1966 Jaguar E-Type coupe
1966 Jaguar E-Type coupe. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

When Jaguar unveiled its new V-8-powered XK8 in March, 1996 it hoped to revive the magic of the E-Type that bowed 35 years earlier. Jaguar did, in fact, call the XK8 the spiritual successor to the E-Type.

The 1961 E-Type Jaguar, also called the XK-E, was as stunning as the XK120 had been in 1948. Its sensuous shape was inspired by the Le Mans winning C- and D-Types, and the short-lived production XK-SS of the 1950s. It combined race-proven performance, sensational styling, and road-going civility in an affordable package.

The E-Type replaced the XK series that was conceived in the forties. It had passed through XK120, 140, 150 and 150S iterations, and had grown fat and heavy. It was time for a change.

Jaguar used both old and new components for the E. The 3.8 litre, double overhead cam, 265 horsepower six and four-speed manual transmission came from the XK150S.

The torsion bar front suspension was inspired by the XK and C-and D-Types. A chassis-mounted differential and independent coil spring suspension replaced the XK’s solid axle. Brakes were four-wheel disc, with the rear ones in-board for reduced unsprung weight. Steering was by rack-and-pinion.

The XK’s body-on-frame architecture was replaced with a unit construction chassis/body and space frame technology. From the cowl back it was unitized using stressed skin and box section rocker panels. >From the cowl forward a bridge-type structure of small, square tubes was bolted to the main body and carried the engine, suspension, etc. The result was strength with lightness; at 1,234 kg (2,720 lb) it weighed 200 (441 lb) less than the XK150S.

The beautiful, windcheating body was created by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer. The lines swept smoothly back from the oval-shaped grille, over sensuously sculpted fenders, around the passenger compartment, and ended in a pertly tapered tail. It rode on beautiful wire-spoke wheels with knock-off hubs.

It was the first Jaguar not styled by William Lyons the father of the Jaguar. Whereas Lyons penned his designs from the heart, guided purely by aesthetics, Sayer approached it from a scientist’s perspective. Both created milestones in automotive styling.

Although its wheelbase was only 2,438 mm (96 in.), and overall length 4,453 mm (175.3 in.), the E-Type appeared longer than it was. Some considered the fastback coupe with its large side-hinged rear hatch to be a handsomer car than the convertible.

The E-Type had outstanding performance. Road & Track magazine (9/61) reported a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) acceleration time of 7.4 seconds, zero to 161 (100) in 16.7, and a top speed of 242 km/h (150 mph).

In 1965 the engine was enlarged to 4.2 litres to cope with an automatic transmission, air conditioning and emission controls. A fully synchronized four-speed gearbox was also added.

A wheelbase stretch of 229 mm (9.0 in.) in 1966 created the 2 + 2 coupe with two small rear seats. The Series II E-Type arrived in late 1968 and safety legislation resulted in raised headlamps without their aerodynamic clear plastic covers, and larger bumpers.

The Series III V-12 came for 1971, the final version of the E-Type. Although other marques such as Ferrari and Lamborghini used V-12 engines, Jaguar’s would be the first mass production V-12 since the Lincoln Continental of 1948.

The Jaguar V-12 was an aluminum, single overhead cam design displacing 5.3 litres (326 cu in.). Originally rated at 314 horsepower, desmogging for North America’s pollution standards brought it here with 250.

When the Series III V-12 made its debut at the New York Auto Show in 1971 it looked like an original E-Type on steroids. It had a cross-hatch grille, the 2 + 2’s longer wheelbase, and fender flares to accommodate the wider track and fat Dunlop E70-VR15 tires.

Once in the hands of the testers (R&T 10/72), the Jaguar was still very quick, but the impact of the big V-12 had been cancelled by added weight and emissions equipment. The 7.4 seconds it took to reach 96 km/h (60 mph) was the same as the original 1961 E-Type. Zero to 161 km/h (100 mph) took almost two seconds longer at 18.5, and top speed was 217 (135), not 242 (150).

The Series III V-12 2 + 2 coupe continued until the fall of 1973, and the roadster until 1975. During a 15 year life more than 72,500 E-Types had been built.

The E-Type Jaguar’s lines were so pure and ageless that the New York Museum of Modern Art added a 1963 model to its permanent collection, only the third car to be so honoured; the others were a 1946 Cisitalia Gran Sport and a 1990 Ferrari Formula One Grand Prix car. In so doing, chief curator Terence Riley stated that the E-Type “…perfectly fits the criterion of a landmark design object.”

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