A Lightweight History of the E type

Testing and Development

After the success of the C Type and D Type sports racing Jaguars at Le Mans, 5 wins between 1951 and 1957, everyone knew Jaguar would have to produce a new sports car. The existing XK150S, the final iteration of the aging XK line, was a very fast cruiser but it had an old fashioned chassis and a live rear axle and it was time for something new. In 1957 E1A, an aluminium bodied prototype containing all the design elements of the production E Type but dimensionally smaller and fitted with only a 2.4 litre XK engine was built. The design of the car using a monocoque body attached to a space frame containing the engine and front suspension was very advanced. There were plenty of monocoque chassis cars around by then (Jaguar’s 2.4 for example) and plenty of race cars built around space frames but Jaguar were the first to combine the two. E1A was built like an aircraft and the same principles were used many years later by Colin Chapman in his Formula 1 cars. So E1A, a direct descendant of the D Type was years ahead of its time. Christopher Jennings, editor of The Motor, was lent E1A in secret to test on his favourite stretch of road between Brecon and Camarthen. Jennings was reputedly astounded when it proved considerably quicker point to point than any car he had previously tested. There is a classic film from that time of Norman Dewis drifting E1A around and around a flagpole at the MIRA test ground, the nose of the bonnet inches from and pointing straight at the pole almost as if the car was tethered to it. Who says drifting is something new? This car was tested extensively and was later broken up. Meanwhile a mock-up E type had been put loosely together to finalise the dimensions of the various steel panels that would make up the production E Type. Chief Engineer Heynes then decided to turn it into a running vehicle and so it was riveted together, hence the name the pop-rivet special. This full sized steel prototype also did thousands of test miles but was then returned to parts, RTP, scrapped.

E2A was next off the prototype line complete with an alloy block 3 litre D type motor and tail fin but a with steel monocoque. Despite Jaguar’s official retirement from racing in 1956, Heynes was keen to return to the track and E2A was the result. Wealthy American, Jaguar’s New York distributor and Americas Cup winner Briggs Cunningham persuaded the factory to lend it to him for the 1960 Le Mans but it retired with burnt pistons due to fuel injection problems. E2A looked a bit like a smoothed out D Type and was reaching over 190 mph on the Mulsanne straight. Briggs then installed a 3.8 litre D Type engine and raced it in the USA. The car was later sold by Jaguar to Guy Griffiths a well known English collector and was only recently sold by his daughter Penny Woodley at a Bonhams auction in 2008 for a massive sum. Although not successful as a racer, it proved many of the E Type components.

Initial laps – The Series 1 Production E type

In March 1961 the first two production E Type fixed head coupes appeared at the Geneva Motor Show. They were an absolute sensation with a claimed 150 mph top speed, independent rear suspension, a remarkably comfortable ride, exemplary handling and above all those looks. Enzo Ferrari is rumoured to have said that it was the most beautiful car ever made. Such was the demand at Geneva for demonstration runs up a nearby mountain that Bob Berry in 9600 HP could not keep up so Norman Dewis drove the roadster 77RW from Coventry to Geneva in just under 14 hours including the ferry crossing. It would be hard to do that time today. The demonstration runs then apparently turned into a bit of a war as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes test drivers were using the same road. Norman Dewis later commented that many of the passengers were quite shaken and the queue diminished rapidly once the battle started hotting up.

Unlike the prototype cars the production E types had the differential and rear suspension enclosed in a steel cradle that was then attached to the body by four Metalastik mounts. This got rid of the vibration experienced with the prototypes and the same design was used in every Jaguar introduced after 1961 up until the XJ40 of 1987 and in fact continued in the XJS until 1997. The E Type had torsion bar suspension up front similar to the D Type, rack and pinion steering, 4 wheel disc brakes, a luxurious interior and the 3.8 litre triple carburettor 265 bhp XK motor straight out of the XK150S. There was simply nothing else like it at any price anywhere on the planet and in 1961 a 150 mph top speed was beyond the comprehension of most motorists. The average family car would struggle to top half that.

