There are few cars more classic than the Jaguar E Type. It regularly tops popularity polls and values continue to soar. The last cars are now over 45 years old and as we’ve discovered at Great Escape Cars, not everyone who loves these cars is old enough to understand the often bewildering variations available on the basic design.
So here is our guide to the different E Types, based on our experience running the UK’s largest fleet of these delectable classic cars.
Series 1 1961 to 1966
Launched in 1961, the original E Type Series 1 is the one most people recognise – the fared-in headlamps and small rear lights are, for many, true to the car’s original style. Available initially as a coupe or convertible (then 2+2 from 1966) the first cars had 3.8 litre straight six ‘XK’ engines, later revised to 4.2 litres from late 1964. The first E Types were manuals only but the 2+2 was available with an auto box. Early cars had the cumbersome ‘Moss’ box, the introduction of the 4.2 model coincided with new synchromesh gearboxes.
Series 1.5 1967 to 1968
Changes to US safety legislation necessitated the Series 1.5, which differs only from the first cars in having higher headlights with no aerodynamic faring and, significantly, reduced power. Otherwise the range and specification remained essentially the same. These cars are considered by enthusiasts to be the first of the compromises foisted on the car by a cash-strapped Jaguar.
Series 2 1968 to 1970
Prompted again by tightening US safety laws, Jaguar created the ‘Series 2’ E Type. Casual observers might have missed the bigger rear lights – now below the bumper – and changes to the interior (out went the toggle switches and push-button starter, in came rockers and key start). But enthusiasts ever since have bemoaned the compromises, cheap solutions to big challenges, including an enlarged front grille. If minor cosmetic changes don’t bother you then the Series 2 is better built and more comfortable than the earlier cars.
Series 3 1970 to 1975
When Jaguar married the E Type with its superlative new V12 engine it wasn’t all upside. In a bid to eek extra life out of the 10 year old design the car gained flared arches, even bigger grille, wider track and power steering. Coupe and convertible body styles, standardised on the longer 2+2 chassis, were available, with the V12 matched to manual or auto boxes. The Series 3 was deliberately softer and more luxurious and not everyone liked it.
The Series 3 may compromise the original’s style but taken in isolation it has its own character and is the easiest E Type to live with thanks to the extra length and bigger doors. Plus that V12 is a total gem.
The Body Styles
Conceived to bring the aerodynamic style of the D Type to the road, the E Type was launched as a coupe and convertible. The first cars were pure sports cars, which Jaguar soon realised limited its opportunities in its largest market, the USA, where the small door apertures weren’t suited to the country’s larger customers. So in 1966 a 2+2 was launched on an extended wheelbase.
The 2+2 was intended to be a four seater (some chance) and more of a GT than the shorter car. It was also perfect for hat-wearing customers owing to its increased roof height. In reality it was a fudge, but it did signal the way forward for the car as it aged. In 1970, with the launch of the Series 3, Jaguar standardised on the long wheelbase and deleted the short wheelbase option, offering coupe and convertible versions only. Your preference will depend on your priorities. For originality, the short wheelbase cars are true to the car’s concept, the longer cars are more practical, if only for getting in and out and taller drivers. Coupe or convertible is a personal choice.
Three engines were offered in the E Type but only one at a time. The venerable XK straight six engine was available as a 3.8 litre at launch and then a 4.2 from late 1964. In late 1970 this made way for the superlative 5.3 litre V12. The XK is not the last word in sophistication and once Jaguar extended it beyond 3.4 litres it began to lose its smoothness. The V12, on the other hand, is a superb engine but does expose the E Type’s age and limitations.
Like the engines, there were three gearboxes offered with the E Type. The first cars had Jaguar’s aging ‘Moss’ box, a sturdy but cumbersome unit that lacked synchromesh on first. This was quickly replaced by a new fully synchromesh four speed gearbox that was infinitely better and remained in production for the rest of the car’s life. The main problem with both boxes is that they lacked overdrive, despite this being available on other contemporary Jaguars. So at higher speeds the manual E Type feels under-geared, a fault exacerbated with the V12. A three speed automatic was offered from the 1966 2+2 onwards. The E Type may have matured and become more GT during its life but this doesn’t make the auto option any more palatable – it isn’t suited to the car’s character and the change up or down is slow and cumbersome.
1961 to 1966
LWB 2+2 (from 1966)
3.8 (to 1964)
Moss (to 1964)
Synchro (from 1964)
Auto (from 1966)
1967 to 1968
As Series 1
1968 to 1970
As Series 1
As Series 1.5
As Series 1.5
1970 to 1975
As Series 1.5
Which is Best?
At Great Escape Cars we’ve been lucky enough to have driven every variation of the E Type. We love them all, with the notable exception of the 2+2. The extra length delivers only downsides – ungainly looks, compromised handling and, as an auto, a truly disconnected experience. The auto is, in our view, the worst E Type because it’s so far from what the car is about – we’d rather have a XJS.
Your E Type decision comes down to preference. Despite what aficionados claim, late cars and early cars are all excellent. The first cars are uncompromising – cramped and hard to get into, but the upside is those astonishing looks. No car, we think, looks as good. Later cars lose out in aesthetics but are considerably easier to live with – better gearboxes, more comfortable and better built. The V12 cars are noticeably softer and more luxurious, but this does make them lovely cars to drive over distances.
We have early and late cars on our hire fleet. The earlier cars have a purity and presence that the Series 3 cars have slightly sacrificed, and suit anyone who wants the original E Type experience. For those planning to drive further and to experience perhaps the greatest engine Britain has ever produced, the later V12 cars have to be sampled.