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There are more than a dozen factory Jaguar E-type variants alone, not to mention modern takes on the theme.
But which is the greatest?
In the model’s 60th-anniversary year, Classic & Sports Car asked experts in design, restoration and racing to pick their favourite E-types.
Series 1 3.8
Stephen Bayley, design guru
Sexual intercourse, as Philip Larkin reminded us, began in 1963: ‘Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban, And the Beatles’ first LP.’ He could have written: ‘Between the end of the Chatterley ban, And the Jaguar XKE.’
Has there ever been amore superlatively epochal product than this bogglingly phallic King’s Road chariot?
My taste for the stripped and bare inclines me towards a Lightweight, but my inner archaeologist insists on the original, the Ur-E, the source of the creation myth, the end of an era, the pivot on which the ’60s swung.
I mean the gunmetal car shown to an astonished media on 15 March 1961 at Geneva’s Parc des Eaux Rives restaurant. Did anybody miss the symbolism of the exuberant Jet d’Eau opposite?
Peter Hugo, Director, Winspeed Motorsport
Phew! A big question, because every E-type model ticks an individual’s box. For me, it’s the 1963 3.8 fixed-head coupé.
Pure, but with the early design flaws resolved. The harder you spank it, the more responsive it becomes – makes you smile from ear to there!
Professor Gordon Murray CBE, Chairman, Gordon Murray Design
There are very few cars in automotive history that are truly beautiful, with perfectly balanced proportions. For me, they have to pass my 360º test – that is, there is no bad angle to view the car from.
In theory the E-type, with its incredibly long bonnet and relatively upright ’screen, had the potential to be a styling disaster and yet its proportions are perfect. There was nothing like it before or since.
My best E-type is the first one – the S1. Like so many other cars where stylists mess around with proportions and details for a facelift or a new variant, it just doesn’t work.
Unusually, I think both the fixed-head coupé and drophead work equally well from a shape and proportion point of view, but it’s the Series 1 that is the icon.
Simon Kidston, Kidston SA
With any great car you either want the pure original design or the most evolved final version, but unless you own a nightclub or a fashion chain I wouldn’t recommend a V12 E-type.
Despite the silky-smooth engine, the podgy styling and character are more Las Vegas-era Elvis than sharp-suited swinging ’60s.
Sorry, no question, it’s got to be the original 3.8, either roadster or coupé, in a great factory-delivered colour and without silly modern wheels or obvious mods, thank you.
Adrian Newey OBE CTO, Red Bull Racing
‘Great’ is a very subjective judgement, clearly, but I would say that as usual the first 3.8 ‘flat-floor’ E-type was the one that spawned all the others, and was the car that created a new bar for ‘affordable’ sports cars, therefore it is the one that would get my vote.
As a footnote it would be in its fixed-head form, the car that my parents owned and in which I had many memorable journeys lying in the back with my elder brother and Great Dane – less happy when the Great Dane broke wind!
Quentin Willson, author and broadcaster
No contest: my greatest E has to be an ‘outside bonnet lock’ right-hand-drive roadster. Any of those first 56 Jaguar dealer demonstrators parked outside Browns Lane in that memorable, rainy photo of 14 July 1961.
The influence, impact and excitement of those first Es would never be repeated. Norman Dewis told me that the public reaction to 77 RW in ’61 was like nothing he’d experienced.
And Adam Faith, who had Lofty England’s roadster, said that when he parked, the car would disappear under crowds of admirers. Although he had a record in the top 20, they were interested in only one thing: the brilliant new Jag.
James Knight, Group motoring chairman, Bonhams
I suspect the Lightweight will secure the most votes, and with good reason. However, having said the same thing from the rostrum for the past 30 years each time I offer one, I’ll stick with the Series 1 coupé.
Let’s face it, every E-type (with the exception of the 2+2) is a good-looking car, but to me the early coupé is the most attractive of all. The simplicity of line at first glance – until you realise it is far from simple – combined with perfect proportions.
Peter Neumark LVO, Chairman, Classic Motor Cars
It would have to be a Series 1 3.8 fixed-head coupé. The purity of the early design, more practical than the roadster and a gem of an engine… and the Moss ’box is okay if you take your time!
Remember, it was the coupé that Enzo Ferrari thought was the most beautiful car, and he didn’t have a bad eye.
