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The look of incredulity is writ large.
“They’ve totally legit parked them here,” she shouts to her clothing-averse friend before taking a selfie by the cars; you know, just to immortalise the moment.
Everyone does, except for the older generation who delight in informing us that they don’t ‘do’ mobiles.
They do, however, have memories. Without prompting, they start drinking in our brace of Jaguars, reminiscing about the time they owned an E-type, dabbled in motorsport aboard one, or worked on the assembly line at the Browns Lane factory.
Leamington Spa of a Wednesday is suddenly awash with onlookers and well-wishers, including the police who don’t appear to mind that we’re ever-so-slightly illegally parked.
Instead, they simply smile. Or wave. Or both. You just don’t get this with Ferraris.
It has been like this all day, too. That is the wonderful thing about the E-type – any E-type: people, for the most part, react positively whether they’re 10 years old or many multiples of that.
Scroll back 60 years and this most famous of sports cars made a huge impression on the public, and nothing has changed in the interim.
For this reason and more besides, it left an indelible mark, and not just in the automotive arena.
Sounds like hyperbole? It isn’t. There are, however, one or two caveats.
You see, not all E-types were created equal.
Some insist that the first of the breed, as depicted here by this 1961 ‘flat-floor’ roadster, is the purest and therefore best.
Then there are those who maintain that the V12 edition, such as the run-out Commemorative edition seen in these pages, is a brilliant wafter; a car for crossing continents in a single bound.
It’s just that the latter has lingered in the shadow of the former ever since it broke cover in 1971.
What is clear is that the E-type hit the ground running six decades ago.
Here was a car that was appreciably faster than most vowel-laden exotica, boasted semi-monocoque construction and had independent rear suspension, yet it comfortably undercut them all
At its launch, on 15 March 1961, a fixed-head E-type could have been yours for £1550, assuming you didn’t mind joining the long waiting list.
By way of contrast, a Ferrari 250GT cost £6600. Heck, a Volvo P1800 was £400 more. It isn’t hard to comprehend why demand outstripped supply.
Described in one august title as being ‘the Brigitte Bardot of cars’, here was a machine that married dizzying beauty with performance that was practically unheard of in 1961.
Sure, the claim of a top speed of 150mph was, ahem, ‘inflated’, but only by a smidge. But norms shift.
While it’s safe to say that the first iteration of the E-type shape was the sexiest, it suffered badly from front-end lift.
Some E-type types also insist that the best all-rounder of the Series 1 cars was the 4.2-litre variant.
Though ostensibly no more powerful than the original 3.8-litre straight-six – 265bhp (gross) at 5500rpm – the larger-displacement unit introduced in ’64 had more torque: 283lb ft of the good stuff at 4000rpm (up from 260). It also came with an all-synchro ’box.
Nevertheless, even then there were a few complications that had nothing to do with power output.
The North American market, which was by far the largest for the E-type, demanded more space and greater practicality, hence the compromised proportions of the 2+2 coupé that arrived in 1966.
Worse was to come, those lovely faired-in headlights losing their Perspex covers along the way.
Purity was being diluted. Not only that, but by the end of the 1960s it was apparent that Jaguar had eked all it could from the long-serving XK straight-six powerplant.
The solution appeared in the form of the 5.3-litre V12 that would, over time, become a legend in its own right.
Inspired by the four-cam unit that powered the XJ13 sports-prototype, it produced a useful 272bhp and its insertion lent the E-type a new lease of life. It made it relevant again.
There were, however, a few visual issues. Many a critic has insisted that much stylistic élan was lost in the transformation.
It’s hard to argue to the contrary, but the outline had already been chopped and changed, silted and reconfigured over the preceding series.
With the V12, the roadster enjoyed the 2+2 edition’s 8in-longer wheelbase, while the wheelarches were teased out to accommodate wider rubber.
The venue for the S3’s big reveal, the 1971 New York Auto Show, was apposite because the US continued to be Jaguar’s key export market (the Stateside-only 5mph impact bumpers and stick-on indicators were ghastly, mind).
Unfortunately, build quality under British Leyland’s tenure was borderline adequate at best.
Reliability was also conspicuously absent: overheating in hotter climes becoming almost the norm.
Not even the reflective glory of trackside success courtesy of Joe Huffaker and Bob Tullius brought about a reversal of fortune.
Meanwhile, back home in energy-crisis Great Britain sales, dwindled to nothing.
