The legacy apexed with the E-Type – the extension of the XK sports car. What an apex that was.
I hate to criticize an automaker, but I just feel that Jaguar is not going in the right direction.
Electrification? Sure, everyone is doing it. The I-Pace is an example of how Jaguar has complied to the whim of those who rather not fuel up with petrol. Still, even a mild hybrid driveline is a way to dilute the legacy of the leaping cat.
The legacy apexed with the E-Type – the extension of the XK sports car. What an apex that was.
Leading to the XK-E, Jaguar reinvented themselves after World War II by developing sports cars that would win on the track, then sold to discriminating customers looking for truly fine automobiles. Jaguar’s founder, Sir William Lyons, intended to cater to these customers with cars that fulfill their dreams with a racing pedigree they desire.
Emerging out of the War, the name jaguar was applied to everything the former S.S. Cars would produce. Pre-war “saloons” offered luxury that was a step below of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. The SS100 set the tone for things to come after the war. It foretold a new movement towards developing the XK series sports cars took hold in the postwar reconstruction of the British economy and industrial complex.
By 1948, the fruits of their reconstructive labor were introduced to the world. The XK120 was a contemporary two-seat luxury roadster with aerodynamic postwar styling that was alluring and elegant. They invited the well-off that survived the war to indulge in this two-seat masterclass of speed and grace.
Powered by the XK series in-line six-cylinder engine, the first of the breed combined all of the finest elements of this rechristened brand. It also propelled it to victory in 1949 at Silverstone and at Le Mans a year later, setting the course of the brand’s legacy as a track weapon.
The mid-1950s brought the XK140 – a successor that took the same formula as the 120 and was shaped into a sleeker, cleaner design. There were many enthusiasts that will point to the XK140 was the most beautiful example of the two-seat Jaguar. Still powered the 3.4-liter in-line six, the XK140 added competition victories and sales to what is becoming a signature offering by Jaguar.
The XK150 arrived in 1957 as another evolution of the iconic shape. Some have said that it may be the peak of the XK line. The body continued to lure the well-off looking for a two-seater that was a cut above the rest. It also continued its mantle as a status symbol of those who want a racing pedigree on the street – wire wheels, in-line six, and all.
Then, we get to a new decade. A decade that demands a new level of sleek design. An era devoid of tail fins and chrome. A decade where the demands are on the driver with engineering that culminated in what everyone learned on the track. It had to be a true and honest sports car that still offered that level of luxury Jaguar customers demand. It had to continue to be apart from the so-called crowd.
Keep in mind that Jaguar never employed any American-type styling at all. They were elegant and clean without design gimmicks. They were subtle, even though there was an in-line six-cylinder hammer underneath the hood. However, the next XK had to be more contemporary and less fussy. It had to reflect the age and the demands of customers in the new decade.
Development began with the competition-winning D-Type race car. Jaguar infused the sleek design that motorsport demanded with improved power from its XK in-line six-cylinder engines. The D-Type was lighter in weight and balanced through all parts of the track. The result was three consecutive wins at Le Mans. That alone was proof that the world needed a road-going sports car that would bring that winning glory to its customers.
Elements of the D-Type were soon fashioned onto the road car that was known as the E-Type.
The E-Type arrived onto the scene in 1961. It was radically different than the road going XK models before it. Monocoque construction was starting to take hold in the automotive industry – albeit slowly. The frame became non-existent, as the body was integrated for further rigidity at a lower weight point. The engine sat in a subframe, connected to the main monocoque, with a hood that enveloped the entire front end of the car, including the front fenders. That hood opened towards the front with a full view of the engine bay, making servicing easier.
The older 3.4-liter XK engines gave way to a larger and more powerful 3.8-liter version before 1961. That 265 horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine was seen as the perfect engine to power this new sports car. It was not about absolute performance as it was about balance and accessibility through the revs. That was part due to a lovely Moss four-speed manual gearbox and solid clutch.
Customers had plenty of choices to make. The two-seat drophead roadster was as iconic as the coupe. The party trick of the latter is a hatch that opened to the side for access to more luggage space than previous XK models.
Earlier models challenged drivers to make due to a car that was constantly developing. The leg room was a bit cramped and getting the hood to open was a chore. Still, the E-Type opened new doors for Jaguar for sports car lovers to step up into a car that truly defined the 1960s for the luxury British brand.
By 1964, a lot of the complaints were addressed. You can now unlatch the hood from inside the cabin and more leg room was found by building it out underneath the dashboard. The biggest change was an increase in engine displacement to 4.2-liters. This would be the displacement for all six-cylinder Jaguar models for the next few decades. Horsepower did not increase, yet torque was up by 18 percent.
Two years later, the E-Type saw a couple of new developments that would add more luxury to a very sporty car. First, being the addition of an automatic transmission as an option. The second would be an extended wheelbase version to fit a rear seat for the new 2+2 coupe. Light covers were also being removed, mostly to placate USA regulations. Thus, these heavily modified and evolved models ended up being called Series 1-1/2.
