Prosperity was widespread by 1960 and, although the people of many industrial countries grumbled, it was generally true that they 'never had it so good'. Unemployment was low, the demand for consumer goods was high and the demand for new cars was insatiable. That was a good thing. The mood was nowhere better reflected than at the Jaguar factory in Coventry where the same team that had startled the motoring world in 1948 did it again in March 1961 when they announced the Jaguar E-type, or XK-E as it was known in the USA. The new model was as sensational as its predecessor because it brought very high performance within the reach of those with only just above average incomes. Now that was a good idea!
1961 Jaguar E-Type 3.8 FHC
The E-type had been developed from the successful D-type sports/racing car with its monocoque chassis. The E-type had a steel monocoque hull with deep side boxes, all welded up from steel pressings. At the front of the monocoque a square section steel frame was bolted on to take the front suspension and engine, while at the rear the suspension bolted into the monocoque chassis on its own sub frame. Front suspension was by beautifully slim double wishbones in conjunction with torsion bars and telescopic dampers, while the rear suspension was by tubular lower links and double coil spring/damper units on each side, with the drive shafts acting as upper locating members. Disc brakes were fitted on all four wheels, the rear pair being mounted inboard adjacent to the differential. Whew! Did you get all of that?
1961 Jaguar E-Type 3.8 FHC
All of this was covered by a sleek, low, curvaceous body of stunning beauty, which had been penned by a guy named Malcolm Sayer. He was the man who designed the shape of the D-type. The family resemblance was obvious, but the E-type was even better. Under the forward-hinging front hood was the same twin-overhead camshaft six that had powered that very first XK120, except that it now displaced 3.8 liters, sported triple SU carburetors and gave 265 bhp at 5500 rpm.
1961 Jaguar E-Type 3.8 FHC
The E-type Jaguar marked the last in the line of XK sports cars, which had started in 1948 with the 120. Introduced in 1961witha3.8-litre version of the famous twin-cam six, the beautiful car stunned the public, and it was not until 1974 by which time it had gained a 5.3-litre V-12, that it finally died.
1961 Jaguar E Type, Series I Roadster
1961 Jaguar E Type, Series I Roadster rear
1961 Jaguar E Type, Series I Roadster engine
The E-type weighed in at around 2464 lbs. and it could accelerate from a standstill to 100 mph in 16 seconds and had a top speed in excess of 140 mph. Early magazine road tests showed a top speed of 150 mph, but Jaguar had fitted the test cars with racing tires which, with their greater diameter, gave a higher top speed, and of course the cars were very well prepared. Few who drove the E-type coupe could ever make the car actually top out at 150 mph, however, even in the relatively traffic-free conditions of the early 1960s top speed was not vital. What was sensational about the E-type was that it would cruise happily for hour after hour at 130 mph, and then still have something left to accelerate. At 130 mph in the coupe wind noise was minimal and it felt like 70 mph in almost any other car. Hmmm. Cruise hour after hour at 130 mph; that kind of driving was definitely not in the New York Metropolitan area for sure. For sure, in the 1960s, since there was not super highways to even try such a feat.
1961 Jaguar E Type, interior
1961 Jaguar E Type, Series I Roadster interior
Despite this rosy picture, E-type ownership was not altogether a bed of roses. (Interesting choice of words, huh?) It needed careful maintenance to keep it in good condition and little things went wrong with minor electrical components for no reason other than that they were built down to a price the average wage earner could afford. The chassis also had 14 grease points, so it was not wise to trust the car to a dealer because if they were not greased the suspension soon became a mess. (Dealer? Why entrust your ride to a dealer…oh, cars, not drugs. Got it.) This seems a little prejudicial doesn’t it? Someone didn’t like car dealerships and I got his thoughts on this subject. Oh well, for the record, my car dealer is all aces. There, take that!)
Anyway, the early E-type Jaguars were fitted with the same Moss gearbox that had been fitted to earlier Jaguars. Even though it was strong, it rode rough, having an unsynchronized first gear which some reported sounded like an air raid siren. Nice thought in the 1960s. Ever hear of the Cuban missile crisis? Not the best analogy for the time. This poor guy has a skewed view of the world.
Better yet, he said he paid a visit to Jaguar. Bet they loved talking to him. Ugh. He asked an engineer about this air raid siren and the engineer said that they tested all gearboxes when they arrived from Moss and rejected a large portion of them because of that nightmarish noise level. Thus, Jaguar placed a chalk mark on the bad gearbox and returned them to Moss, the manufacturer who, allegedly (the lawyer in me), promptly erased the chalk mark and sent them back to Jaguar! Bet he can’t prove that. But, who cares, it does make the story a bit more interesting, huh?
Jaguar overcame this gearbox siren problem by designing their own gearbox (take that Moss!) with“baulk-ring synchromesh” on all four gears. This first appeared in the 1964 model which came with a new 4.2-litre version of the old engine, which was claimed to give the same power output as the 3.8, but it would not rev in the same way. Hmmm. The marketing department was really working overtime with this boast.
1961 AC Cobra
1931 AC Cobra
The AC Cobra series culminated in this. Unfortunately, this was fairly short-lived, as American manufacturing regulations were too strict for the car and its new motor. Besides, the car was undoubtedly slower with this “new” engine. However, the sweeter gearbox did make up for the loss of performance. And, in any case, it was still faster than most other vehicles on the road. Ahah, take that American sports car makers! Of the two models available right from the start, the open two-seater was perhaps the most exhilarating to drive, but it had very little luggage space. (He said his spouse fit in the truck perfect, though she said it got a bit crampy after a while. She was bewildered by this design but he said she never really complained. Nice lady.) The coupe had a very useful load space in the tail (see, he’s not just telling stories) which was reached through a sideways opening door, operated by a catch near the driver’s seat. (Definitely true.)
1966 Jaguar E-Type 2+2 Coupe 4.2 Litre Manual
1966 Jaguar XKE 2+2 Driver
1966 Jaguar XKE 2+2 Driver
Very conscious of the family man's market Jaguar introduced the E-type 2 + 2 coupe in 1966. This had a 9-in longer wheelbase and a pair of small rear seats. Unfortunately, this necessitated a higher roof line and a more upright windscreen, the resultant shape looking very bulbous and unattractive. Automatic transmission became available and the sports car image was all but lost. American safety and exhaust pollution legislation began to affect cars exported to the USA, none more so than the E-type, and its beautiful shape was gradually nibbled away as first the front end was modified to fit headlamps that complied with US regulations, then the tail was chopped off to fit larger tail lamps. Exhaust emission modifications reduced the power output considerably on cars destined for the American market and sales began to decline inexorably and it seemed that as the 1960s ran out, the high performance or sporting machine was destined to be killed off in the interests of safety.
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