To mark the 60th anniversary of the Jaguar E-type, which was revealed to the media on the 15 March, 1961, Hagerty recalls the last-minute change of plan ahead of its debut at the Geneva motor show. And for further reading, see Andrew English and David Lillywhite debate the E-Type’s place in history; or take a moment to study the latest Hagerty analysis of E-Type values.
As soon as Jaguar had pulled the covers off the new E-type at the Geneva Motor Show of 1961, it walked into a problem. You couldn’t get your hands on one for love nor money.
The E-type’s curvesome form, promise of 150mph on the nation’s newfangled motorway network and a startlingly low price of just £2,098 sparked an avalanche of orders. Jaguar had launched models that garnered immediate popularity in the past – most notably the XK120 13 years earlier – but it was nothing compared to E-type’s reception.
Within a very short space of time the tiny Coventry factory had hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of orders, but not the production capacity to match. The queue for delivery steadily got longer and the story goes eager buyers would place orders at several different dealers in order to jump the waiting list.
Unless your name was Adam Faith – the pop star who phoned Sir William Lyons and begged him to allocate him one of the six right-hand drive cars within weeks of the car’s Geneva reveal – or any other celebrity in the sixties, it was a queue you had to join and wait.
For the first six months at least, Jaguar was satisfying American demand meaning the closest British buyers got to an E-type was a brochure from their local dealer. Even when cars filtered through to owners in the UK, choice at the time of ordering had been limited, the company needing to keep things simple to keep up with demand.
Throughout most of the sixties, the E-type’s appeal grew stronger and even a little white lie did little to diminish the want-factor. While Jaguar claimed the E could reach the magical 150mph, it was later revealed the press department’s cars had their 3.8-litre straight-six engines gently massaged – the customer cars, though still potent, couldn’t top 150mph unlike journalists’ E-types. So, in 1965, the 3.8 was cast aside and replaced by an engine the E arguably should have had from the very start. With an extra 400cc, the 4.2 was more truthful to the brochure’s 150mph claims, and the fact that it was a little easier and more comfortable to drive sealed the deal.
In 1968 came the buxom Series 2 followed three years later by the full-fat and Americanised Series 3 V12. The last of the breed rolled off the Browns Lane factory production line in ’75 and almost immediately values of the early 3.8s started to creep upwards. By the late 1980s, demand for the E boomed once again and owners could practically ask what they liked in the classic car market. Values crashed in the nineties before shooting up again in 2011 when the car celebrated its half-century.
Although it’s been 60 years since Jaguar revealed the E-type, the British brand knows its most famous car is still a money-maker and it hasn’t been slow to capitalise on customer demand. First, Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations announced plans in August 2014 to build six E-type Lightweights – each car coming with one of the remaining chassis numbers originally allocated in 1963 to the intended 18-car Lightweight project (of which just 12 were built). Very much designed as ‘continuation’ cars and not factory copies, all six were eventually built at £1.5m each, sold out almost immediately and still command a premium at auction.
Then, in 2019, recognising the prices original E-type toolkits fetched at auction, Jaguar Classic allowed customers to buy brand new kits with meticulously copied tools wrapped up in a leatherette roll and charged an alarming £732. And last summer, Jaguar Classic ‘reintroduced’ 3.8-litre engine blocks.
The most interesting part of Jaguar’s obsession with the E-type, however, is the Reborn programme. It’s important to point out here an E-type Reborn is not a ‘continuation’ model like the recent run of Aston Martin DB4 GT cars, and nor is it a creative Singer-esque restomod – a past car reimagined for today’s drivers. Jaguar is all too well aware of the popularity and the market for perfectly restored, concours-standard E-types, but with the Reborn programme it’s going one better.
For those who don’t want to spend anything from £150,000 upwards on a fully restored E from a leading specialist and effectively want a brand new E-type specified exactly as they’d like it, and built by the same company behind the original, Jaguar will welcome them to their multi-million pound Classic Works in Ryton-on-Dunsmore.
In a corner of the main showroom and behind a large barn-style door lies the E-type Reborn commissioning room. In the middle of the space sits an example of Classic’s restoration handiwork – an immaculately presented Series 1 2+2 – in the corner are two leather chairs and a table and around the room lie paint samples of every colour the E-type ever came in.
