 the design was already showing signs of being watered down, but it was the Series 3 of March 1971 that was the biggest step backwards design-wise – at least in the eyes of many when it changed from being a serious sportster into a civilised grand tourer. In fact, even though there was full praise for that wonderful V12 the rest of the car was a decade old – and felt it. “More new wine in old bottle” is how Autocar summed it’s road test up of the V12 and throughout the four years or so of Series 3 production there was little more than tinkering with the formula. From January 1972 a steering lock was fi tted and in January 1973 a twin branch exhaust replaced the previous four-pipe system. In February 1974 the fi xedhead coupé was discontinued, leaving the roadster to soldier on alone. And soldier it did because the fuel crisis of that year which saw shortages and massive petrol price hikes (sound familiar?) saw sales dwindle to double fi gures. In December 1974 the fi nal cars were built. Just 50 of these were built, known as Commemorative editions and these eased their way to customers during the early quarter of 1975.
Compared with the six-cylinder editions that went before, the V12-powered E-type is a completely different animal. More of a tourer than a sports car, the E-type – thanks to being based on the lwb 2+2 platform dating back to 1966 was bigger and more spacious than its predecessors while also being much more relaxed to drive, care of power steering and an engine that effectively made the Jaguar almost a one-gear car. That’s not to say the Series 3 E is a slouch though; capable of sprinting from 0-60mph in just 6.4 seconds and topping out at 142mph, there’s no shortage of urge; it’s just that it provided the pace in a different way to the earlier cats. With four Stromberg carburettors feeding the V12 under that long bonnet, there’s 272bhp and 304lbft of torque on offer, so unless you’re in a serious hurry there’s no need to get too busy with the gearstick; the automatic is even more relaxed to pilot of course. While the smooth power delivery is addictive, what’s even more so is the hard-edged growl from the quartet of exhaust pipes under full-bore acceleration – for this reason alone it’s worth enduring the potentially crippling fuel bills alone! Handling had softened with age and compared to, say, a 911 of that era felt soggy although deceptively easy to drive fast. The brakes – cited Autocar – were now beyond criticism. Overdrive was never available, even as an option and while the V12 is usefully high geared (23mph/1000rpm) economy is never going to be a strong point; expect 16-18mpg even when pussy-footing around. While that longer wheelbase body did the S3 no favours, it certainly helped in the cockpit, which is usefully roomier. As Autocar remarked “There are some people no doubt who feel that sports cars should have a bone hard ride, glorious exhaust note and a draughty hood…”. To them the V12 Roadster would be a terrible disappointment”.
The possibilities are endless here, depending on the depth of your pockets but even a bog standard car ain’t bad! Indeed, our fi rst step would be to ensure that the car is up to spec before starting any mods. It’s possible to fi t electronic fuel injection (a later XJ-S unit can be fi tted), a high-torque starter to improve reliability and usability and these would be a good idea. Decent electronic ignition to replace the Lucas Opus set up (‘opless’ in the trade) is also a worthwhile fi tment. That V12 produces a lot of heat and anything that can help to reduce engine bay temperatures is welcome; a highflow water pump or more effi cient radiator and a thermostatic electric cooling fan are sensible upgrades. A modern mapping of the ignition with an ECU is a good idea as it improves economy and fl exibility. If you yearn for an overdrive then a CJ5 or Toyota Supra fi ve-speed can be grafted on. The chassis is also worth tweaking, to eliminate soggy handling; fresh dampers and stiffer springs will usually transform an E-type’s handling and so does replacing every suspension bush, especially on the IRS set up along with decent six inch rims and Pirelli tyres. Modern four pot discs can also be fi tted.
High fuel prices and steep running costs have put many people off buying the V12 e-type for years and will continue to do so. This means you can now buy a pretty usable 2+2 for £10,000 still – but it won’t be all that shiny. Ten to 20,000 can get you a decent example while even the nicest 2+2s rarely fetch more than £25-£30,000, and you can typically add around 50 per cent to buy an equivalent roadster. Transmissions don’t generally affect values adversely, but while buyers of fi xed-heads don’t mind an auto, it’s the stick shift that Roadster buyers usually want. Commemorative cars rarely surface for sale; mint examples have been known to touch six figures due to their rarity and importance.
The point is that an S3, whatever are your views on it, is closest to the original E-type in two critical areas; outstanding value for money and genuine 150mph performance.
What To Look For
- Look for poor panel fi t, corrosion and kinked chassis tubes from low-speed knocks. Bonnet misalignment occurs through the latter; because this section is so huge, check for even panel gaps and make sure the bonnet isn’t distorted. Also ensure the car hasn’t been jacked up where it shouldn’t have been; the radiator support is sometimes wrecked through this, with the radiator potentially pushed into the bonnet. All panels are available.
- Most E-types have been restored; rebuild standards vary so ask who did the work and what was done; also ask for plenty of photographs. Be wary of cars that have had major home restorations; without the proper jigs the bodyshell may have distorted.
- Lift the fuel fi ller fl ap; if it’s immaculate under there, all bodes well. However, many quick restorations leave bare metal and even rust here, indicating what lurks in other hidden areas.
- Lift the bonnet and check for bulkhead corrosion, especially around the battery tray. The scuttle sides contain box sections, which rot from the inside out. By the time corrosion is visible outside, the inside is rotten, with repairs very involved thanks to the complex structure and a new bonnet costs over £3000 these days.