But that was then. In the here and now, the E-type in any of its many flavours is a wonderful thing.
All things being equal, mind, with the first and last examples of the breed parked together it’s hard not to make a beeline for the original.
‘Our’ car looks seductive in opalescent dark blue with red leather, that’s for sure.
This was a car for glamorous people, and the first owner of this, the 41st right-hand-drive roadster made, was the 13th Duke of Bedford.
Picking fault with its looks is more a case of making pointless points: yes, there are areas that perhaps aren’t as well resolved as they might be (the windscreen is too upright, the track up front appears too narrow), but it is truly, achingly gorgeous nonetheless.
In comparison, the Series 3 V12 roadster is always going to be on to a loser.
This is one of 50 Commemorative editions, launched as E-type production came to an end in 1974.
Contrary to popular belief, not all of them were black (the lone interloper was resplendent in British Racing Green).
There are no ye olde wire wheels and skinny tyres here, just chrome hubcaps and broad rubber.
They lend the car a different look entirely, one that is more paisley shirt and chest rug than stringbacks and flat cap (the first keeper of this car was record-company owner Mike Tebb).
Compared to the original E-type, it looks larger, but it’s all relative. It’s 254mm (10in) longer than a Ferrari Daytona but, by modern standards, it appears miniscule.
This becomes all too obvious once you get inside.
Everything about the 1961 E-type is calibrated to make your heart soar: the toggle switches regimented in a row; the white-on-black Smiths gauges; the slim-rimmed wooden steering wheel with its polished, drilled spokes; the view across the acreage of bonnet with its peaks and troughs.
Not that it’s perfect, though. Prior experience informs you that the seats aren’t supportive over long distances, while even those of short-ish stature will discover part of their head sticks out above the windscreen.
The Commemorative car’s interior could not be more different, if only in terms of looks.
That said, while it’s obviously a product of the 1970s, the architecture is from an earlier age.
It isn’t cramped, but it isn’t generous, either, even though valuable space was gained courtesy of it employing the long-wheelbase chassis. It’s just about right if you’re of average height, and comfortable with it.
The steering column is adjustable for reach, seat adjustment is generous (unlike its forebear), and the base of the dash no longer interferes with your knees.
Ergonomically it’s sound, with an impressive array of gauges behind the small-diameter steering wheel along with oh-so-period rocker switchgear.
And then you drive both and the divergences in character become all too apparent.
The earlier car starts via a pushbutton, the exhaust note crisp and burbly without being so vulgar as to be noisy.
Engage first with a pronounced ‘ker-klunk’,ease in the medium-weighted clutch, and the Series 1 accelerates sweetly and cleanly.
Throttle response is immediate, pedal pressure being way lighter than you might imagine. The Moss ’box, however, is truculent. Going up, it’s fine, but going down is a different story.
Racing changes aren’t an option, nor does it respond to tactility. However, once acclimatised it isn’t an issue and the bottom-gear whine makes you smile.
Motorsport’s famous deerstalker exponent, John Bolster, opined in Autosport that the car’s 0-60mph time of 6.8 secs was ‘almost incredible’.
He also mentioned that: ‘145mph came up from time to time during ordinary road motoring,’ but then it was the 1960s.
Somewhere south of that figure, but driven enthusiastically, it still feels fast. The steering is delightfully analogue, too, being well-weighted, lively and responsive.
Then you arrive at a corner. The car is never less than communicative, and agile with it. On reasonably testy backroads, it’s throttle-adjustable and transitions keenly from apex to apex.
There is, however, a caveat in that the brakes do not inspire confidence (it’s an all-round disc set-up, inboard at the rear).
They work, but you wouldn’t want to summon their assistance in a hurry. Certainly not twice in rapid succession.
Legend also suggests that early E-types are skittish when pressed, but it feels way more user-friendly than a lot of cars of similar vintage, at least so long as you think ahead.
Despite the skinny rubber and seemingly narrow front track, it grips better than preconceptions might have you believe.
There’s a tautness and composure here found lacking in most of its contemporaries with their separate frames and beam axles.
Step into the more youthful of the two cars and it’s almost eerily quiet on start-up.
There’s merely the sound of a light flywheel spinning the short-stroke V12 into life.
Slot the gearlever into first, ease off the beautifully weighted clutch and the Series 3 E-type takes off with barely a murmur.
