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Jaguar E-type (1961 - 1975)

Last updated 18 April 2013


Model Timeline

December 1956
Work commenced on the new Jaguar sports car

Work commenced on the E-type in December 1956. The first prototype was completed in May 1957, and had the official title of E-type 1 Aluminium, or E1A. The E1A was smaller than the production E-type, at 14ft 2in in length, but larger than the D-type. Its construction was largely derived from the D-type, and featured a central monocoque tub. However, where it differed from the D-type, was in its use of a new independent rear suspension system. The E1A was powered by the short-block 2.4-litre XK engine, that had been developed for the Jaguar Mk1, that had been launched in 1955.

The E1A was extensively tested by Jaguar’s team of drivers, but in May 1958, Heynes decided to lend E1A to the editor of The Motor magazine, Christopher Jennings, for an independent appraisal. Jennings was impressed by the car’s ability to cover distances rapidly, even with just 120bhp. By this time, Jaguar had built a second E-type prototype for the road, and which more closely resembled the production car. The E-type gradually evolved during 1958, a year when Jaguar also began work on the Zenith project, which became the big top of the range MkX saloon. Both cars would feature independent rear suspension designed by Bob Knight (in an amazing 27 days) as part of a bet with Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons. Knight’s suspension design would end up enduring into the 1990s…

July 1959
Landmark Jaguar E2A prototype built

By July 1959, Jaguar had a third E-type prototype on the road. In 1960, the public had its first view of the style of the next Jaguar sports car when the E2A sports-racer was unveiled. E2A was not an E-type prototype as such; it was based on the D-type, but shared the future E-type’s wheelbase, and was intended to compete in the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hour, where it was entered by American Jaguar enthusiast and distributor, Briggs Cunningham. E2A retired from the event.

Jaguar E2A

E2A prototype looks more like the final production model...

March 1961
Jaguar E-type revealed to the press in Geneva

William Lyons and the E-type

William Lyons shows the E-type to the press at Geneva in 1961...

It was planned to unveil the E-type at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show Prior to this, Jaguar would loan the two major UK weekly motoring magazines, The Autocar and The Motor a car to test. These road tests would go on to prove pivotal in marketing the E-type, but a press embargo was in force until the actual unveiling of the new sports car. Jaguar already had one car on the company’s stand in Geneva, but it was decided that another E-type was required for Sir William Lyons to show to the media.

At around 7pm on Tuesday 14 March 1961, Jaguar’s PR department employee, Bob Berry, left Browns Lane, Coventry in a fixed head E-type, registered 9600HP. Berry drove virtually flat out through the night, arriving in Geneva, where he drove to the local Jaguar distributor for a 20-minute wash and polish, before heading to the Parc des Eaux Vives for the public unveiling by Sir William Lyons. Surrounded by up to 200 members of the press, 9600HP caused a sensation, and so did the price. At £2097 for the roadster and £2196 for the FHC, it was condemnably cheaper than similar performing cars from Ferrari, Aston Martin and Chevrolet, and was on a par with much slower cars from Porsche and AC. In fact, the E-types was initially sold at a cheaper price than the outgoing XK150.

So what was the technical specification of this sensational new Jaguar sports car? The powertrain, which was carried over from the XK150S, was a 3781 cc XK engine mated to a four-speed Moss transmission, without overdrive. Jaguar claimed the E-type engine produced 265bhp (SAE) at 5500 rpm, but this was – to say the least – an exaggeration. The cast iron cylinder block was actually manufactured by Leyland Motors in Lancashire, a task it had performed since 1948, predating its involvement in the management of Jaguar. The aluminium cylinder head came from two sources, West Yorkshire Foundries of York and William Mills of Wednesbury, Staffordshire.

The XK engine was fed by triple 2in SU HD8 SU carburettors. The body employed a central monocoque made of steel, a year before the monocoque chassis made its appearance in Formula One racing. The Bob Knight designed independent rear suspension, and the careful use of rubber, helped suppress noise and vibration. Initially, the car was available in two forms, the roadster – styled by Malcolm Sayer – and the fixed head coupe (FHC), featuring an opening rear hatchback, which also had some input from Sir William Lyons and Bob Blake. The E-type was the only Jaguar car produced during Lyons’ active involvement in the running of the company, not wholly styled by the boss himself.

Jaguar E-type 9600HP

E-type 9600HP caused a sensation at Geneva...

