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The 1961 Icon: Jaguar E-Type Still Exudes Elegance and Class (Part 1)

Doug Campbell 66 E-type

After 60 Years The XKE Continues to Turn Heads


It has been 60 years since the arrival of the Jaguar E-Type (known in N. America as the XKE), but the enthusiasm still exists today. In fact to honor the anniversary, Jaguar is offering, for sale, 6 Limited Edition pairs (the pair is made up of a coupè and a roadster) of the iconic car.

Price is unknown, if you are interested and have the means, you can check it out on the Jaguar UK website.So, what is it about the E-type? How can a 60 year old car still maintain the allure it had when first unveiled to the world?  Simply, a combination of elegant beauty and high performance and now, history.

The Design Team  

It’s said, Enzo Ferrari called the E-Type  “The most beautiful car in the world” or, other sources say, “The most beautiful car ever made.” Either way, a strong statement from the egotistical, iconic builder of some of the world’s most beautiful cars.

The genius behind the design of the Jaguar E-type was the Engineering and Design team of William Heynes. Working alongside Heynes was Malcolm Sayer, an aircraft engineer turned automobile aerodynamist, Sayer thought of himself  as an engineer and an artist. He had learned and perfected how to create shapes and lines mathematically, something that today would be done using CAD (computer aided design ). Back then, it was all done manually. Sayer was a talented designer who combined his engineering skills with the eye of an artist, not your typical engineer. His goal was to design a car body that was not only visually appealing but aerodynamically perfect as well.

By today’s standards testing the aerodynamics of the XKE was pretty primitive. Big tufts of wool were affixed to the car with tape and Sayer would drive alongside in another car to see how the wool responded to the airflow over the chassis.

Prior to the E-Type, Sayer had been heavily involved in the aerodynamic designs of the Jaguar C-Type and the D-Type. The C-Type was the racing version of the XK-120 which went on to win the 24 hours of Le Mans twice in 1951 and 1953.  As with most new innovations, not all design experiments were successful, the lower frontal nose and the longtail, tested in 1952, although with 20% less drag, were not considered a success and the design subsequently scrapped. (It was later determined the failure of the car was not the design change but changes made to the cooling system.)

The Fabled Introduction in Geneva

In March 1961 the E-Type was set to be introduced to the world at the Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland. Upon completion of the prototype ‘9600HP’, the car was secretly made available to a select group of automotive journalists to review. For whatever reason, this left barely enough time for the car to make it to the car show in time for it’s unveiling to the international press. Bob Berry, a Jaguar executive was given the task of driving the car to Geneva. He drove through the night, through England, took the ferry across the channel , through France to Geneva arriving 20 minutes before the grand reveal.

Doug Campbell 66 E-type

The ‘9600HP’ available for test drives at the show, created such a sensation that a call was made back to Coventry to tell Norman Dewis, Jaguar’s test driver, to drop everything and get the ‘77RW’, the roadster, down to Geneva ASAP. Like Bob Berry, Dewis drove through the night to get to Geneva arriving to great applause from the crowd.

The Appeal of the E-Type

The launch of the sleek Jaguar XKE, with it’s aerodynamic lines, left people in awe. The car was a thing of timeless beauty offered at a very attractive price point. The starting price when it launched in the US was  an unbelievable $5620 (approx $49,000 today).

To many celebrities the car was a must-have, Roy Orbison and George Harrison both ordered the car, Frank Sinatra upon seeing the XKE was said to have demanded, “I want that car! Now!”. It’s sexy allure  has been featured on screen in movies such as Austin Powers and Harold and Maude as well as the  popular TV show Mad Men, never looking dated and just as appealing today as it was in 1961.

The factory tested 3.8-litre engine could reach speeds of 150 MPH and put out 265 bhp, at the time this was the fastest production car in the world.  When the prototype was tested by Car and Driver in 1961 in a drive from New York to Detroit, a top speed of 145 MPH was achieved, not quite reaching the touted 150 (this was soon rectified!). To quote the reviewer, “The E Jaguar is exciting to look at, but its looks are in no way a mask for unexciting performance. It’s very fast, very stable, and, all in all, probably the car we’d most like to own of any we’ve tested in many a month”.

 If you are a real car buff and interested in the many changes made to the E-Type from prototype to the end of production in 1975, check back for a look at the “Technical Evolution of the E-Type Jaguar” in Part 2 coming soon! Watch this space.

Author: usaccb

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