Egal E-type: thunder cat

| 2 Nov 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Never has a magazine article needed sound more than this one.

Gone is the smooth, cultured exhaust note that you’d normally expect from a Jaguar E-type.

In its place is the fearsome crackle of an American V8.

A big American V8.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The fearsome Egal E-type was the creation of Rob Beck and Geoff Richardson

It’s an intimidating noise even at idle, as you adjust the lapbelts, take a brief look at the controls and try to get your head around the fact that this brute of a car is perfectly road-legal.

And that you’re about to seriously disturb the peace and quiet of the Sussex countryside.

Given how it looks and sounds, the first surprise is that it’s not as difficult to drive as you might expect.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The huge 26.5x8.0-15 front tyres follow every camber in the road

The clutch is firm and sharp, but not ‘on-off’ unmanageable, and the gearchange in the four-speed, all-synchromesh Jaguar ’box is straightforward, though you do need to keep a firm hold on the chunky steering wheel.

If you don’t, those huge front tyres will try to wrest control from you as they follow every camber and imperfection.

Also, the non-servo brakes need to be warmer than they’re likely to get on the road before they really do much, but it’s all beautifully sorted and remarkably user-friendly.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The E-type’s front subframe tubes had to be tweaked to make way for the vast V8 engine

None of which will be the lasting impression of driving the Egal.

That’s ‘E’ for E-type and ‘Gal’ for Galaxie – a hybrid of Jaguar chassis and Ford power that was built to go racing during the ’60s.

Its 7-litre V8 was bored out to 8.5 litres during a more recent American restoration, and the power and torque are simply immense.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal’s Ford Galaxie engine started out at 7 litres but is now stretched to 8.5

Dyno figures show just over 600bhp and 600lb ft respectively. Or, to put it another way, more than enough to approach with caution.

So, wait for a clear stretch of road, crack open the throttle a touch, and the car leaps forward.

The gear you happen to be in is completely immaterial – the response is instant and in no time at all you’ve caught the traffic ahead, sworn loudly and laughed in disbelief.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Despite its monstrous output, the Egal isn’t as intimidating as you might expect on public roads – in the dry, at least

Conversation – difficult but manageable at low revs – becomes impossible due to the thunderous roar of the V8, and you’re soon looking for opportunities to do it again.

It is insanely, brilliantly and addictively fast – and that’s just tickling it on a public road.

To really open it up would ideally involve a wide-open airfield and a large dose of brave pills.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Tom McCallum tackles Fintray House Hillclimb, 17 June 1979 © Tom McCallum Collection

The Egal was the brainchild of Rob Beck and Geoff Richardson.

Beck was based in Sutton Coldfield and, having served as a pilot in Coastal Command during WW2, he started a business making picture frames. He ended up selling them all over the world, and counted the Queen among his best customers.

So successful was the firm that he was able to indulge his passion for Jaguars, his interest in cars no doubt influenced by the fact that his uncle was Leslie Wilson – long-time secretary of the Midland Automobile Club and stalwart of Shelsley Walsh hillclimb.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

‘Crack open the throttle a touch and the car leaps forward. The gear you happen to be in is completely immaterial – the response is instant’

“Rob must hold some sort of record for owning Jaguars,” says nephew Alan Brookes with a laugh.

“He had them for road use and for racing, and on top of that he bought a whole selection of older Jaguars at one stage.

“He put them in a barn because he thought he was going to make some money, but he didn’t because it was far too soon – if we still had them, they would be worth a fortune.

“When he retired and sold his factory, they all had to go.”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Huge tyres are employed to help translate the engine’s 600bhp output to the road

Richardson, meanwhile, was a talented driver who’d taken part in the infamous 1947 ‘Mutton Grand Prix’ – so named because one of his fellow competitors had hit a sheep.

The venue for that highly unofficial and impromptu ‘race’ was RAF Silverstone, and in 1948 Richardson returned there to drive his ex-Percy Maclure Riley-ERA in the former airfield’s first British Grand Prix.

He subsequently developed a trio of RRA (Richardson Racing Automobile) Specials between 1949 and 1960, and, working out of premises in Hartlebury, Worcestershire, built a strong reputation as an engineer.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Try to avoid the side-exit exhaust when entering the Egal E-type – especially if it’s hot

Richardson could turn his hand to anything.

When he had his leg amputated below the knee in the early 1970s – the legacy of a serious ankle injury sustained during the war – the factory that should have made his artificial limb was on strike.

He therefore fashioned his own. Two, in fact – one for walking, and another that enabled him to operate a clutch pedal. When his ‘proper’ limb finally arrived, he decided that it wasn’t up to scratch and set about making improvements.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

After Chris Keith-Lucas (left) was satisfied with the Egal it was brought back to the UK, where the team at CKL Developments is planning to return it to its ’60s specification

By the time the idea for the Egal came about, Richardson and Beck had already developed an extremely quick XK120, but felt they’d taken that concept as far as it could go.

They therefore concentrated their efforts on putting a big American engine into an E-type, and settled on the Ford Galaxie’s 427cu in V8.