So far the looks and price of the E-type had set pulses racing, but later in March 1961, came the publication of the road tests.

The Motor magazine tested 77 RW, a roadster, and the second E-type to be built by the production department. This car could reach 60mph in 7.1 seconds and attain a maximum speed of 149mph. The Motor men assigned to the task were John Anstice Brown and Charles Bulmer, who would go on to become the magazine’s editor. An indication that perhaps the results attained by the Motor men were not typical of the standard production cars was the decision to equip the test car, 77 RW, with Dunlop R5 racing tyres. Certainly, Charles Bulmer later felt that 77 RW had a more powerful engine than standard cars.

The Autocar tested 9600HP, which was in fact the seventh E-type prototype, the second FHC, and the car Bob Berry drove to Geneva. To evaluate the car’s performance the magazine used two journalists, one with an interesting past and one with an interesting future: Maurice A Smith DFC was concurrently both editor of The Autocar and Flight. During the WW2, he had completed a tour of operations with 619 squadron, RAF Bomber Command before becoming one of Five Group’s master bombers. It was in this role that he led the first wave of bombers on the controversial Dresden raid of February 1945. His partner on the test was Peter Riviere, who later quit motoring journalism to enter the world of academia, and became a distinguished Professor of Anthropology.

The Autocar team, again using Dunlop R5 racing tyres, managed to achieve 150.4mph and a 0-60mph time of 6.9 seconds. The all important 150mph barrier had been breached, and Jaguar Cars marketing machine exploited it.

When 9600HP was restored by its current owner, Jaguar historian Philip Porter, the engine was found to be a run in XK150S unit with a gas flowed cylinder head carefully matched to the inlet and exhaust manifolds – possibly worth an extra 20-25bhp. Maurice Smith later owned a 3.8 litre E-type roadster, and claimed he never got more than 137mph out of it. There is strong evidence that motoring journalists were provided with either carefully blueprinted or tweaked engines in order to attain headline grabbing results in order to create the myth of the 150mph Jaguar E-type.

The main criticisms of the E-type were reserved for the seating, the high oil consumption, lack of space, poor braking and the ageing Moss gearbox, which lacked synchromesh on first gear.

The E-type was launched at a time when the UK motor industry was coming out recession and bedeviled by unofficial strikes, with BMC particularly afflicted. The new Jaguar was an instant hit, and the company hoped to ramp up production to 150 per week by the Autumn of 1961. However disputes at Smiths industries and SU Carburettors, suppliers to the Coventry company, restricted production to 2160 E-types in 1961. In fact by August 1961 only 383 cars had been built.

In October 1961, Jaguar took over Guy Motors and announced the big MkX saloon, which used the same tune XK engine and transmission as the E-type. In early 1962, a series of internal industrial disputes again paralysed production after Jaguar had won a large American order for its cars, and the disruption continued on and off for the rest of the year. Jaguar managed to ramp up production to 150 cars per week in March 1962. Despite the industrial disputes, Jaguar produced 6266 E-types in 1962. If the E-type looked futuristic, British car manufacturing industrial relations seemed positively archaic in comparison.

A sign that the E-type was not perfect was exposed by the new Ford Cortina, launched in September 1962. Unlike the Coventry car, the Cortina had synchromesh on bottom gear…

In April 1963, Autocar tested the latest revised E-type FHC, and this time reached 152.7 mph with a 0-60mph time of 7.2 seconds. After the initial rush for the car in 1961/1962, E-type production for 1963 was down to 4065.

October 1963
4.2-litre engine fitted to the Jaguar E-type

In October, Jaguar announced the new 4.2-litre XK engine for use in the MkX saloon and E-type. Built in response to the large capacity V8 engines appearing in the USA, the new 4235cc engine boosted torque from the 3.8-litre’s 260lb ft at 4000rpm to 283lb ft at 4000rpm. The quoted power output remained at 265bhp (SAE), but now at the slightly lower 5400 rpm. Along with the new engine, came a new all-synchromesh four-speed gearbox designed by William GJ Watson, although again there was still no overdrive facility for the sports car…

The E-type gained a revised electrical system and improved seating. So how did the revised car perform?