It’s here where the Reborn customer chooses every little detail of their new E-type. And unlike in the 1960s, you the only difference being the modern buyer can choose a car Jaguar Classic already has in stock, or gives the green light for one of Classic’s buyers to source a suitable donor car from anywhere in the world. Modern upgrades can be specified including electronic ignition, improved cooling and a synchromesh gearbox, while for £1,200 Classic Works will even fit an infotainment system with sat nav, USB input, DAB and Bluetooth that’s cleverly designed to look like an original 1960s factory-fitted radio.
With prices starting at £295,000 and rising to £325,000 depending on specification, an E-type Reborn isn’t the type of car lottery winners buy on a whim – and describing the archetypal customers is next to impossible.
‘There is no typical buyer,’ David Moore, Classic Works Project Engineer, tells Hagerty. ‘Whilst we do get very rich customers who sometimes send a representative, many Reborn customers are people who have always wanted an E-type and having one rebuilt by Jaguar in Coventry is the perfect dream.’
Moore explains customers are invited to see the progress of the build which is all done behind a large glass wall between the showroom and the workshops. The total Classic Works facility occupies some 14,000m2 and a large chunk of that is devoted to the workshops. Running along one side are servicing bays for XJ220s, in the far left had corner lies the leather room with every type of hide suitable for a Jaguar interior, and out the back, affectionately known as ‘The Toyshop’, lies the classic car collection with virtually every model Jaguar and Land Rover has ever made, along with other important British classics.
But back in the main workshop and running down the centre lies the E-type Reborn operation. Some 30 bays are dedicated to Reborn builds; every car, whether sourced from the customer or by Classic itself is stripped painstakingly back to bare metal, the engine removed and the car lovingly taken apart – but, importantly, as many original parts are kept as possible. If the car needs any replacement body parts, perhaps due to corrosion – a classic E-type foible – panels are sourced through Classic’s reverse-engineered panel programme to ensure perfect fit, and are spot welded in the same fashion as they were in the 60s. Then comes several thick coats of paint and then follows the process of building up the car back to factory specification, but also including any modifications and customisations requested by the customer.
Authenticity is guaranteed as Jaguar Classic has unique access to build records and original drawings from the Jaguar Heritage Trust, so every piece, unless the customer requests something different, is near identical to how it would have looked in period. Safety critical items are replaced but with new items from Jaguar Parts, and if the customer has selected any upgrades these are then fitted. As each car is different, Classic doesn’t quote an average build time, but we’re told thousands of hours go into each Reborn and a typical build, from commission to handover, takes six months.
Jaguar Classic’s Reborn demonstrator is a ’65 Series 1 4.2 finished in Opalescent Silver Blue. Twist the key, thumb the starter, give the straight-six a generous prod on the throttle and the Reborn reacts urgently. The black leather seats may be unblemished and the wooden wheel’s sheen flawless, but the Reborn doesn’t smell like a new car and nor does it feel like a car that’s had a thorough going over. The four-speed ‘box still needs a smart shove into third, the brakes want warming up and the steering requires some respect as it’s razor sharp.
I’ve driven quite a few E-types and the Reborn, funnily enough, feels the freshest of them all. After a few miles on some deserted Warwickshire roads, it’s clear the Reborn doesn’t just feel incredibly well sorted, but also the nearest I’ll ever get to the sheer excitement the original owner would have felt in 1965. Perhaps it’s purely psychological, but there’s an eagerness to the car that I’ve certainly never felt in a pristinely restored E.
But putting aside the emotions, it’s evident the E-type still has the excitement factor even 60 years on. Tip the E into a corner and the body rolls and flexes gently, every slight input you put into the steering is translated to the front wheels, and then, as the corner opens up, you lean on the throttle, the bonnet rises and the engine reacts – muffled at first and then a sharp howl past 2,500rpm. The E is still as intoxicating as it was the sixties.
It’s easy to see why some buyers opt for a Reborn instead of a restored car. Because no matter how perfect a restoration is, there’s a romance to a Reborn in that it’s been hand-built by Jaguar engineers in a workshop less than 10 miles away from where Es were originally made at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory. Expensive it may be, but for those who fall for the romantic ideal of ordering an E-Type from the factory, it’s a price worth paying.