In an article that Richardson wrote in late 1964, he described obtaining one from Holman Moody and said that it produced 470bhp in ‘Daytona tune’.

He was also alarmed to discover that it weighed 850lb – 130lb more than the Jaguar straight-six engine. By removing the cast-iron manifolds and bellhousing, that came down to 750lb.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

On the rear, huge c10in alloy wheels are shod with 26.5x10.0-15s tyres

The next job was to fit it to the 1962 E-type roadster – chassis number 850450 – the duo had acquired.

The top tubes on the front subframe needed to be moved further apart in order for the engine to drop in and, because that heavy Ford bellhousing wouldn’t fit, they decided to use a Jaguar gearbox.

This was aligned to the V8 via an adapter plate, with a new flywheel and clutch.

Other complications involved moving the starter motor to a new position over the ’box, and re-routing the steering column because it could no longer run alongside the block due to the exhaust pipes being in the way.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

At high revs, conversation is impossible in the Egal’s focused cockpit

Competition-spec suspension and brakes were added, and Salisbury confirmed that its 4HU differential, driveshafts and universal joints would be able to cope with the huge torque.

A new, lighter bonnet was used – complete with a trio of Ferrari 250GTO-style air intakes – and an uprated radiator and oil cooler were fitted.

While Richardson reported that ‘it was immediately obvious to us that the car had tremendous potential and seemed to handle as well as a normal E-type’, keeping the brakes cool would prove to be an ongoing problem – especially the inboard rears.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

A rollcage makes the Egal’s tight cabin even more snug

The Egal’s first outing came at Silverstone on 20 June 1964, when Beck won a 10-lap event for sports-racing cars before finishing second in the race for sports and GT cars.

In August, he found himself in rarefied company on the front row of the grid at Castle Combe alongside the GTOs of Ron Fry and Peter Clarke.

With its fearsome acceleration, the Egal sprinted away from the Italian thoroughbreds and Beck won as he pleased; local hero Fry spun in his attempts to keep up.

‘Our delight knew no bounds,’ Richardson wrote. ‘It was a yardstick with which to measure future performance. I was doubly pleased since the mechanical reliability had been proved.’

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The late Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams in a typically committed pose at Copse Corner, Silverstone, in 1967 © Paul Lawrence

At the Church Lawford sprint in October, Beck set Best Time of the Day at 44.5 secs, pipping the Lightweight E-type of Roger Mac.

Beck then generously agreed that Mac – a young hotshoe with a growing reputation – could have a go in the Egal to see if he could unofficially beat Beck’s time.

A groan went up in the paddock when Mac could do no better than 45.8 secs on his first run, but after his second effort Beck was approached by the Clerk of the Course, Albert Shaw: “Rob, you’d better sell your car to Roger – he’s done 44.1 seconds.”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

“It has a habit of ‘bringing the cheeks together’: you find that bits of track you previously thought were straight are actually not”

It had been a successful first season, despite the fact that the gearbox had broken following a meeting at Oulton Park.

‘A factory replacement ’box was fitted,’ wrote Richardson, ‘and we hoped it would hold out until the end of the season. It did, most admirably!’

Beck recalled that they subsequently installed a Warner gearbox – although Jaguar’s own proved more reliable, and its all-synchro ’box would later be fitted – and he continued to race the Egal in ’65.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Aircraft-style belts help to keep you strapped in

During that season he suffered a huge crash during a Castle Combe test day when the car jumped out of gear in a fast corner.

He was briefly knocked out in the impact, and when he regained consciousness he looked down and wondered why the windscreen was in his lap.

Although the car was rebuilt, he found himself well off the pace.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Ford Galaxie’s iron-fist V8 drops into the velvet-glove classic Jaguar E-type to create something truly special

Brookes recalls him standing in the kitchen of the family home and saying that he’d lost his nerve following the shunt: “I think he went a little bit quiet over it because his mother – my grandmother – was still alive.

“My mother and grandmother would not have been particularly happy with him risking his life in the Egal.

“He gradually gave up racing after that.”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Much of the Egal’s bodywork is bespoke

During 1966, the car was raced by Chris Summers, although there were still occasional outings for Beck and Richardson.

Both men drove it at that year’s Brighton Speed Trials, Beck proving that his nerve hadn’t completely deserted him with second in class and crossing the finish line at 146mph.

In 1967, Richardson recruited a new driver: Barrie Williams. ‘Whizzo’ raced everywhere from Shelsley Walsh and Long Marston to Silverstone, describing it as being: “Horrendous to drive, with way too much power and no grip.

“It ran out of brakes, too. The thing is, it was so quick to the first corner that I won a lot of races.”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal E-type’s enormous side-exit exhausts were added during an American rebuild

Richardson and Beck sold the Egal in the late 1960s.

Subsequent owners included Dennis Macfarlane and Loch Lomond-based Bob Kerr, before it was acquired by Tom McCallum in the mid-’70s.