Motor magazine tested ARW 732B, a 4.2-litre FHC for its issue of 31 October 1964. It managed to attain 150mph and a 0-60 mph time of 7seconds, with more refinement, but that was not the whole story. According to David Benson, then on the staff of Motor, the testers could not get more than 148mph out of ARW 732B, so Jaguar insisted that the car was returned to them for some fettling, which duly done then provided the magic 150 figure. Autocar was not able to lay its hands on a test car until May 1965, when it tested another FHC, AWK 349B. Using Dunlop R6 racing tyres, it managed 153mph and a 0-60mph time of 7.6seconds. Total Jaguar E-type production for 1964 was 3960 cars.

March 1966
Jaguar E-type 2+2 launched

Jaguar E-type 2+2

E-type 2+2 was criticised by many for its odd proportions...

At the Geneva Motor show in March 1966, the delayed 2+2 E-type was announced. Right from the E-type’s earliest days, Sir William Lyons had demanded more room inside, and after a five-year gestation period, the finished article appeared. Using the internal codename of XJ8, the 2+2 was only available as a FHC and had its wheelbase lengthened by 9in to 8ft 9in.

Weight was increased by 63.5kg. The 2+2 also featured a taller windscreen, longer doors and room in the back for two children. It was also available with a three speed Borg-Warner model 8 automatic transmission. The style was penned by Bob Blake. The 2+2 was the first alteration to the E-type’s form, and although stylistically it was less of a success, from a business point of view it made perfect sense. 1966 was the E-type’s best year yet, with some 6880 leaving the factory, with the
new 2+2 proving to be the most popular model.

Motor tested FVC 581D, a 2+2 FHC automatic. Top speed was 136.2mph and its 0-60mph time was 8.9seconds. Autocar, meanwhile, tested a manual version and reached a terminal velocity of 139mph and and completed the 0-60mph dash in 7.4 seconds. The E-type was getting slower…

The 2+2 E-type seemed to point the way to the future for the Jaguar sports car. Behind the scenes, Jaguar worked on its 60-degree modular V8 and V12 engines with commonised parts. These were intended for a new generation of cars including the XJ21 project, which was the planned E-type replacement. Work on XJ21 commenced around October 1966, and from the off, it was planned as a purpose built 2+2. Jaguar was also looking at developing a smaller sports car using the 2.5-litre Daimler V8, a 3-litre XK engine, or the in-development 3.5-litre V8. The company was certainly ambitious, but its financial resources made such goals unobtainable. The merger with BMC put paid to plans for a smaller Jaguar sports cars with the 3-litre MGC waiting in the wings.

October 1967
Jaguar E-type gets its first facelift

On 5 October 1967 Jaguar announced a revised E-type, known retrospectively as the Series 1½. This was to meet impending US emissions legislation due to come into force on 1st January 1968, and this was after it had been delayed some four months by protests from British manufacturers. Jaguar spent £250,000 to enable the E-type to meet these new regulations. The most obvious revision to the Series 1½ was the removal of the perspex headlamp covers and the moving forward of the headlamps by 2.5in. This was another bastardization of Malcolm Sayer’s design, although the Perspex covers did diffuse the headlights. According to Jaguar’s press release of the time, a total of 21 changes were made to the export cars to satisfy US regulations. In October 1967, Autocar magazine tested the latest revised E-type roadster. The car performed best with the hood up, with a top speed of 140mph. With the hood down, it could only manage 130mph. The 0-60mph time was 7.4seconds.

On 17 January 1968, it was announced that BMH and Leyland were merging to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation, and by the Autumn Sir William Lyons became deputy Chairman. But 1968 was the year when the E-type ceased to be Browns Lane’s main attraction. There was a new kid on the block, and it was unveiled on 26 September. The Jaguar XJ6 was the culmination of all Jaguar Cars technical expertise all in one car. In terms of ride, handling, stability and comfort it was in a different league to what had gone before. Not only that, but it was able to carry four people in comfort and the manual version was available with overdrive, something the E-type never had, yet was available on cheaper sports cars such as the MGB and Triumph Spitfire. The acclaim for the saloon was instantaneous and a huge waiting list soon built up and Jaguar began phasing out its older saloons to free up production capacity to produce even more. It was also reported at the time that V8 and V12 engines were in the offing.

