Somewhere floating around my home – I believe the upstairs loft, is a somewhat faded picture of a boy in a suit, sitting in the driver’s seat of a British Racing Green 1963 Jaguar E-Type. He has a slight shy smile. It was my 16th birthday, and my father asked me what I would like.
I wanted to rent an E-Type and enjoy it all day. Even called rental companies in the Bay Area to no avail. I guess I was a bit naïve, although Hertz was renting the Shelby GT-350, so why not? There are many stories about that, including the time a customer returned one minus the Shelby-prepared 289 engine and put in some wheezy tired 289 from a pedestrian Ford station wagon.
Needless to say, Hertz didn’t make any money on its “weekend racer”. But it became a legend, so much so that Ford made a commemorative GT350H a few years ago.
Anyway, when I called the local British car dealer, Oxford Motors, a salesman apparently took pity on me and gave me a short 20-minute ride in an E-Type roadster off the used car lot.
I can still remember the thrill of the downshifts on 16th street and the revving of that legendary 3.8 liter Jaguar Inline 6. In addition to the British Racing Green paint, it had tan leather. Imagine remembering that after over 50 years.
That engine propelled virtually every Jaguar of the 50s and 60s, even giving a Lemans victory or 2 in their C-Types and D-Types.
Watch a legendary Jaguar factory driver, Mike Hawthorne, give a tour of the Lemans course in his D-Type in 1956.
And the E-Type was derived from the racing-only D-Type.
That engine, in America, had the reputation of being troublesome. There are almost as many Jaguar jokes as Lucas jokes (“How many Jags does the enthusiast need? Answer: 2. One for the shop and one for the garage”).
In truth, the engine was near bulletproof – even the British police used them in in the beautiful Series 2 sedan (saloon!). It was the cooling system, not used to the extreme heat in some of the US) and of course, the Lucas electrical system.
When Ford bought Jaguar, they straightened out the Lucas problem. “Get your Jaguar components right, or you won’t get the Taurus contract”.
Nevertheless, until E-Type values soared, some Americans were replacing that engine with small block Chevys.
While I’m here, the E-Type was never officially known as the “XK-E”, but “E-Type”. The public and the press just coined it the XK-E, after the XK-120, XK-140, and XK-150.
Anyway, for some years as a yoot, my idea of a Saturday’s entertainment was to catch the #2 city bus, take the 30-minute ride downtown to Oxford Motors on I Street, and sit in those beautiful E-Types while talking to the salesmen. I had enough sense to discreetly leave the area when a customer came. Maybe that’s why they tolerated me.
The salesmen seemed to enjoy the conversations during the slow times. Maybe that’s why one gave me the ride.
I absolutely lusted for an E-Type until I discovered….the BMW 2002 a few years later, in 1968. But that’s another story.
During the 1970s and early 80s, used E-Types became closer to affordability – as low as $3000. But the practical side of me always intervened with scary stories of maintenance requirements.
Such as having to lift out the engine to change the clutch. Or drop the rear axle to change the brake rotor (disk!). That certainly wasn’t in the budget for an 18 year old.
Looking back, I wish that I had more of an adventuresome automotive spirit though. Like Lex did, at probably just a year or 2 older. He writes about the 50 year anniversary here.
A bit of trivia about the E-Type.
In 1961, it took the automotive world by storm. None other than Enzo Ferrari pronounced it the most beautiful car in the world. Here’s a Car and Driver write up of the car at its introduction.
And the producers of the then-new James Bond movie franchise were looking for an exciting car for their Mr Bond, rather than the stodgy old Bentley the book Mr Bond had.
They didn’t have a big budget despite the success their previous movie had.
They approached Sir William Lyons, the owner of Jaguar, and asked to be provided with 2 coupes (coupé!) to be used in the new production.
Lyons was known as being tight-fisted, and giving tremendous value for the money in his Jaguar line.
Besides that, he was selling every E-Type that he could make.
He told the producers to buy them like everyone else.
The producers then went to cash-strapped Aston Martin, who seemed perennially near bankruptcy.
And they were happy to provide the producers 2 silver DB-5 coupes. Which probably saved Aston-Martin. This was before the concept of product placement, when manufacturers pay the producers to include their products.
And that is why in Goldfinger, the audience was introduced by Q to the car that the movie Bond became forever associated, the Aston-Martin DB-5.
Although I think he would have appeared even more suave with a Jaguar E-Type coupe.
The 1968 Federal automobile regulations affected some car makers worse than others. This was the first legislation that really interjected the Federal Government into automotive design. Those with the financial resources survived. Some now classic cars, like the Austin Healy 3000, disappeared. The Shelby AC Cobra died but AC Cars in England still continued.
Carroll Shelby, whose company made about 1,000 Cobras of both kinds (289, 427) from 1962-1967, couldn’t see deliberately crashing his cars for the government safety regulations. 1967 marked the end of the Cobra.
The Jaguar E-Type survived for 1968, but its claws were trimmed. In the engine compartment, horsepower went down, with 2 Stromberg carburetors instead of the 3 beautiful SU carburetors. The bumpers became Federalized, and I believe raised a bit. There were no longer glass-covered headlights.
For me, it will always be the Series 1.
Happy anniversary, E-Type!