As a youngster, McCallum had his imagination fired by watching Dennis Poore in the ex-Hans Ruesch Alfa Romeo 8C-35 at Bo’ness, and even saw his hero Fangio winning the 1954 Swiss GP; he’s never forgotten the sound of the Mercedes W196’s straight-eight echoing through the forests of the Bremgarten circuit.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal E-type’s builders, Richardson (right) and Beck (behind, hands crossed), with their new creation at Weston-super-Mare in ’64 © Tom McCallum Collection

McCallum had plenty of experience with Jaguars, having competed in a modified XK120 and the ex-John Burbidge Modsports E-type.

“I thoroughly enjoyed that E-type,” he recalls, “but then Bob Kerr had this thing called the Egal, which I read up about.

We decided that they were about the same value, so I drove up from Buckinghamshire to Doune hillclimb near Stirling and we swapped cars in the paddock.

In those days, people weren’t worried about signing paperwork, and that was the start of it.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The air intakes aid cooling to the massive 8.5-litre V8

“I hillclimbed it at that meeting,” remembers McCallum.

“Doune is pretty fearsome anyway, but a car such as the Egal has a habit of ‘bringing the cheeks together’.

“You find that bits of track you previously thought were straight are actually not, but I think I won my class.

“A little later I entered it in a historic race at Ingliston.”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal E-type is beautifully sorted for the road

“It was dry for practice and I was on pole, and second was Campbell McLaren in one of the ex-Briggs Cunningham Lightweight E-types [5114 WK]," he continues.

“Then there was Roddy MacPherson in a Cooper-Bristol – it was a mixture of sports cars and open-wheelers.

“It was damp when the race started, which didn’t really suit the Egal, so Roddy got past me and I finished second.

“We crossed the line almost together.”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

A four-barrel Holley carburettor feeds the 8.5-litre Ford Galaxie engine

By the time McCallum bought the car, it had been repainted navy blue but was still wearing the JA Pearce wheels that ‘Whizzo’ remembered being fitted in place of the previous Borrani wires.

Those in turn had replaced the original Jaguar wires as Beck and Richardson gradually developed the Egal during the mid-1960s.

“I had hand-cut Dunlop slicks on it to try to get some bloody grip,” recalls McCallum.

“Also, because the wide alloys were quite low, I had skid plates welded underneath so that when you took off on a hillclimb, you didn’t remove the exhausts – you just left a trail of sparks!”

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Sussex countryside reverberated to the sound of the Egal’s ear-splitting V8

“It was immense fun,” reminisces McCallum

“The Burbidge E-type was a very quick car, but not as quick as the Egal. The torque was amazing.

“It was just a joy: I’ve always loved hairy, untidy motor cars. I was never a neat driver…”

In 1980, McCallum got a call from Steve Morse, who ran British Car Parts in Los Angeles. He got straight to the point, and said that he wanted to buy the Egal.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

Despite appearances, the Egal E-type is relatively user-friendly

“I thought of what Bob and I had valued it at,” recalls McCallum, “then doubled it, and he didn’t miss a beat.”

“So, stupidly, with an expensive mortgage and two young kids, I sold it. Morse must have kept it for 25 years.”

The Egal passed to another American owner and stayed in the US until a British-based Jaguar enthusiast heard about it and asked marque expert Chris Keith-Lucas if he’d fly over and check it out.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal’s current alloys were fitted during its most recent restoration

The car had recently been restored, and neither ‘Whizzo’ nor McCallum was hugely impressed with the result.

It certainly didn’t bear much relation to how it had looked during any stage of the Beck/Richardson era, and initially Keith-Lucas had various concerns.

Among those was the fact that, when he first saw the car, its air intake was far more rectangular than the usual E-type oval visible in early images of the Egal, and he thought perhaps the bonnet had been replaced.

Then he found some more period photos and noticed that the air intake had actually been reshaped as early as 1968, most likely as a result of some front-end damage.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal E-type is addictively fast on the road, but it would require a large airfield to truly exploit its massive power output

Keith-Lucas was delighted to discover that the deeper he delved, the more originality he found.

Alongside the Americans’ immaculate MIG welding, for example, were signs of Richardson’s 1960s gas welding.

The body and front subframe were correct and, when he looked underneath, he could see the brackets for the various gearboxes that Beck and Richardson had tried.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The Egal’s aesthetics have been tweaked by its various owners

Beneath the cosmetic excesses of its recent rebuild, the Egal was alive and well.

With Keith-Lucas satisfied, it changed hands and returned to England.

Given Beck’s links to Shelsley Walsh, and the fact that it was built just down the road, it was fitting that the Egal stole the show at the E-type Club’s 60th-anniversary celebrations last summer.

Classic & Sports Car – Egal E-type: thunder cat

The many stories associated with this classic Jaguar contribute to its rich history

Long-term, the plan is to return it to ’60s specification, and numerous people have come forward to share their stories.

The interest generated has been huge, which should come as no surprise.

Seeing and hearing the Egal is an unforgettable experience.

Images: Luc Lacey, Tom McCallum Collection, Paul Lawrence

Thanks to: Chris Keith-Lucas and James Fraser, CKL Developments; Alan Brookes; Tom McCallum; Pete Stowe


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