The only real flaws were the Kelsey-Hayes brake booster which was not effective at slow speeds, the archaic Moss gearbox and the flat floor in very early cars. Footwells were soon installed giving more legroom, an all synchromesh gearbox was introduced late in 1963 and in 1964 the 4.2 litre E type arrived with much improved brakes and more comfortable seats. The bigger engine gave more torque but it was less happy at high rpm than the old 3.8 litre. The purists swear by the 3.8 but the 4.2 is probably easier to drive and the new gearbox was a revelation. One thing that did however stay with the 6 cylinder E Types was the narrow track. The wheels are lost inside the arches. Malcolm Sayer, Jaguar’s aerodynamicist, insisted that the wheels be kept well inside in order to get past the magic 150 mph barrier. This did give the E Type slightly twitchy handling at the limit. Many owners fit offset wheels to give a more modern look.

Endurance Modifications

In 1966 the 2+2 arrived with the option of an automatic gearbox to keep the Americans happy. The 2+2 is a bigger stronger far more practical car and although it is sometimes criticised for being more of a tourer than a out and out sports car, in the right colour it still looks sensational and can be bought for much less money than a 4.2 roadster. They are a bargain and if you are 6 ft tall or over this is the car to go for.

In 1967 Jaguar removed those beautiful but light dispersing head lamp covers. These cars still had the sidelights about the bumpers and were later termed Series 1 ½ cars. The true Series 2 cars came out in 1968 with the open headlights moved further forward, a larger bonnet intake, bigger sidelights below the bumpers, rocker switches on the dashboard, better brakes and flush door handles. The windscreen on the 2+ 2 was given a shallower rake by moving the base forwards almost to the bonnet to give a supposedly better balanced look. In 1970, USA destined cars were fitted with twin Stromberg carburettors to meet power sapping emission control rules. The E type was being slowly strangled and was gaining weight. Even so a really good Series 2 with triple carburettors is possibly the most competent of all the E Types.

A Thundering Sprint to the Finish

Lack of power was solved when the mighty V12 E type appeared in 1973. Just like the XK engine in 1948, the V12 was a sensation and leap frogged the opposition. Here was a production all alloy 272 bhp (net) V12 engine with a turbine like smoothness and 304 lbs ft of torque. A manual gearbox V12 can be driven from rest in top gear and the power just keeps building. The purists will tell you that the 3.8 E type is quicker but this may not be the case in practice. A manual gearbox FHC V12 E Type has a phenomenal amount of power. It also has anti-dive front suspension, ventilated front disc brakes, and a wider track. But it is a heavier car, both the roadster and the FHC being built on the 2+2 wheelbase and the power steering is quite light. The V12 E has a slightly butch look with its flared wheel arches and meshed nose. But they are a great drive. The roadsters with the top down are particularly attractive. Chromed steel wheels not wires, were standard but the chassis was starting to show its age, just like the XK150 12 years earlier. The all monocoque XJ6 with its much wider track was faster around a skid pan. The V12 E type was short lived, production ending in 1975 and it was time for a new design, a full monocoque chassis that arrived in the shape of the XJ-S which took everyone by surprise as that high speed cruiser was nothing like an E type.

It is now 50 year since the launch of the E type and they are still regarded as one of the most beautiful cars ever made. It is surprising how modern a good E Type feels when driven today. The E Type is one of the finest examples of a production car developed directly from racing that could be driven safely by anyone. It was the Jaguar that spurred the growth during the 1980’s of what is now a huge restoration industry and continues to be an incredibly popular classic. There really is nothing else quite like it, a racing car for the road and such are the safety regulations now there probably never will be.

