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After Ferraris, Jaguar E-Types Continually Perform the Best at Auction

As classic as a blue blazer, the Jaguar E-Type will never go out of style…

Originally published in the December issue of Robb Report Collection as “Stray Cats

Like blue-chip stocks or early Picassos, certain cars remain constant in the face of fickle markets and changing collector tastes. And while Ferraris command the high six-, seven-, and even eight-figure market, Jaguar E-Types rule the more earthbound segment. Few cars of its period—from 1961 to 1975—are as gratifying to drive, and certainly none are more beautiful. For any devotee who enjoys the view from the driver’s seat—looking down the mile-long hood—or appreciates its curvaceous profile on a concours lawn, the E-Type remains a watershed design in the history of the sports car. As classic as a blue blazer, it will never go out of style. 

The company we know today as Jaguar, and associate with a leaping feline, was founded in 1922 by Sir William Lyons and William Walmsley. Originally a maker of motorcycle sidecars, the brand eventually began building racing vehicles. It rose to fame thanks to its postwar motorsports success with cars such as the C-Type—a competition version of its popular XK120 that won Le Mans its first time out in 1951 and also in 1953—followed by the colossally successful D-Type, with its signature vertical tail fin, which took victories at Le Mans in 1955, 1956, and 1957.

The Jaguar that shook the world, however, was the XK120’s eventual successor, the XK-E—also known as the E-Type. Designed by Jaguar engineer Malcolm Sayer and based on lessons learned with the D-Type, the E-Type was introduced at the Geneva Salon in March 1961 and was an immediate sensation. Priced at less than $6,000, it embodied Lyons’s credo “Value for money,” offering the performance and beauty of exotics that cost two or three times as much. 

Lyons could not have predicted the cultural impact or collectibility of Jaguar’s sports cars, specifically the E-Type. On its release in 1961, none other than Enzo Ferrari praised the E-Type as “the most beautiful car ever made.” Road & Track journalist Henry N. Manney III memorably christened it “the greatest crumpet-catcher known to man.” And today, it can be found in the permanent collections of iconic automotive designs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

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Examples can be found in plenty of places outside of a museum. The E-Type is not particularly rare; about 72,500 were built between 1961 and 1975. Its popularity resulted from the aforementioned “value” and the fact that this was a true 150 mph sports car that, with some careful tuning, could do everything a Ferrari or Aston Martin or Corvette could do—plus look sensational when parked. Fundamental to its beautiful shape was the architecture underpinning the design. Instead of body-on-chassis construction, typical of other cars of the period, the E-Type was essentially a monocoque tub wrapped around a tubular framework to which the drivetrain was attached. More like a racer than a road car, it made for a strong and lightweight, if somewhat complicated, car to manufacture (and to restore).

E-Types can be divided into three basic series, although aficionados identify subseries to accommodate the many detail changes made along the way. Series 1 coupes and convertibles made from 1961 to 1964 used 3.8-liter engines with 4-speed Moss gearboxes that had a nonsynchronized first gear, requiring a deft hand and foot. Cars from 1965 to 1967/68 had larger, 4.2-liter engines and benefited from synchronized transmissions, while 1966 saw the introduction of a 2+2 version—an unappealing enlargement of the svelte coupe that bore a side profile as unfortunate as Elvis, in his later years, squeezed sausage-like into a leisure suit.

Series 2 coupes, convertibles, and 2+2s were built from 1968 to 1971. These were the most reliable, but they were less attractive, aesthetically crippled by U.S. federal design and safety regulations that mandated uncovered headlights, ungainly tail- and side-marker lights, earless knock-off wheel spinners, and more anemic engines. Because Jaguar was a relatively low-volume manufacturer, these changes were applied to worldwide production. All three models were made: coupe, 2+2, and convertible.

Series 3 cars were made from 1971 until production halted in 1975 (practically speaking, 1974). These were bigger and longer, and only a 2+2 and a convertible were offered. A 5.3-liter V-12 replaced the venerable inline-6. The lump of an engine boasted prodigious low-end torque and 272 hp, but the cars were fat, heavy, and complicated. Still, apart from a Ferrari or Lamborghini, it was the only sports car at the time with a V-12 engine, and it cost a fraction of the price of the Italian exotics.

