Even the most clueless motoring duffer knows what an E-type looks like. That slinky silhouette is unmistakable with its thrusting phallic bonnet, headlamp covers like feminine fingernails and skinny rear tyres like stiletto heels. In 1961 the E was the world’s sexiest car and buyers would put their names down at ten different dealers to beat a queue longer than the M1. Just over two grand (on Hire Purchase) bought you a 150-mph thing of beauty that was soon dubbed ‘the greatest crumpet catcher known to man’. Jaguar cleverly ‘placed’ the early cars with racing drivers and celebrities, and within months had to increase production massively to cope with runaway global demand. These days, those first 3.8 1961 Series I cars make huge money – up to £250k for mint convertibles and £200k for perfect fixed heads.
But every E-type – including the later (and not so lovely) Series IIs and IIIs – are fiercely desirable with even worn smooth wrecks making £50k plus. And that’s because the E sums up 60s Britain at its best and most confident. George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, Adam Faith, the Duke of Kent, Bridget Bardot and Stirling Moss all owned early Es, making it Jaguar’s most star-studded model. And on the track, E-types thrashed Ferrari 250s and AC Cobras regularly, winning slews of races. The fabled factory lightweight E-type was one of the fastest cars and best-handling racers of its era, and original survivors now change hands for over a million.
But in the E-type history there’s a little lie. Jaguar ‘tweaked’ the early press road test cars to guarantee they’d hit the magic 150 mph with lighter perspex windows, high lift camshafts and tuned engines. Owners always complained that they could only touch 145 mph – but nobody really cared. Wily Jaguar boss, Sir William Lyons, had created a high-speed legend that made the world stand back and sigh in admiration. And it’s a classic car legend that gets stronger and more valuable every day.