Ian Callum CBE, Head of design, Callum
My favourite has to be an S1. Not necessarily a flat-floor or a Moss ’box, these points are irrelevant to me, but it has to be the dramatic coupé. The totality of form of a fixed-head always wins over a convertible.
The first E-type I ever saw was a coupé: I was seven, and that image has endured in my mind; it was pure and correct.
Subsequent cars were aesthetically compromised by US legislation. Some S1½s escaped such compromise by retaining glass over their headlamps, as well as the attraction of the 4.2 engine. After that the purity was lost for me.
Steve Cropley, Editor-in-chief, Autocar
My favourite is the original coupé, as seen in that famous photo of William Lyons standing beside it in Geneva. As a bush-bound 12-year-old, I remember riding home from school a bit faster, just to look again at that muddy black-and-white photo in an Aussie motoring mag.
Why the coupé? Because it was miles more beautiful. The original was the miracle. All others merely gilded the lily.
Dan Pink Director, Jaguar Classic
It has to be the original Series 1. Even now, we’re still unearthing rare examples with fascinating tales to tell.
We’ve just added one of Lofty England’s 1967 development cars to the collection at Jaguar Classic – a 4.2-litre manual 2+2, which is believed to be the only E-type that left the factory with overdrive and is full of unusual details.
McKeel Hagerty CEO, Hagerty
The Series 1 roadster represents the E-type in its purity. People will say that they wish it had more power and an extra gear, but I think it is perfect.
In the endless debate of whether it’s better to have the first or the last of this car or that car, when it comes to E-types, first is best. I have a 1966 model and I absolutely love it.
David Whale Chairman, FBHVC
It would have to be a fixed-head coupé, and a Series 1. I believe the first iteration of a vehicle is always the most pure: as the stylist envisaged, turned into production reality.
Series 1 4.2
Martin Brundle, racer and broadcaster
The best roadgoing E-type I’ve ever driven was my 1965 Eagle 4.2 fixed-head coupé.
I picked it up from Henry Pearman at Eagle and immediately drove it to Monza and back via Spa for the Formula One races. It drove just as well as it looked; we called it Elvis.
Julian Barratt CEO, SNG Barratt Group
My favourite E-type changes after each one I drive, but if I had to pick one I would go with a Series 1 4.2 roadster.
I know the purists love a 3.8, but a few of the areas that were improved on the 4.2 – such as the seats and the brakes – swing it for me in terms of the driving experience.
I also love the look of all E-type roadsters with a hardtop fitted – even though, in the six-cylinder cars, it means that I bang my head on the roof!
Mike Brewer, Wheeler Dealers
The purity of the Series 1 4.2 fixed-head coupé is the one.
A big dose of power under the right foot, a gearbox that’s a delight, and the lines of the roof and rear haunches make me weak at the knees.
Damian Jones, H&H Classics
My pick would be a Series 1 4.2 fixed-head coupé. Yes, the headlights are pathetic and the brakes marginal, but the 4.2s feel a bit more muscular than the 3.8s and have the benefit of the sweet-shifting all-synchromesh gearbox.
The S1s are better looking to my eyes than their later siblings, with their enclosed headlights and taillights sited above the bumper. That said, any E-type feels special – even a Federal-spec S2 2+2 auto on twin Strombergs!
Julian Thomson, Design director, Jaguar
The road car is beautiful, but there are areas where it could be even better.
The stance could be improved because the track is so narrow, and the racers do that – the wheels really fill the arches.
And while the roof of the standard coupés is pretty, it can look a little fragile. The nice thing about the Low Drag is the beautiful line running from the windscreen, through the roof and into the tail; it’s very organic and very striking.
Michael Squire, RM Sotheby’s
It’s a close fight between the Low Drags, but 49 FXN (pictured above) wins because a couple of academics in my old department at Imperial College developed it (before my time!).
The engineering was astonishing, arguably more experimental than any GT of the time. The aerodynamics were groundbreaking, the engine development better than anything from Browns Lane.
It was the quickest Lightweight, did all the major races and I love the shape.
David Gooding, President, Gooding & Co
My favourite E-type has to be the Low Drag or one of the Cunningham Team cars.
I love the spec and livery of the Cunningham cars, and it was such a great team, but the Low Drag was just so menacing and wonderful-looking.
If I were to go totally out-there for a Halloween party then maybe the E-type hearse from Harold and Maude, but I don’t want to be remembered in print for that!
