For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here
Pull away and you can tell this isn’t a regular E-type…
Has it got less flywheel? “Yes, it’s lightened.” Cams? “Eagle’s own.” That would explain why it feels more crisp, with revs climbing eagerly compared to the slower build of the standard 4.2-litre XK.
But the biggest revelations are the steering and turn-in, even though the unpowered rack is guiding 225-section rubber, half as wide again as standard, and probably double the footprint (and heft) of the first cars’ Dunlop RS5s.
The steering wheel talks to you like a Porsche 911’s and, even with that weighty lump of iron between the front wheels, turn-in is eager, grip faithful.
It stops, too, with bite sufficient to lock the front wheels with ease but so sensitive to modulate that you should never need to.
It winds the rev counter round to 5500rpm while leaving a deliciously crackling exhaust in its wake, and even the ‘slow’ Jaguar four-speed shifts slickly.
This is an E-type on a really good day; like an E-type, but… more. This is Eagle Number 1.
Eagle is built upon a simple enough ethos: “We maintain the character of the original E-type without diluting the spirit, and add reliability, safety, and performance.”
This 1966 4.2 was the first car completely reworked as a package by Henry Pearman and Paul Brace, delivered to its keeper a quarter of a century ago.
Even after 30,000 miles the paint looks like a two-year-old rebuild, the leather is just settling in and owner John McLaren liked it so much that he joined the firm.
Founder Pearman offers the interesting observation that: “John’s car is now almost as old as an Eagle as it was when we built it.”
This car and its owner helped shape the Eagle philosophy of offering a complete, re-engineered Jaguar E-type restored to a higher standard than Browns Lane.
McLaren hadn’t been a hardened classic car enthusiast, nor a particular E-type fan, when he dipped a toe in the water with a restored S2 roadster, but he was unnerved by continual problems.
He wanted a reliable classic that worked.
Brace and Pearman, encouraged by McLaren’s assurance that he could not be alone in wishing for the ultimate, decided to stop taking in regular E-types for routine maintenance and to cease offering partial restoration work.
Instead, the business model switched to only offering fully restored E-types at a fixed price.
Eagle moved to East Sussex in 1993 and finally handed over this car in 1995.
HUF 42E has had some adventures. After a few hundred local shakedown miles, McLaren disappeared to Switzerland and France with ‘No 1’.
Three days later, somewhere near Dijon, he was let down by a gearshift issue (faulty parts; Eagle subsequently changed supplier).
A couple of phone calls later, Brace was on his way with tools and spare parts, having called his wife to say that he would be a little late home. By morning he was near the Rhône, working on the car.
Pearman started restoring classics straight out of school, got his first E-type at 18 and founded Eagle E-types in 1984, aged 21. Eagle restored its first car, a 3.8 coupé, the following year.
In 1988 he entered the Pirelli Classic Marathon in a recently acquired and mildly improved S1½ roadster, finishing fifth.
But in 1989 he was back, this time navigated by Motor Sport’s Gordon Cruickshank, and they won, sending shockwaves though the rally world by beating established giants Moss, Hopkirk and Clark.
He still owns the car.
On the same rallies was Paul Brace in a home-restored, ex-rallycross 1966 Porsche 911T, and they ran together on the road throughout. Brace joined the company shortly afterwards.
By ’92 the duo was running an advertising campaign offering an E-type restoration service to ‘better than new’.
McLaren was the first customer and his business acumen and less car-focused perspective helped steer how the company operated.
He retained a close interest, helping with advice and writing the first brochures, and, following a career marketing The Macallan whisky into a world leader, joined Eagle as chairman in 2015. Most recently, he joined the board of Gordon Murray Group.
After McLaren’s car, Eagle’s process of continual development led to new variants, starting with a Low Drag version that had been an ambition since even before Eagle No 1 was completed.
In 2004 Brace drew up the flared-arched Speedster, carrying out the body modifications on an existing shell as a feasibility study in 2005.