Serious Racers

Unlike the D type, the E Type was never designed as racing car but that did not stop the factory backing certain well known privateers. Graham Hill for Equipe Endeavour in ECD400 and Roy Salvadori for John Coombs in BUY1 had some success during 1961 against the all conquering Ferrari 250 GT racers but it was clearly a contest between a road car the E type, and a purpose built race car the Ferrari which was 6cwt lighter. No Jaguars appeared at Le Mans in 1961. But during 1961 John Coombs’ car was effectively a works’ development car. It was rebuilt with a thinner gauge steel monocoque reappearing at the start of 1962 with a new registration 4WPD, a wet sump D Type engine, uprated brakes and suspension and an aluminium hardtop This car was written off at the Goodwood Easter meeting (Salvadori) and rebuilt by the factory to what would become the lightweight roadster specification. Subsequently 11 more full lightweight E type roadsters were built plus another two semi-lightweights, both fixed head coupes. All apparently survive.

The true lightweight specification included a full aluminium monocoque, an all alloy 3.8 litre dry sump engine, a D Type wide angle cylinder head, Lucas mechanical fuel injection, a 5 speed ZF gearbox, MK IX disc brakes, a bolted and vented aluminium roadster hardtop, and aluminium bonnet, doors and vented bootlid, a wider rear track using modified MK X wishbones, altered front suspension with anti-dive geometry, a lowered steering rack, competition seats and special Dunlop slotted alloy wheels similar to those used on D types. This removed 600 lbs in weight and with well over 340 bhp, the lightweight E Type was more than a match for the Ferrari 250 GTO. But because of reliability problems many of the all alloy engines and ZF gearboxes were soon replaced with standard D Type cast iron engines and Moss gearboxes.

However the factory never really backed the racing program and by 1964 it was all over. The lightweight was two years too late and was never sufficiently developed.

Back in 1961 Malcolm Sayer had initially designed a low drag coupe. It was believed that a modified more aerodynamic FHC coupe was a better bet than the roadster for GT racing. The factory made only one low drag coupe, the well known CUT7 which RAF Squadron Leader Dick Protheroe managed to buy off Jaguar. He had considerable success with this thinner gauge steel monocoque coupe.

One of the 12 true lightweight roadsters was subsequently fitted with a similar but slightly more bulbous low drag coupe body for Germans Peter Lindner and Peter Knocker. This was perhaps the fastest lightweight of all but tragically Peter Lindner was killed at Montlhery in 1964, the car being almost destroyed. It was impounded by the French until 1977 (despite the fact the British had saved them twice that century) and then rebuilt by Lynx and then rebuilt again as they had got the shape of the roof wrong.

A second lightweight roadster 49FXN was also converted to a low drag coupe by the Playford Brothers for Peter Lumsden and Peter Sergeant. The shape was designed by Samir Klat and Frank Costin and has an extended bonnet and is widely regarded as the most beautiful of the three low drag coupes. They finished 5th at Le Mans in 1962.

Both these modified ex-lightweight low drag coupes were raced all over Europe and at Le Mans but they were plagued by mechanical problems, a result of the half hearted factory support.

The best Le Mans result for an E Type was 4th in 1962 for Briggs Cunningham in amazingly a production FHC fitted with a full D Type engine. He turned up again in 1963 with 3 genuine lightweight E Types, two of them brand new. One had transmission trouble and retired, one was written off (Salvadori again) and the bonnet and front end of the third were badly damaged after the brakes failed. At Le Mans you cannot replace major components, only repair them. So Lofty England ordered that the front half of the bonnet of the retired car be cut off and riveted to the good rear half of the damaged car! This was the last time any Jaguar finished at Le Mans until Bob Tullius crawled across the line in an XJR-5 22 years later.