Alex Brundle, GT and historics ace
I love a car that looks fast standing still, and the Low Drags do.
In a world of downforce, and production and race cars looking more and more like parachutes, I see charm in making a car look like a bullet in the pursuit of speed.
Emanuele Pirro lined up next to me in one at Goodwood and I was envious – despite being in an awesome Lightweight prepared by Gary Pearson. Lightweights feel modern, and are tremendously fun to drive.
The Duke of Richmond, Goodwood
My favourite E-type is definitely a Series 1 fixed-head – preferably a late one, AKA a Series 1½.
I much prefer the fixed-head – it really has to be a coupé – and ideally in dark blue. The most gorgeous thing.
Marcus Holland, E-Type UK
I really like the character of the Series 3.
It’s a much more practical, user-friendly car with a real ‘grand tourer’ personality, rather than an out-and-out sports car.
The extended wheelbase, effortless V12 engine, power steering and the ability to upgrade everything from adding fuel injection to sports suspension – as many of our clients do – make the Series 3 roadster the everyday E-type for me.
Gregor Fisken, Fiskens
My pick of the E-types has to be the Cunningham Lightweight, 5115 WK, for the epic tale of two bonnets and a heroic ninth place overall and first in class finish for Briggs Cunningham and Bob Grossman at the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Caught with brake failure at the end of the straight, Grossman took the escape road and encountered a series of straw bales, totally collapsing the bonnet
After he limped back to the pits, race officials would permit a repair, but not a swap – so the pit crew sectioned the perfectly good replacement and bolted it to the remains of the wreckage. Magnificent teamwork and a great bit of history!
Philip Porter, Founder, E-type Club
Although it’s an almost impossible question to answer, it has to be the Lightweights.
They were the ultimate period E-types, often beat the GTOs (especially in ’64), were genuinely based on a production sports car, are very rare, terrific to drive, look stunning and were driven by, among others, World Champions Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Jack Brabham.
Best of the rest
Tiff Needell, racer and broadcaster
It has to be the Joaquín Folch-Rusiñol car we took to third in the 2012 RAC TT (above).
I’ve raced other E-types at Goodwood, and they are the best cars I’ve driven there because they are so perfectly balanced. Unfortunately the American V8s have been so developed that nowadays a Jaguar win is out of the question.
Henry Pearman, Eagle E-types
Although there are at least half a dozen really special E-types for me, it was our Eagle Speedster that I felt made the biggest impact.
For Jeremy Clarkson to declare it not only the most beautiful car, but the most beautiful thing he had ever seen blew us all away – and likewise the estimated 600 million Top Gear viewers, especially those from the younger generation who, until then, seemed to have little interest in classic cars.
The fact that the car has also featured in the Forza games and even a Fast & Furious film cements the E-type for hopefully many generations to come.
To dare to play with the exterior of ‘The Most Beautiful Car in the World’ was risky, but it certainly paid off.
Edward Bridger-Stille, Historics Auctioneers
The purist in me votes for a Series 1 3.8 fixed-head in grey with a red leather interior, but ‘Dark Edward’ would strip off the bumpers, fit an external filler cap, paint it in Briggs Cunningham colours, and devil take the hindmost.
I suppose that is why I’ve just taken the crazy step of actually putting my money where my mouth is and buying one.
I fell off a ladder in 2017 and broke my back; I’ll never walk again, so naturally I bought an E-type! I’ve done the engine and diff assembly, but need an interior and a system of changing gear with no legs – I haven’t quite figured that one out yet…
Nick Whale, Silverstone Auctions
I would have to choose the ex-Dick Protheroe Series 1 fixed-head coupé racer, originally registered CUT 7.
It was a privilege to own this particular car from 2000-2004 and to race it at all the major events including the Spa Six Hours, the Le Mans Classic and several Goodwood TTs.
Nothing mechanical has given me more pleasure before or since, and my biggest regret in life is selling it. A truly superb and majestic piece of British history.
Bob Tullius, Group 44 Inc
As far as I was concerned, the 4.2 coupé was the most beautiful thing on four wheels, but I never really paid a whole lot of attention to Jaguars until we started racing the E-type.
I enjoyed racing the V12s because they were powerful enough to destroy the competition – which back then was the Corvettes.
With the mods allowed by the SCCA rules, we could make it really competitive. It was an outstanding conqueror.