The car was finally finished in 2009 and handed over to its owner by Martin Brundle at Salon Privé at The Hurlingham Club.
The first Low Drag GT appeared in 2013, and in 2016 the Eagle Spyder GT was revealed and handed over at the Windsor Concours of Elegance.
The ultimate (so far) is the 2020 Lightweight GT, which runs a wide-angle-head, 4.7-litre engine making 400bhp, and weighs just under 1000kg, which represents a 30% reduction in mass from a standard car.
The company was rebranded in 2017 with its current winged logo, which Brace points out can be incorporated into the beautiful billet cam covers.
“The customer can have it on them, or not.
“We machine them from solid so you can imagine the size of the billet, but it’s hard to find old ones that aren’t leaky, and we don’t get through the quantities to justify new castings.”
They’re gorgeous to look at, and attention to such details provides a nice snapshot for the way the company goes about building its cars.
On our visit, Eagle number 49 was almost complete, with 50 not far behind it. Although development work has been continuous, and some of the latest Eagles look pretty extreme, both Pearman and Brace are at pains to point out that these are absolutely not new cars.
“They are rebuilt originals, and we go to great lengths to ensure that we keep that essence,” explains Pearman.
“We wanted to retain the heart and soul of an original E-type, and we use as much of the original car as possible,” adds Brace.
“We don’t mess about with fuel injection and we wouldn’t go putting V8s in them, for example.”
Walk through the specifying and build process and all of that becomes obvious, with as much of the original structure retained as possible.
Regardless of how good it looks, every bodyshell has its outer sills renewed and an extra web welded in between the jacking points in the process.
“It’s quite a rigid, over-engineered structure as it is,” says Brace. “But in terms of tolerances they’re all over the place.
“We’ve watched videos of them being made and we can’t understand how Browns Lane managed to make so many of them, so fast.”
Any suspect metal – rusty or bent – is cut out and replaced, and once finished the body is dry-assembled to check the fit of light units and trim before being taken apart again for painting and to have the whole structure rust-proofed. “We use a lot of ‘product’,” Brace admits.
Everything, including seat-making and trim, is done in-house. Eagle even produces its own air-con units, built by hand from laser-cut blanks and clever reassembly of the original heater box.
Wiring looms are new and bespoke, to handle extra electrical features, often controlled by repurposed factory switches mounted in original but retrimmed dashboards, so that Eagle cars retain the correct cabin architecture.
It’s a skilful and intoxicating blend of old and new tech: in a world of CNC-controlled machining, it’s a joy to step into the small machine shop and to find among the mills and drills a Boxford lathe of the type that gentlemen of a certain age – including Brace (and me) – will remember from their O-level metalwork classes.
The suspension modifications look fairly simple but are subtle in how far they reach.
The basic layout isn’t changed, because the E-type’s all-independent suspension was sophisticated when it was new, but the magic of making it behave like a different car lies in tweaking the geometry.
Better dampers, like better tyres, are a given.
McLaren ’s car rides on 225/60x15 Pirelli P7s, on 6½in rims, because he doesn’t like the narrow stance of an original car, and this threw up problems when his was being built.
The extra width revealed a difference in the wheelarches from side to side (one side rubbed).
Rather than trying to remedy it, Pearman took the bold decision to offer McLaren a choice of his money back (as a gesture of faith he’d paid 80% up front), or to start again with a better shell, which was HUF, that he’d been keeping for himself.
Now the rebuilds are done in-house, and arches have rolled, wired edges rather than folded lips, which consumes yet more man-hours.
The most obvious difference is under the rear, where the standard pressed-steel radius arms are ditched in favour of neatly fabricated tubular links that are – and here’s the biggest change – spherical-jointed at each end rather than having massive rubber bushes up front.
These rein in the wishbones more tightly and can be set up to confer a little passive rear-steer in roll, which helps to explain that sharp turn-in.
The wishbones are mounted on eccentric bushes, which allow a little negative camber – “usually, but not always, because of manufacturing tolerances,” cautions Brace – and even a degree of toe in/out adjustment.