This evolution the E-Type coincided with some greater changes that affected Jaguar as an independent automaker. With the arrival of the 2+2 came Jaguar’s merger into the British Motor Corporation, creating British Motor Holdings. The pride of Sir William Lyons became a brand as part of a nationalized manufacturer of automobiles.
By 1968, two things happened to Jaguar and the E-Type. First off, British Motor Holdings merged with Leyland to create British Leyland. Secondly, a Series 2 E-Type was introduced.
Before I address the British Leyland merger, the Series 2 was developed by Jaguar prior to its merger into BMH. Some may argue that the second iteration of the iconic Jaguar of the 1960s was suited for its new minders from the Parliament. However, there is evidence that the Series II was one of the last true Jaguars prior to any merger and/or acquisition of the celebrated marque.
How so? For one, the Series 2 was developed in response to new regulations by the USA government. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration imposed a first line of safety rules to be imposed on all vehicles in the mid-to-late 1960s. Therefore, the headlamp covers were removed, bumpers wrapped around the front and rear fascias, the taillight units were moved below the bumper, and a wider grille appeared.
Even though these design elements were noticeable to the eye, what lurked underneath the hood remained the same: The 4.2-liter XK in-line six-cylinder engine, along with a four-speed manual and an automatic transmission option. There were some adjustments made to the XK that – depending on market – either helped or hindered performance of the E-Type.
Another nod to USA regulations was the placement of the ignition onto the steering column. This included a steering lock system now commonly found on vehicles today. It is important to note that through the life of the E-Type, the USA was Jaguar’s biggest market. Anything to placate the largest ownership base was a win towards retention and possibly conquest new customers.
Even with these nods to their biggest market, there was a plot twist forthcoming due to the hodgepodge company run by the British Government. British Leyland may sound like a brilliant idea back in 1968, but it will end biting many hands after the end of the decade.
One of those hands that was bitten just happened to be Jaguar.
A customer who spends the kind of money that is displayed on a Jaguar expects nothing short of excellence. These expectations were still met through the Series 2 run. Yet, that run would be short – just a few model years – to make way for the 1971 Series 3 E-Type.
The Series 3 may look like the original E-Type. But there had been some changes that would lateral the sports car into grand touring territory. The luscious mouth would be closed off by an egg-crate grille inspired by the XJ sedan. The under-bumper taillamps grew to meet more USA standards. It rode on a longer wheelbase for both the convertible and 2+2 coupe. Later on, rubber bumper guards would meet further Federal safety standards.
Perhaps the biggest change in the E-Type was the swapping out of Jaguar’s lovely XK in-line six-cylinder engine for the V-12. The 5.3-liter V-12 initially put out 295 horsepower. However, emissions controls and a resetting of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ horsepower rating standards dropped that number to 245.
Yet, the Series 3 was doomed from the day it arrived at Jaguar’s showrooms. Cracks began to show in Coventry that reverberated across the Midlands, where most of BL’s plants were located. While maintaining an air of opulence, Jaguar was unraveling due to BL’s government-employed managers.
It was not just the machinations at British Leyland that doomed the E-Type. It was a shift in customer’s tastes. They wanted a quality product. If these well-heeled customers couldn’t find it at Cadillac, Lincoln-Mercury, and Chrysler-Plymouth-Imperial dealers, they certainly found it at the Mercedes-Benz store.
The three-pointed star out of Stuttgart would eventually change the luxury car game. They had a similar product to the E-Type – the SL and the SLC. They were built much better than the Americans and Jaguar. However, they commanded higher prices on the average compared to a comparable V12 E-Type.
By 1974, BL pulled their former Jaguar sports car off the market. It was an end of a vaunted run for the famed E-Type. It would also be an end of an era for Sir William Lyon’s creation. The car was replaced by a grand tourer called the XJS. You remember the XJS?
Jaguar did continue. It remained a part of the BL quagmire until 1980, when the company was split into two. Jaguar would be aligned with Rover and Triumph until later in the decade, when the former was spun off completely. It would eventually find a home with Ford by 1990 and with Tata in 2008.
Under each post-BL iteration, Jaguar created a car that would capture the E-Type’s essence. First, a new XK in 1996. After two generations of the XK’s rebirth, the 2014 F-Type would carry the torch once lit before World War II and the SS100.
Even today, one look at the F-Type will remind you of one of Britain’s finest moments in automotive history. The Jaguar E-Type cannot be forgotten. Neither should you.
The fear is that we would forget about Jaguar and what it used to represent. It was wrapped in a monocoque body with a massive front-opening hood, two seats, and analog performance.
When you look at those crossovers wearing the Jaguar nameplate – think of the E-Type. Please, remember the E-Type.
All photos by Randy Stern