Jaguar E-Type

The legendary two-seater still turns heads, but how does it stand up against the newcomer?

Age hasn’t dimmed the E-Type’s considerable appeal. It still looks stunning, while its charismatic engine and old-school driving experience make every journey special. Better still, those who can afford one of these legendary cars are getting good value for their money, with mint examples costing three times less than a Ferrari or Aston Martin of similar vintage.

Legends don’t come much bigger than the E-Type. Ever since its 1961 debut, the stunning two-seater Brit has set the standard by which all Jaguar sports cars are judged.

With its blend of beauty, performance and racing pedigree, this is still one of the most desirable models money can buy. Even now, more than 50 years after its jaw-dropping Geneva Motor Show launch, the E-Type still has the power to stop people in their tracks.

Designed by Malcolm Sayer, who was also responsible for Jaguar’s Le Mans-winning C and D-Type racers, the E-Type is perfectly proportioned yet seems surprisingly small when compared to its modern counterpart.

Later Series 2 and 3 versions compromised the elegant lines by adding a larger grille, wider wheelarches and bigger bumpers, but our beautifully restored 1964 Series 1 looks exquisite. From its faired-in headlamps to its long, sculpted nose and centre-exit twin exhaust, the E-Type oozes catwalk glamour.

Jaguar is famed for its luxurious interiors, but our car’s feels spartan by today’s standards. Still, you do get soft leather trim and a lovely wood-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, while the simple dashboard is peppered with dials and delicate-looking toggle switches.

Better still, the low driving position gives an unrivalled view over the long bonnet. It’s just that the cockpit feels cramped, and you’re acutely aware of the lack of safety kit – even seatbelts were optional on early cars.

Twist the tiny ignition key, press the starter button and all thoughts of safety are drowned out by the XK straight-six. The first E-Types got a 3.8-litre engine from the XK150, but ours has the lustier 4.2 used from 1964 to 1971.

With a healthy 255bhp, the Jaguar still feels fast today. Despite not having fuel injection or hi-tech engine management, it pulls smoothly and strongly all the way through the revs. And although the clutch is heavy, the four-speed manual box has a wonderfully precise action.

Yet it’s the noise that dominates. There’s a purposeful exhaust burble at idle that rises to a spine-tingling blare. The three SU carburettors hiss as they suck air and petrol into the engine. But while the performance is bang up-to-date, the rest of the driving experience feels a little old-fashioned.

The E-Type’s independent rear suspension and four-wheel disc brakes were cutting-edge when new – humbling pricier rivals from Aston Martin and Ferrari – but today you’ll need to recalibrate your brain and driving style before climbing aboard.

As you’d expect, there’s nowhere near as much grip as in the F-Type, even on modern radial tyres. But it’s the heavy steering and clutch that really highlight the car’s advancing years – low-speed manoeuvres require real muscle. And even with upgraded brakes, our car took longer to stop than you’d expect.

Yet the E-Type is still huge fun. At speed, the direct steering gets lighter and delivers plenty of feedback, while the compact dimensions and decent body control inspire confidence on twisty roads. Add the glorious noise, and it’s impossible to drive the Jag without a smile.

Want a more relaxing experience? Early seventies V12s had power-steering, upgraded brakes and an optional three-speed auto. And buyers with really deep pockets can call on specialists like Eagle to transform an E-Type by adding modern suspension, brakes and tyres.

But for most fans, the original Series 1 is most desirable. And unlike many classics, it needn’t cost the earth to own; you can buy a tidy car for little more than a top-spec F-Type V8S. While that’s not exactly a bargain, it’s a small price to pay for an automotive legend.

For an in-depth buyer's guide on the Jaguar E-Type from Classic and Performance Car click here...

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