Such is the lack of fanfare, it comes as something of a surprise when you check the speedo for the first time and notice you’re going way faster than expected.
It isn’t so much that it’s a rocketship, more that it’s just so, well, undramatic. That initial impression never fades, either. If anything, it’s amplified.
Unlike most modern-day exotica, the Series 3 variant doesn’t trumpet its impending arrival from miles away.
Unless you’re revving hard, which is unnecessary, the most you hear is a gentle hum from the exhaust pipes.
This is a car that can trickle along at 500rpm in top, which equates to 11mph. That’s remarkable still.
Even under load, it isn’t exactly extrovert. There’s little whine from the cams, or induction roar for that matter. Cruising at 70mph in fourth requires just 3200rpm, 80mph a mere 3700rpm.
As such, you can leave it in top all day, which is perhaps as well because the long-throw gearchange baulks a little, particularly when the transmission is hot.
It is only when you head out on to challenging country roads that the S3 loses ground to the earlier car.
The steering is dead at low speeds, the omnipresent hiss of the power assistance never far away.
However, with more pace the weight builds up appreciably yet it is nowhere near as communicative as the 1961 version’s set-up.
Weighing 1505kg (3316lb) compared with 1202kg (2650lb) for the straight-six roadster, only a small percentage of the extra heft can be attributed to the V12 jewel, which is 65kg (143lb) heavier than the XK unit.
The ride quality remains impressive, absorbing the worst topographical imperfections in unruffled style, but you notice the extra tonnage when cornering.
The V12 example doesn’t like to be pushed. Stouter boots are accompanied by a wider track front and rear, while suspended from the strengthened bulkhead is a subframe that boasts the XJ6 saloon’s anti-dive geometry.
It does a good job of taming understeer, but at no point does this feel like a sports car.
It is securely planted, and offers a good compromise between ride and handling, but you wish the Series 3 model was that bit more involving; less civilised.
It is a superb cruiser, and has the additional advantage of stopping power (there are discs all round, the fronts ventilated, the solid inboard rears cooled by dedicated ducting).
The Series 3 just isn’t the last word in driver interaction.
But then bombing down B-roads was never its intended purpose.
It isn’t so much that it isn’t as good as the original E-type, more that it’s a different beast entirely.
The first-series edition is, however, less anodyne. It’s a car that, for all its flaws, is way better than it ever needed to be to succeed. And how.
As Road & Track reported in September 1961: ‘To sum up this car in the third sentence of a report may be unusual, but for us it is easy to do. The car comes up to, and exceeds, all our greatest expectations.’
Jaguar’s E-type in its pure original form was – and still is – much more than just a car. It’s a cultural touchstone, and one that remains undiminished by familiarity.
Images: Olgun Kordal
Thanks to Mike Goodbun, Jaguar Classic
Jaguar E-type S1 3.8
- Sold/number built 1961-’68/17,375
- Construction steel monocoque with tubular front subframe
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 3781cc straight-six, triple SU HD8 carburettors
- Max power 265bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 260lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Transmission Moss four-speed manual, no synchro on first, RWD
- Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar rear lower links, driveshafts as upper links, twin coil/damper units
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes discs, with servo
- Length 14ft 7¼in (4450mm)
- Width 5ft 4¼in (1660mm)
- Height 3ft 11in (1190mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft (2440mm)
- Weight 2650lb (1202kg)
- 0-60mph 6.8 secs
- Top speed 149mph
- Mpg 17.9
- Price new £1550
- Price now £100-200,000 (flat-floor roadster)*
Jaguar E-type S3 V12
- Sold/number built 1971-’74/7990
- Construction steel monocoque with tubular front subframe
- Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 5343cc 60º V12, four Zenith-Stromberg carburettors, Lucas Opus electronic ignition
- Max power 272bhp @ 5750rpm
- Max torque 304lb ft @ 3500rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or Borg-Warner three-speed auto
- Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar rear lower links, driveshafts as upper links, twin coil/damper units, anti-roll bar
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes discs all round, ventilated at front, solid inboard at rear, with servo
- Length 15ft 4½in (4685mm)
- Width 5ft 6in (1679mm)
- Height 4ft (1219mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 9in (2667mm)
- Weight 3316lb (1505kg)
- 0-60mph 6.3 secs
- Top speed 143mph
- Mpg 15
- Price new £3743 (1974)
- Price now £50-110,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
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