At the front it’s more of the same, with a ‘Shelby drop’ on the upper wishbones (the top mounts are lowered) and slightly repositioned lower wishbone mounts, all for a bit of negative camber. The wishbones look new, but they’re refurbished originals.
To eliminate bump-steer, the rack height is reset, and Eagle’s own steering arms get the track rods where they need to be: in line with the rack and as horizontal as possible at rest.
Castor can be played with according to the customer’s taste, and, most important, the rack is solidly mounted, which massively sharpens the steering.
“On a standard car, you can see the rack moving if you turn the wheel at standstill,” Brace says, explaining that most rewarding feature of No 1, the super-communicative steering, is ‘pointier’ than the current spec. We’ve dialled it back a bit from that, because most owners want it more relaxed. But you can have what you like.”
Brakes are usually AP Racing four-pots clasping massive vented and drilled discs.
“You don’t need the biggest option unless you’re doing track days,” Brace continues. “One size down is probably best for the road. Whatever you do, the rears are going to overheat first anyway.”
Hence the carbonfibre air scoops occupying some of the room taken up by the original doughnut radius-arm mounts.
Brace explains that sometimes it’s more about convincing customers what they don’t need.
“Every customer’s needs are different,” he says. “Sometimes they want the biggest and best of everything.
“I ask what they plan to use the car for, and we take it from there. Our most popular spec at the moment is between GT and Sport.”
With all these mods, and despite those extra webs in the sills, an Eagle doesn’t have to be heavy.
“We can usually get 200-250lb out of them,” says Brace. “There’s lots you can do: magnesium sumps, diffs, even hubs, ally calipers and an aluminium block. Changing to our small lithium battery saves 10kg on its own.”
Inevitably, this level of dedication, care and attention from a staff of 20 comes at a price.
The numbers look eye-watering until you break them down – each car takes more than 4000 hours to build – but Pearman is happy to elaborate.
“We have always offered all Eagle in-house restorations at a fixed price. This was one of our original unique selling points, taking away the worry and concerns on commencing a journey into the unknown where, once a car has been stripped and an original estimate often blown out the water, it is too late.”
He continues: “This is what we countered head-on with our ‘one standard, one price’ Eagle E-type restoration option.
“The current new-commission fixed price to our Eagle Classic spec is £420k [plus VAT for UK customers], which includes a decent original car, that we supply, as the basis.
“This is split into a staged payment programme. Each commission will consume in excess of 4500 hours and we need between 18 and 24 months from start to finish.”
And there’s more. “We then offer a fixed-price menu of in-house developed options.
“Because each car is tailored to a client’s requirements, the end costs will vary. As a guide, the Eagle GT spec is an additional £20,500, plus VAT if a UK delivery.
“On the rare occasion that a pre-owned, fully Eagle-restored, and numbered, example from, say, the ’90s comes to market, it is the entry level.
“Eagle 6 is on our website and priced at £365,000, although it was completed to be a semi-‘GT3’ style of car. John would never sell, but his car would command a significant premium over that.
“We have recently sold two pre-owned later ‘full Eagles’, similar in spec to John’s, and the selling prices ranged between £435,000 and £540,000.”
Spyder GTs and Low Drag GTs take 8000 hours, so add around 50%.
Having a laugh?
Some might think so – but they won’t have driven one. Like a tailored suit, this is potentially a car for life, so it’s worth taking the trouble to get it just right. I’d say 50 happy customers worldwide can’t be wrong.
Images: Will Williams
A spotter’s guide to Eagle E-types
The original and, for many, still the best: a 4000-hour rebuild resulting in a much-improved ‘zero-mile’ fixed-head or roadster
Low Drag GT
Begun in ’98 as the inaugural Eagle special edition, but the first ‘production’ car was handed to its new owner in 2013
The most extreme Eagle was sketched out by Paul Brace in 2004, then completed in 2009 to a positive reception
Launched in 2016, this curvy roadster blends the style of the Speedster with the practicality of a proper roof