Embodying Speed and Beauty: The Jaguar E-Type

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If you had to vote on the most beautiful car ever made, it would be hard to argue with a man named Ferrari when he declared the Jaguar E-Type his best.

The Jaguar E-Type (XK-E in North America) was a British sports car built from 1961 to 1974. 72,528 production cars were made. Enzo Ferrari once declared the E-Type the “most beautiful he had ever made,” referring to the car’s aesthetics, fast speed, and low price as the perfect combination.

Have you ever wondered what makes certain classic cars complete works of perfection? What is it about a particular body style that turns an ordinary car into one of the most beautiful cars on the planet? How does the right car capture the public’s imagination so that it rises into the rare air of excellence? Let’s face it, designing and producing the world's finest sports car takes more than a few bends and rivets. It mostly requires a vision of what can be coupled with the engineering chops to complete the impossible. Speed without beauty is simply a fast ride, and aesthetics without performance might look great but it is just no fun to drive. As any car designer will tell you, the trick to building excellence in a sports car is to find the perfect balance between beauty and speed. So, when “the Old Man” Enzo Ferrari declared the Jaguar E-Type as the epitome of his work, it was hard not to take notice. What makes the Jaguar E-Type so unique? Was Ferrari right? Is the E-Type the most beautiful car ever made? Let’s examine this sportscar made during the sixties to see if you can’t discover its secrets.

Table of Contents


The Jaguar Has Deep Racing Roots

To understand the Jaguar E, it is necessary to go back to the end of WWII when the British automotive industry sought ways to revive its fortunes. Many automakers like Jaguar were secretly developing highly-powered DOHC engines to replace older, inefficient pushrod models. Jaguar’s chief engineer, William Heynes, labeled these new engines with an X designation and slapped a series of letters beginning with A and moving through the alphabet as one after another prototype was built and scratched. (XA, XB, etc.).

It took Jaguar a few years to perfect the engine, and by the time 1948 rolled around, the engine series was up to an XK engine (the 11th different configuration). When the company demonstrated the engine to the public, the 3.4 L six-cylinder version XK - 120 (120 to indicate the top speed) was fit into a new Jaguar. The engine and the test car created an instant stir when clocked topping 132.6 mph on a Belgian straightway.

Since Jaguar was primarily interested in applying the new engine to racing applications, the company employed its chief aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer, to develop a sleek body for the entire car. Sayer attacked the wind dynamics of the car with the precision of a math equation, testing, and retesting to find the perfect airflow over and around the sports car.

Functionally, the initial XK120 employed a long nose to house the powerful inline-six engine, with curves that led to a small cockpit and extended back toward a short rear-end. The hood took influences from the Mark V with its defined wind channels, guiding air currents over the hood toward the center of the vehicle and over the windshield. A few original 120s were made with an all-aluminum body, although steel was incorporated as the car began production in 1950).

By the time 1951 rolled around, Jaguar had refashioned the body to smooth out the body lines, increase speed and reduce wind resistance. The low, sleek profile made the XK120 a perfect car for racing applications. After their racing driver won the Le Mans in 1951 (and again in 1953) with a redesigned XK120 - C (“competition”), the production car’s name became known as the C-Type. Jaguar had firmly entrenched itself as the King of the European racing circuit when a refashioned D-Type (XK140 engine) won the LeMans three times from 1955 - 57.

The Birth Of The E-Type

Riding its racing wins, Jaguar’s body was modified significantly with straight, longer hood lines. Malcolm Sayer was again involved in the design structure, moving the cockpit farther back toward the rear wheels to add stability and compensate for Jaguar’s unique monecular construction. (Jaguar had scrapped the ladder frame chassis in favor of a central section bolted directly to the tubular mounted front and rear sections). The engine was set behind the front axle, which resulted in a 51/49 weight distribution between the front and rear suspension components.

The smooth exterior lines flowed over the hood in a beautiful seamless motion, from the oval front fascia, over the cockpit toward a small high-end. The design effect created a perfect balance of speed, high-powered performance, and stunning visual aesthetics different than any other vehicle manufactured on the planet.

A Review Of The Features of Jaguar E-Type

The Jaguar E was made in three different series (1961 - ‘67), Series 2 (1968 - 71), and Series 3 (1971 - 74), but Series 1 is the most valuable for collectors.

Series 1 (1961 - ‘67)

The first E-Type Jaguar rolled off the factory line in July 1961, initially intended for the overseas market. (Domestic sales began four months later). Over the seven years of Series 1 production, some 33,205 units were made and marketed, with owners paying around $5600 to drive one.  


The initial engine offered on Series 1 E-Types was a 3.8 inline-six producing 265 hp with a top speed of 149.1 mph and a zero-sixty time of 7.1 seconds. The engine was upgraded to 4.2 L in 1964, and while the engine power remained constant, torque levels increased significantly. Jaguar added rack and pinion steering and beefed up the rear brakes for the first time.