- The rear of the monocoque also rots, especially the B-posts and chassis strengthening rails; sills are durable but check for fi ller. Get underneath and look for corrosion around the rear radius arm and anti-roll bar mountings. Finish by checking the double-skinned rear wings for rust, along with the wheelarch lips, plus the top and bottom of each door.
- Beware ex-US cars changed to right-hand drive, and 2+2s converted to roadsters. Most conversions are fi ne, but values are lower; RHD chassis numbers start IS.10001 (roadster) and IS.50001 (2+2); LHD cars are numbered IS.20001 (roadster) and IS.70001 (2+2).
- Jaguar’s V12 is one of the all-time great engines; properly maintained it’ll cover 200,000 miles with ease. However, poor maintenance leads to overheating, so idle the engine for several minutes and watch the temperature gauge. Harshness points to previous overheating; the long block and heads can distort through high temperatures.
- Because the block and heads are alloy, antifreeze levels must be maintained. If they’re not, internal corrosion is guaranteed, leading to a less effi cient cooling system that ensures even worse overheating.
- Low oil pressure at idle isn’t a problem, but there should be at least 45lb (preferably 55lb) on the dial at 2500rpm. Oil leaks are common as the rear crankshaft seal tends to leak; once it has failed, a full rebuild is needed although rebores are rarely needed. A specialist charges £4000+, or you could do it yourself for £600 – if you’re skilled. Cars that have been run infrequently are especially likely to suffer from this, as the seal dries out then wears more readily.
- Brightwork can be replaced; mazak bits such as door handles and tail lamp housings tend to be pitted. Steel disc wheels were standard; chromed wires are now usual. Check for damaged spokes and worn splines; they get a hard time because of the V12’s torque.
- A fresh mohair roadster roof cost some £700, with fi tting the same again, so check what’s fi tted is intact and leak free.
- The V12 has 20 rubber coolant hoses; check they’re not perished because replacement can be involved; the water rails and carburettors have to be removed to renew some of them. They also need to be to the correct specifi cation; the coolant system runs at 15lb psi (earlier E-types are just 4lb psi), so the hoses have to be reinforced. A full set is £143.50.
- The original rubber fuel lines will need replacing by now as they’ll be brittle, while the Zenith-Stromberg carbs go out of tune when their diaphragms perish. Rebuilt carbs are the best solution; there are two at £350 each although some experts recommend a switch to SUs for improved drivability. Burlen supplies a complete kits for this at around £650. Incidentally, the V12 is happy to run on unleaded in standard form, as hardened valve seats were fi tted on the production line.
- Most V12s have a three-speed Borg Warner Model 12 automatic transmission, but the Jaguar four-speed manual unit is more sought after. They’re both durable units, but the latter can suffer from weak synchromesh on second and third; check for diffi culty selecting gears when the ‘unit is cold. If a revived manual ‘box is needed, expect to pay £400 for an exchange unit.
- The self-adjusting handbrake mechanism often seizes through lack of greasing; try to roll the car on a level surface and see if it quickly grinds to a halt. Fixing this should just require freeing off and greasing.
- The rack-and-pinion steering is reliable, but wear in the column universal joints is normal; replacement is easy and they’re just £65 for the pair. If there are creaks from the rear suspension, it’ll be because the lower hub pivots have corroded; if not greased regularly they wear rapidly or seize.
- The brakes should feel very strong, but imbalance isn’t unusual – it’s usually caused by oil on the in-board rea discs, leaked from the diff. Fixing this is involved as the diff has to come out.
- Don’t be surprised if there’s detectable play in the rear wheebearings; if there’s none at all they’ve been overtightened and will overheat as a result. At the front, be wary of too many shims between the wishbone and ball joint; two or three is okay but any more and there’s a danger of the suspension collapsing. Fitting exchange wishbones is the easiest solution; it’s a cheap and easy exercise.
- The heater motor suffers from failed circuitry or seizure through lack of use, but access is easy as it’s next to the battery under the bonnet.
- Check the radiator’s thermostatic coolingfan cuts in; it’s usually reliable but not always, and failure can lead to major bills.
Three Of A Kind
Corvette Stringray (1968-1982)If you want visual drama then look no further; there’s no mistaking the Corvette for anything else. Glassfi bre bodywork ensures rotten panels aren’t an issue while 5.7-litre V8 offers grunt aplenty. Maintenance costs are surprisingly low too, but all cars are left-hand drive only.
Ferrari 400I (1976-1989)Is there any car available anywhere that has more cachet than a Ferrari – and one with a V12 at that? Long unloved, the 400i and its successor the 412 offer seating for four, understated looks and fabulous urge, but the thirst can be a killer and there are too many neglected examples about.
Mercedes SL (1971-1989)If it’s peerless build quality that you crave, then this is the classic for you. Stylish and understated, the R107 Merc SL was in production for nearly two decades, with a choice of six-cylinder or V8 powerplants. All cars should have hard or soft tops, so you can use the SL all year round.
Low-mileage V12s abound, but check the history because clocked cars aren’t rare. Similarly, restored examples are sometimes claimed to be original, but with so many truly cherished cars out there, many run on a money-no-object basis, fi nding something worth buying really isn’t diffi cult. Just 7990 roadsters and 7297 coupés were built, but survival rates are high and those that have lasted this far are generally cherished examples. With great specialist and club support, the Series 3 makes huge sense on many levels; values are only going up, if rather steadily, and the cars are surprisingly usable, even on the longest journeys. The only problem is the size and complexity of that V12; in fi ne fettle it makes the car, but buy badly and the costs will quickly add up. Unlike the earlier cars, you’re unlikely to get your money back.
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