October 1968
Jaguar E-type series 2 launched

At that year’s Earls Court motor show, the Series 2 E-type, codenamed X12, was announced. There were numerous mechanical and styling changes, but no price increase – the biggest styling change, in the 2+2 FHC, was a redesigned windscreen, eliminating the earlier ‘high hat’ look with the angle of rake increased from 46 degrees to 53.5 degrees from the vertical – a change which also improved aerodynamic efficiency. The new E-types had sturdier bumpers, which wrapped around the entire nose and tail, giving better body protection. Beneath them were new, enlarged indicators, with bigger twin stop lights at the rear. For the first time, Jaguar offered bolt-on, pressed steel wheels as alternatives to the wire-spoke type, at extra cost. The headlamps were as the Series 1½.

Jaguar E-type: An unmistakable profile...

An unmistakable profile...

The front air intake had been re-shaped and enlarged, with a 68% aperture increase to give reserve capacity when air conditioning equipment was fitted. Also for the first time the E-type was offered with power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering as an optional extra. using the same system as on the new Jaguar XJ6 saloon. Air conditioning was now an option on American market cars and the car now featured a crossflow radiator with twin electric fans.

Power on the US bound cars was now down to 245bhp SAE or 171bhp (net). The new American regulations demanded a reduction in hydrocarbon emissions, and this was an area where the six-cylinder XK engine did not perform well.

So how did the Series 2 E-type perform? In November 1970, John Bolster tested a two-seat FHC for Autosport. Bolster still managed a respectable 142mph and a 0-60mph time of 7.2 seconds. Again the alterations seemed to pay off, with 9948 leaving Browns Lane in 1969, the peak year of production – and 8643 of these were exported. And this was despite a five-week strike at Leyland Vehicles in Lancashire, which supplied XK cylinder blocks which forced Jaguar to lay off workers. This was also the year Williams Heynes retired as Technical Director, to be succeeded by Walter Hassan.

In 1969, the American car magazine Road & Track carried out a survey of 100 E-type owners, and came up with mixed results. By and large, Americans owners liked the car, but the survey revealed it did have a penchant for unreliability. The main faults were inaccurate instruments, overheating, oil leaks, dodgy electrics, failing clutches, water leaks and body parts falling off. There were complaints about lack of ventilation, lack of space, poor heating and de-misting. Such comments were not lost on senior Jaguar management as it drew up the specifications of the E-type’s eventual replacement. Several UK dealers had lobbied Jaguar to raise the price of the E-type by £100 to enable more attention to be devoted to eliminating annoying faults in the car – but all to no avail.

By May 1970 it was reported that E-type production had slowed down to 250 per week. Perhaps with a huge waiting list for the more profitable XJ6 saloon led Jaguar to switch some E-type production capacity over to the newer car? Tragically in July 1970, Jaguar aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer suffered a fatal heart attack. He was already working on the E-type’s successor which had mutated from the XJ21 into the larger XJ27/XJ-S.

In a sense the Series 2 E-type was a better car than its predecessor – American buyers, in particular, demanded more comfort and air conditioning, even at the expense of performance and looks and the sales success of 1969/70 reflected this.

Although it had originally planned to replace the E-type with the XJ21, finances dictated that that Jaguar examined the possibility of using a shortened XJ saloon floorpan and the forthcoming V12 engine. This made perfect sense as it enabled a degree of rationalisation to take place and produce a roomier car with space for all the equipment consumers demanded. Also, Sir William Lyons wanted a more refined GT car which could retail at a higher price and generate more profit for the company. This became project XJ27 which evolved into the XJ-S. A direct E-type replacement would have to wait until the funds became available to develop one.

As related earlier, Jaguar was working on a modular 60 degree V8/V12 engine, although the V8 was to prove a blind alley. Originally the V12 was intended for the XJ saloon, but in 1968 Technical Director William Heynes pushed for the V12 engine to be used in the E-type. The shoehorning of the V12 into the E-type became project XJ25. The first prototype was completed in 1969 and extensive testing followed with 87 production cars being completed by the end of 1970.

March 1971
Jaguar E-type series 3 launched

Jaguar E-type Series 3

E-type Series 3 traded style for smoothness...

The XJ25 was launched in March 1971 as the Series 3 Jaguar E-type and became the first car to use the new 5343cc V12 engine. The V12 was fitted with four Zenith Stromberg 175CD carburettors and was rated at 314bhp (SAE) at 5850 rpm, but by now Jaguar was admitting it was in reality 272bhp DIN. Transmission was the Jaguar four-speed manual or the optional Borg-Warner 12J three-speed automatic. At launch, Jaguar stated that the XK engined E-type would remain available in Series 3 form, but in reality only three were manufactured.

