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Second Effort: On Eagle's Wings

Robert Farago

In 1995, when John McLaren finished writing his first novel, Press Send, the former diplomat celebrated the occasion by placing his manuscript on the passenger seat of his Jaguar E-Type and heading for the south of France. “It was a 350-mile journey through the heart of the Alps,” the author recalls. “There was a diamond blue sky, a clear road, and all the time in the world.” As McLaren guided his top-down Jag through the twisting mountain passes, he experienced automotive nirvana. “I’ll never forget the sound of the straight-six bouncing off the cliffs, or the way she made the miles disappear. It was pure, unadulterated magic.”

Pure, perhaps, but not unadulterated. Though McLaren’s Jag had begun life more than 30 years earlier as a Series One E-Type Roadster, a small engineering company in Sussex, England, called Eagle E-Types completely transformed the machine. The Eagle mechanics threw away everything save the 4.2-liter engine, the gearbox, the axles, and the suspension. They then modified, upgraded, or replaced every single part: brakes, chassis, body shell, wiring, starter, seats, steering wheel, leather, hood, wheels, dashboard, windshield wipers, headlights, window locks, the lot. They brought the entire car up to zero mileage and raised the E-Type’s creature comforts to modern standards. Two thousand man-hours and $165,000 later, the first Eagle E-Type was completed, enabling McLaren to enjoy all the thrills of classic car motoring, with none of the pain.

Since then, Eagle has performed similar transformations on 14 other E-Types. Eagle owner Henry Pearman, who had been selling and restoring E-Types for more than a decade before building McLaren’s Jag, dismisses purists’ claims that his progeny desecrate the Jaguar heritage. “I’ve sold well over 400 E-Types,” he says. “I know their strengths and weaknesses. The Eagle maintains traditional grace and pace and makes the car into safe, practical, everyday transport.”

Lower yourself into an Eagle E-Type’s buttery leather seats, twist the key, and Pearman’s words ring true. The engine kicks over with a solid crump, then purrs with possibilities. Thanks to Eagle, you can make the big cat’s powerplant howl, redlining the engine without fear of mechanical meltdown. But the engine’s low-down grunt and the smooth suspension encourage a more laid-back approach. Just stick her in third gear and call it good. The Eagle E-Type is no less a charismatic cruiser than a Harley-Davidson.

“It’s no racecar,” says McLaren. “But it’s one of those automobiles that builds confidence—without punishing the occasional overexuberance.” McLaren is right: The best way to fully appreciate an Eagle E-Type is to kick back and enjoy the view. Not only do you get to stare down the long nose of one of motoring’s greatest hoods, but you can also savor the E-Type’s minimalist cabin. Dinner plate–size gauges provide the basics: speed and rpms. Six toggle switches sit beneath four gauges in the center of the dash. And that’s it. In a world of button-actuated driving aids, it’s a relief to return to a car that leaves you alone—and offers the non-PC thrill of a large lighter clearly marked “cigar.”

And yes, you really can drive the Eagle every day. McLaren does and claims that it is common sense to do so. “When you can have the world’s most beautiful car sitting in your garage, and you know it will be a faithful companion,” he asks, “why would you drive anything else?”

Eagle E-Types, +44.1825.830.966, www.eagleetypes.com

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