By the end of 1964 the factory had moved completely away from even covert involvement in racing and it was left to the privateers in England to show the flag. Guy Beddington’s fuel injected V12 (now in Australia) was very quick as was the Red Rose Motors’ E type (Brian Redman in 4WPD again) and John Harper, Roger Mac, Warren Pearce and Ken Baker had a lot of success over the next ten years in Modified Sports Cars events. The fastest E types ended up heavily modified monsters with very wide wheels and were considerably faster than any of the original lightweights. The arrival of proper historic racing in the late 1970’s reversed this trend and the historic races are now full of E Types conforming more or less to the original factory specifications.

But in 1974, when Jaguar was in danger of losing its identity, parent company British Leyland surprisingly decided to back two V12 E type racers in the U.S.A. Bob Tullius and Group 44 on the East coast and Lee Mueller and Huffaker Engineering on the West coast contested the Sports Car Championship of America’s Class B production Championship in V12 roadsters. Both cars were immediately competitive and Tullius took out the championship in 1975 beating the Corvettes, later moving on to the XJ-S and winning the Transam series in 1977 and 1978 in the XJS and then taking Jaguar back to Le Mans in 1984 in the XJR5.

But possibly the most outrageous and controversial E Type series victory ever occurred in the 1980 SCCA C-production championship. Freddy Baker an Englishman driving for the Ohio based dealership team Gran Tourismo developed a highly competitive but aged Series 2 E Type roadster. Jaguar Rover Triumph (JRT, previously Leyland) did not support the tiny team because the last E Type had been built in 1974 and Gran Tourismo was competing with their factory backed Triumph TR8 team. Datsun had won the series every year for the previous 10 years and their star driver in their 280Z was Paul Newman the actor. In the final race of 1980 at Road Atlanta Freddy Baker took out the championship despite the best efforts of more than one Datsun driver to take him out. Nissan USA were forced to cancel their planned and very expensive publicity campaign featuring Paul Newman and JRT suddenly decided that Gran Tourismo were worth supporting. This was the equivalent of a Nightcaps garage team winning Bathurst in an FJ Holden today. Subsequently the regulations were tightened up to stop anything similar happening again.

The efforts of the privateers particularly in the USA kept Jaguar’s name out there during the dark days of mismanagement and union strife at British Leyland and there is no doubt the publicity generated from racing helped Jaguar survive.


So how does the E Type compare today? Its looks have seldom been bettered and the exquisite shape of the S1 roadster is undoubtedly a work of art. They are all comfortable cars to drive although if you are tall you will need 2+2 or a V12. Crumpet catcher it may be but an early roadster with the roof up is a bit of a squeeze.

Then there are the engines, XK or V12, both remarkable with huge amounts of torque which make E types such great cruisers. The lift at 60 mph in top when you floor it is sensational and a good E Type will see off most modern cars in a straight line.

The view from inside the car with that humped bonnet stretching out in front and the beautiful classy interior and the roar of the engine are aspects you never stop enjoying. An E Type cockpit is a great place to be.

The six cylinder cars had superb steering, light to the touch but very direct. All E Types have high reserves of road holding but with that narrow track and short wheelbase they can catch a driver out at the limit. They are an old fashioned drive and the best way out of trouble is to floor it but it is a brave man who carries on in that manner on public roads nowadays. The extra power of the V12 was a bit much for the chassis and what was needed in 1973 was a modern full monocoque chassis that would have transformed the E type.

The Moss gearbox is often criticised but there is nothing wrong with it. It is not marvellous in heavy city traffic but it is fine on the open road. You just have to work a bit harder. The later all-synchro gearbox is superb.

The E type is a very usable car and also very reliable being relatively simple in design. They achieve good fuel economy also, 25mpg easily obtainable. They are fairly straight forward to work on and repair although rust can be a problem. The important thing with an E type is to make sure that all the rubber mounts, shock absorbers, ball joints and springs are in top class order. Drive a good one and you will be amazed at how competent and modern they feel. A five speed gearbox, bigger brakes and modified engine will give you a faster car but for every day driving the factory specification is sufficient. Jaguar got it right when they built the E type and it is unquestionably one of the great icons of automotive history.

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