Jaguar E-type Series 3

V12 was a tight fit under the bonnet...

Visually the Series 3 E-type was recognisable by its enlarged air intake which was fitted with a chrome grille, similar in style to that fitted to the XJ6 saloon. Pressed steel wheels with chrome hubcaps were standard, and wire wheels were now an optional extra. The wheels were now 6in wide, an inch more than before, which resulted in the car having flared wheelarches. The Series 3 also featured a wider track, power steering as standard, and more powerful brakes. The decision was made to standardise the 8ft 9in wheelbase of the 2+2, which meant the 2-seater FHC was no longer available. So how did it perform out on the road?

At the end of 1971 Denis Jenkinson, by now running a Series 2 Roadster, spent a week test driving the new V12 E-type. ‘For all normal motoring purposes, I could not see that the V12 engine gave any particular advantage over the six-cylinder, apart from the incredible smoothness and flexibility. Obviously it had a lot more power, and it did everything the 4.2 did, at a 20mph higher speed. Where the 4.2 would cruise at 100mph with little or no throttle opening, the V12 cruised at 120mph with the foot eased right back, but at the expense of 15mpg against 21mpg. The acceleration of the 4.2 at 100 mph for instant overtaking, or getting ahead of an impending situation, was repeated by the V12 at 120mph though maximum speed was no better than the
3.8-litre E-type…

When driven spiritedly, the Series 3 began to show up a lot of shortcomings, even though it had been improved with a wider track. It had lower profile tyres on wider rims, better brakes with ventilated discs, and improved dampers; but even so the new V12 engine was such a big stride forward, that the concept of the E-type could not keep pace with it – and it was all too easy to run out of roadholding, steering and braking ability if you gave the 5.3-litres their freedom.’

Jaguar E-type Series 3

E-type Series 3 interior was traditional...

Motor magazine tested a Series 3 Roadster in November 1971 and achieved a maximum speed of 146mph, 3mph down on 77 RW a decade before. If nothing else, it showed how much less aerodynamic the E-type had become. What was more impressive was the 0-60mph time, now down to 6.4seconds. Autocar tested the FHC and came away with 142mph and 6.8seconds.

At £3123 for the Roadster and £3,369 for the FHC, the Series 3 was still great value for money. It was cheaper than the £3671 Porsche 911, which could only manage 125mph. If you still wanted 150mph, you could opt for the Ferrari 365GT 2+2, but it would cost £9141. By now there were even faster cars on the market, such as the Lamborghini Miura, which for £10,860 could top 170mph. The 1970s would be the decade of the supercar, and although the E-type was perhaps the progenitor of these, it was a game Jaguar could no longer afford to indulge in.

In 1971, Jaguar built 35 XK E-types and 3746 V12s, which was down on the previous few years – and was perhaps an indication that the car was losing its sales appeal.

The automatic transmission XJ12 with a maximum speed of 135.7mph was little slower than the FHC Series 3 E-type, which showed how much chassis development had progressed since 1961. In 1972 E-type production amounted to some 3705 cars, but the assembly lines had been at a standstill for around thirteen weeks during the year due to industrial disputes. Also during the year Jaguar Technical Director Walter Hassan retired to be replaced by Bob Knight.

As for the E-type, time was running out. All cars exported to the USA from 1974 had to have ungainly rubber bumper overriders which added weight and further distorted the cars appearance. And to make matters worse there were more restrictive American safety regulations on the way for 1976. Sadly for the E-type, its boot mounted petrol tank could not meet the mandatory 30mph rearward barrier crash test due to come in force. Demand in the USA had now virtually evaporated and because Jaguar had not cut back on production, there were many unsold cars at dealerships.

September 1974
The final Jaguar E-type was built

To be fair to Jaguar, many pundits felt that the energy crisis would not affect Jaguar because of the pre-energy crisis waiting list for their cars, but quite clearly it had. Only 2759 E-types were manufactured in 1974, the last emerging in the week ending 14 September 1974. Before he retired, Lofty England took the decision to axe the car, but the E-type was ultimately doomed by American regulations, and customer expectations the car could not deliver. In 1974 the American Road & Track magazine tested a Series 3 V12 and commented: ‘What was such a magnificent engine doing in such an outdated body?’

The final E-type, registered HDU 555N was retained by Jaguar Cars, the last of 72,233 cars. As there were many unsold cars at dealers, Jaguar delayed announcing the end of E-type production until February 1975.

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