In 2008, the Jaguar E-Type was voted the most beautiful car of all time, receiving almost four times as many votes as any other vehicle. Since its launch in 1961, it has been enduringly popular, and to this day is keenly sought-after by enthusiasts.
The New York Museum of Metropolitan Art added an E-Type to its collection in 1996, one of only four cars to be included. And last November, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers recognised the E-Type’s importance by giving it an Engineering Heritage Award.
Development of this iconic car began in 1956 when Jaguar was looking to replace its successful XK120-150 series, which had been launched in 1948. The E-Type was based on the Le Mans-winning D-Type, a factory-built car specifically designed for racing. The chassis was developed in line with aircraft engineering principles, and the body design was influenced by an aeronautical approach to aerodynamic efficiency.
The E-Type was launched at the Geneva Road Show in 1961. Jaguar had sent only one car to the show, but it proved so popular, with so many potential purchasers wanting to get a closer look, that one of the company’s engineers was sent on an emergency dash across Europe with the prototype convertible.
Norman Dewis, Jaguar’s chief development test engineer for 36 years, travelled from Coventry to Geneva in just 11 hours, averaging 68mph, an incredible feat considering the standard of the roads of the time. He survived the journey on just a bag of apples!
The car’s success was down to a winning combination of good looks, affordability and performance way in advance of anything available to the public at that time. The E-Type cost just £1,600 for a basic model, roughly equivalent to £27,800 today. This was almost half the cost of its closest competitor, the Aston Martin DB4.
The Jag had a top road speed of 150mph, and went from 0 to 60mph in just 6.8 seconds. As well as being affordable to the general public, the E-Type was popular with celebrities. George Harrison, Adam Faith, Dave Clark and Brigitte Bardot were all owners.
The E-Type was on sale for 14 years. During this time it went through three main series. Series I had the same 3.8-litre engine and gearbox as the XK150 it replaced, with independent rear-wheel suspension, disc brakes and wire wheels as standard. After a few years the engine capacity was increased to 4.2 litres and a new synchromesh gearbox was added. In 1966, the wheelbase was lengthened to allow room for two rear seats. The original two-seater model remained available, and the new, longer model was known as the 2+2.
Series II was introduced in 1968. This had a number of alterations including open headlights, a wrap-around rear bumper, a larger radiator intake and two electric fans to cope with anti-pollution equipment which made the engine run hotter. This equipment and other alterations needed to meet emissions standards affected the car’s performance, and in 1971 the Series III came into being with the introduction of the powerful new V12 engine.
This engine met stringent American emissions regulations while restoring performance to something close to that of the original 1961 model. The engine was heavier than the XK, so power-steering was introduced as standard. Other changes with this series included increased radiator air intake and improved brakes.
E-Type production ceased in 1974. Today you can pay anything up to £1 million for one of the rarest models.