Some people are born beautiful. Damn them. They bloom, they blossom and then, because there is a just and fair God, they wither and shrivel. Just like the rest of us after all.
The bloom, blossom, wither arc is commonly perceived to be the E Type’s lot. Like one of the beautiful people, it arrived fully formed and perfect in Series 1 form and then gradually shrivelled, or more accurately, got bigger and flabbier. The Pot Belly years. Such bar-room judgements are generally handed down by people who have never driven an E Type, let alone all three Series. Now, in one place for the first time Great Escape gives you the chance to definitively choose The Best E Type. Because we’ve brought our fleet of four E Types – from 1965 Series 1 to 1972 Series 3 – onto one site at our centrally located Midlands base.
For some people of course an E Type is an E Type. Quite right. Any E Type is brilliant and chastising one over another is simply splitting hairs. I have a lot of sympathy with that view. But there are also a lot of enthusiasts who will trip over themselves to drive one model whilst poo-pooing another. So who is right?
The answer is, nobody. Early and late E Types are totally different cars. Viewed objectively one is not better than the other, just different. If you value pure beauty and simplicity then you won’t like the later cars. If you like V12 sophistication and GT comfort, you’re a Series 3 fan.
When Jaguar came to replace the aging XK it faced a bit of a dilemma. The XK was hugely popular due to its GT size and gorgeous lines. The obvious answer was a similarly stately GT, but the competition had moved on. The new car would be up against new exotica from Italy and Germany. The stepping stone from this rather archaic grand tourer to the lithe and smaller E Type was XKSS, a svelte road-going version of the illustrious D-Type racer. The XKSS demonstrated to Jaguar that there was a market for an aerodynamic sports car drawing on Jaguar’s racing heritage. Enter the E.
The original E Type was a stunningly pretty sports body covering relatively ancient mechanicals. The suspension was innovative but the engine and gearbox were straight out of the XK. The first Series 1 cars are undoubtedly gorgeous but driving one reveals a few compromises that tarnish the shine. The Moss gearbox is a horror, clunky, ponderous and notchy. The 3.8 motor is quick but not scintillating, with poor low down torque. The seats aren’t very comfortable and the headlights are dismal. Driving an early Moss box car is like discovering a wart on the Mona Lisa.
Jaguar quickly realised the error of its ways and dropped the 4.2 XK motor and the full synchromesh box into the E Type from ’65. These cars can justifiably lay some claim to being the best E Type ever made. More comfortable, more powerful and with a decent gearbox, the 4.2 E Type retained the original’s looks but addressed its weaknesses (save for those lights). Great Escape has a 4.2 E Type and it is, frankly, brilliant. Our Sage Green E Type is quick even by modern standards, the torquey 4.2 straight six propelled along by a slick box.
The Series 2 E Type built from 1967 to 1969 is the rarest and most controversial of the three Series. To meet changes in US safety legislation Jaguar tacked bulky lights to the back in place of the slim originals and raised the headlights. The inside story on these changes reads like the work of a man in a shed rather than an international car company. Inside the Series 2 gained luxury – better seats and rocker switches in place of toggles. Undoubtedly these little touches took the edge of the delicacy of the original, but the Series 2 is a much better long distance cruiser than the Series 1 – quieter and more comfortable. 45 years on the lights and interior mods seem like minor niggles.
The Series 2 set the tone for the Series 3. The E Type had always aspired to being a GT but was too small and uncomfortable to really hit the mark. The Series 3 aimed to change all that. In came the astonishing V12 5.3 engine and a move to the longer 2+2 chassis for the coupe and convertible. The car was given a wider track – with flared arches – and a more luxurious interior.
The Series 3 is a quite different car from the Series 1 and 2. It’s heavier and rolls more but it delivers on the GT promise far better than the earlier cars, mainly thanks to its turbine-like engine. Whether you can live with the Americanised styling or not, it’s all excused by the V12. Effortlessly quick and smoother than Barry White, this is one of the greatest engines of all time. Where the XK motor lagged behind the E Type’s looks, the V12 turned the tables.
Jaguar offered three body styles – coupe, convertible and 2+2. The 2+2 in Series 1 and 2 versions is, put simply, an abomination, a longer, taller car that ruins the original’s lines. The Series 3 coupe used the 2+2 chassis but to my mind looks acceptable – not as good as the early cars but more balanced than the earlier 2+2. The convertible is the ideal choice for a hot day of posing, but serious drivers will opt for the more focused and rigid coupe.
Driving any E Type is an event. Few mass produced cars provide the same sense of occasion. Sure, the E Type doesn’t handle as well as a 911, a Jensen is more comfortable and a Mercedes is better built and more neatly detailed. But who cares. They aren’t E Types. Forget what the pub bores tell you. Any E Type is brilliant. Judge each one on its own merits. And now, thankfully you can do exactly that. Our E Type fleet includes two Series 3 V12 convertibles, a Series 2 coupe and a Series 1 4.2 coupe. Prices start at just £249 for 24 hrs. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk. Mention this article and claim 10% off.