3.8 L inline-six (‘61 - ‘64) 265 hp 240 lb/ft
4.2 L inline-six (‘65 - ‘67) 265 hp 283 lb/ft


The original 3.8 L Series 1 E=Type Jags sported some excellent amenities, including spacious leather bucket seats. The seat frame was made of wood and metal and then hand covered with foam rubber padding and leather upholstery, which also covered the center console. While the seats were an upgrade compared to many other sportscars, many drivers found them adequate for short trips but not long distances.

The E-Type’s cockpit featured an aluminum-trimmed dash with two easy-to-read gauges in front of the driver. Separate smaller dials carried over toward the center, situated above an array of toggle switches and the ignition slot. The Blaupunkt AM/FM radio was inserted into the base of the center stack.

The Jaguar E-Type grew in sophistication, power, and grace. In 1964, when the 4.2L I6 was introduced, the immediate result was that torque power increased, although horsepower didn’t. The electrical systems were enhanced, the transmission was shifted to a synchromesh gearbox, and the seats were insulated with additional foam. During the 1966 run, a 2+2 version was produced (the body was extended to accommodate the back seat). The 2+2 Jaguar E offered the option of an automatic transmission, even though only a four-speed manual had been available before.

Toward the end of the first series, in anticipation of new US regulations, Jaguar made some transitional E-types with less powerful outputs, black rocker switches rather than older style toggles, and other changes. These models are affectionately called Series 1.5s, and less than 7k were manufactured during 1967 - 68.

Series 2 (1968 - ‘71)

The late sixties saw the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) begin to impose severe restrictions on the safety of vehicles. European automakers like Jaguar had to scramble to meet stricter emissions controls, national safety belt regulations, and other mandates. The new rules forced Jaguar to comply to compete in the US market. As a consequence, instead of making one car for the American market and another to sell elsewhere, Jaguar made some wholesale changes to the design of their car, incorporating many of the US demands into every E-type Series 2.


When the Series 2 model was brought into production, the 4.2 L engine was established as the only engine offered. The engine was detuned a bit for the American market with larger valves and the use of twin two-bbl Stromberg carburetors (rather than the previous three SU carbs). The result was less horsepower with tighter emissions and improved safety features. The engine still had enough inside it to produce 150 mph top speed.

4.2 L inline six (‘68 - ‘71) 246 Hp 263 lb/ft


The front fascia was redesigned with an aggressively styled grille so that the two new electric fans could be mounted (the fans improved the airflow to the engine). The glass headlight covers were discontinued because Jaguar opted for an open headlight treatment. Both the rear taillights and front turn signals were enlarged to meet US standards, and although positioned under the bumper, they were more visible, leading to better vehicle safety.


The ignition was moved to the steering column (another US-inspired idea) and off the dashboard's center. Headrests were added (another US mandate), along with a collapsible steering wheel to absorb the load of a frontal impact. For the first time, air-conditioning and power steering were optional equipment, and many owners opted for both.

Series 3 - (1971 - ‘74)

The E-type underwent drastic changes in 1971, including a new engine, longer wheelbase, and more standard equipment (power steering was standard). The Series 3 was only available as a convertible or 2+2. Of the 15,287 units produced over the four years, about half were large 2+2s, many of which ended up in the American market.


The E-Type was introduced in 1971 with a newly commissioned 5.3L V12, which offered 272 hp and a 0 - 60 mph time of under seven seconds. The motor has four Zenith Carbs providing the air/fuel mixture, which at the time was successfully supplying carburetors to Saab, Volvo, and Triumph Spitfires, among others. The top speed was still pushing 146 mph, which was plenty fast on either American or European highways.

5.3 L V12 272 hp 304 lb/ft


The primary modification many owners of the Series 3 Jaguars noticed was the additional room in the cockpit. Previous versions of the sportscar were cramped for anyone even approaching six feet, but in 1973, the designers heard owners' complaints and translated the added length to the cockpit. Many interior amenities, like air-conditioning, were options, and the ignition was moved to the steering column so that the key could be reached easily if an emergency shutoff was needed. Jaguars headed for the North American market were fitted with low-impact rubber bumpers to meet new federal regulations.

All Good Things Must End

Unfortunately, Jaguar found itself losing money and sales with the Series 3. Even though the Jaguar E-Types had enjoyed years of success and became symbolic of luxury, grace, and beauty, the new Jaguar XJS looked more like a mid-sized sedan than a viable sportscar, and it just did not appeal to buyers. The effects of an oil embargo and rising fuel costs worldwide spelled the death toll for the E-Type (which did not get the best fuel economy at around 18 miles a gallon).

Jaguar introduced the XJ-S in 1975, but its larger size never found the balance of speed and beauty that the E-type had achieved. However, Jaguar stuck with it, producing the sportscar up until 1996.