Equally ground breaking as it was beautifully breathtaking, Jaguar’s E-Type was born in a time when the sixties were a-swingin’, Britain was a powerhouse of engineering prowess and we were at the forefront of the world stage. We had an empire! And in 1961, British manufacturer Jaguar had just released the world’s first 150mph production car.
Admittedly, the 150mph record claim was potentially a little on the contentious side, with the registration plates on the two test cars being painted on thinly for an aerodynamic advantage and rumours of Dunlop racing tyres and blueprinted engines with gas-flowed heads allowing them to rev to nearly 6,000rpm in top gear – nigh on a thousand higher than the 5,000rpm deemed ‘safe’ on the first production vehicles – but the record still stood. The E-Type also boasted a sub-7 second nought to sixty mile per hour sprint time and while that may not sound like much by today’s standards, we’re talking about sixty years ago here. Sixty years on the 15th March just gone, in fact, which prompted local E-Type owners to descend upon Le Braye car park to meet up, go for a little spin and then enjoy breakfast in celebration of this impressive anniversary.
Much like Audi had been doing until their departure from the World Endurance Championship in 2016 – and will likely pick back up now they’ve announced they’ll be joining the LMDh series – in the fifties and sixties Jaguar were implementing the advances in technology developed for the race track into their production cars, with the E-Type’s design heavily influenced by their Le Mans-winning D-Type race car. Another Le Mans proven upgrade came in the form of the V12 engine fitted to the Series 3 E-Types towards the end of the production run, delivering the goods when Autocar independently tested the E-Type to 153mph. There could be no question that it was capable of 153mph straight out of the box, this time.
Few cars of this era are as instantly recognisable as the E-Type by the petrol-headed and non-petrol-headed alike, with its iconic silhouette having made its way into contemporary culture time after time. Initially starring in Italian comic book series Diabolik in 1962 when the E-Type was still in its infancy, Diabolik himself could be found behind the wheel of a sleek black Series 1 E-Type when thwarting Inspector Ginko’s attempts to catch him. Of course a master thief would be driving the latest, fastest sports car – of course he would. He probably stole it, too. A film adaptation followed at the end of the sixties, and I have to admit that I’m only familiar with this because of another occasion where this black E-Type rolled into the limelight much, much later – 1998, in fact. That’s right, none other than the Beastie Boys parodied Diabolik in their music video for Body Movin’, at a time when my eyes were very much glued to MTV on the occasions that they weren’t dissecting car magazines. Or doing my homework.
One year earlier, in 1997, Austin Powers made a spectacular and hilarious entrance into cinemas driving an E-Type roadster draped in Union Jack colours, cementing it in our minds as the archetypal British sports car. It really is, after all, isn’t it? Britain’s answer to the Lamborghini Miura, a car which is usually in contention for the title of most beautiful car ever produced, along with Jaguar’s E-Type, of course. On the subject of films, there’s a re-make of Diabolik scheduled to be ‘in the can’ and onto silver screens (remember those?!) within the next year or so, and you can almost guarantee that the star will be driving a black, flat-floor Series 1 E-Type FHC – that’s ‘fixed-head coupé’ for those who didn’t know – even though these early examples in particular are worth an incredible amount of money these days. Thinking back to when they weren’t worth an incredible amount of money, however, there’s one more iconic film in which this iconic vehicle played what was, admittedly, a supporting role, as a player in the story line that was destroyed by mafioso using a wheel-loader, the side of a mountain and gravity, making way for three Minis to take its place. Three Minis in red, white and blue. I am, of course, making reference to The Italian Job. Charlie Croker’s crew have their red E-Type roadster and black fixed-head destroyed along with his Aston Martin DB4, which, curiously, was actually fake. The E-Types, however, were genuine, albeit crash-damaged and repaired, and the roadster still exists today. Granted, there was a Miura in the opening credits (also suffering a similar, if more fiery fate) and the Minis were undoubtedly the true stars, but nonetheless, there were two E-Types – still very much en vogue given they were the choice of yet another criminal mastermind.
I’d like to think that you don’t actually have to be a criminal mastermind to own one, though. I only managed to chat with a couple of owners at the local 60th anniversary celebration and at least neither of them seemed nefarious in the slightest. It was fantastic to see these enthusiasts united by a love of their big cats, with a couple of more modern fixed-head felines lurking in the background (a pair of silver Jaguar XK8s) at a respectable distance from the main gathering. E-Types of all years, body styles and colours had descended on Le Braye’s car park as part of the local register’s planned celebrations. I never would’ve expected to see so many together all at once, and having the opportunity to take a closer look at such a number of incredibly well kept, enthusiast-owned vehicles was an opportunity not to be missed.
If you have an E-Type that isn’t on the register or would like to find out more about the upcoming events, including the Jaguar Gala Dinner on the 26th June that will bring all Jaguar club members together to celebrate the E-Type’s 60th year, contact Mark Blanchard by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org