A clear pecking order exists, with Series 1 cars offering solid long-term investment potential, though Series 2 cars are a bargain and a delight to drive. Series 3 convertibles are an acquired taste but have their following. Series 1 flat-floor models from 1961 and 1962 are the most desirable of all, the highest recent price topping $500,000 for a 1962 OTS (open two-seater). A more typical value for Series 1 cars is between $150,000 and $300,0000, with later series at roughly half that range, according to Hagerty, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide. Important to remember is that E-Types can be expensive cars to restore, with big, complex one-piece hoods (bonnets to the Brits) that confound all but the best body men.

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While factory and privateer victories at Le Mans and Sebring with the C- and D-Type Jags put the company in the limelight, engineers at the Browns Lane workshop set out to create an E-Type racer to carry on against European and American competitors of the 1960s, namely Ferrari. To make the E-Type competitive against larger, more powerful cars, the factory conceived the Low Drag Coupé in 1962 and a “Special GT E-Type project” in February 1963, allocating 18 serial numbers to produce streamlined Lightweight models based on the open car. Reduced mass, greater strength, and more power distinguish the Lightweight from a series-production OTS. Aluminum was used for the entire body shell, doors, trunk lid, and hood, and an aluminum hardtop was fashioned for aerodynamic benefits and weather protection in endurance racing. Altogether, the car was 250 pounds lighter than a standard steel E-Type, weighing in at a svelte 2,200 pounds. The heart of the beast was Jaguar’s 3,868 cc (236 cu in) inline-6, with an all-aluminum block and wide-angle aluminum cylinder heads, dry-sump oil lubrication, and a 10:1 compression ratio. Three Weber 45 DCOE carbs topped the intake, and the engine could develop up to 340 hp and 280 ft lbs of torque. Despite impressive credentials, the Lightweight never took any world-class victories in its short career, but nonetheless it takes the pole position for E-Type collectibility across the model’s illustrious 15-year run.

Germane to the Lightweight legacy is the fact that while the factory intended to manufacture 18 examples, allocating individual VINs in 1963 for such purpose, only 12 were actually made: 11 in 1963 and a straggler in 1964, which incorporated additional strengthening in key areas of the body shell. Eleven are known to exist today. And so, in 2014, the opportunity to manufacture the “missing” six cars with original VINs remained the prerogative of the factory—a scenario not dissimilar to that of Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagatos, “continuation” cars made long after the originals had acquired a fine patina of age or, worse, been shunted into Armco barriers at the track. 

Under the aegis of Jaguar Heritage at Browns Lane, the Jaguar facility in England that services and restores classic Jags in a dedicated work area near where the original Lightweights were made more than 50 years ago, the remaining six chassis numbers were constructed by Jaguar craftsmen to specifications virtually identical to those of the original cars. Development was done by the factory’s prototype department on “Car Zero.” The same as  the six continuation cars but without a serial number and used for development only, it was destined to go into the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust to become part of the permanent collection.

All six cars were made to original standards, using identical grades of aluminum and similar tooling and build methods as the 1964 example from which measurements were taken. Eschewing modern high-strength aluminum alloy and bonding techniques that are superior but not historically accurate ensured that the continuation Lightweights would be identical to period competition cars, entitling them to full FIA homologation for historic motorsports. However, the latest computer scanning allowed the digital mapping of exterior and interior dimensions and details of an original, assuring uniform and symmetrical dimensions side-to-side by duplicating one side of the body and allowing even unseen structural components to be reproduced with total faithfulness to the original. Altogether, about 230 individual body components make up the Lightweight, approximately 75 percent of which were made in house, with large stampings furnished by external fabrication specialists. 

Like the first dozen cars, the remaining six feature 4-speed synchronized transmission, double-wishbone front and independent rear suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, disc brakes (larger in front and smaller inboard at rear), beautiful 15-inch magnesium wheels, and Dunlop racing tires. Inside, Connolly leather upholstery, with hides similar to the original’s, cover aluminum-shelled racing buckets, complemented by a wood-rimmed wheel. Period-correct Lucas mechanical fuel injection is optional (and for the brave). Six fortunate owners have been able to acquire their continuation Lightweights for approximately $1.5 million, about half to one-third the market value of the first 11 cars, and a veritable bargain in comparison to D-Type and XK-SS models, which Hagerty says are catapulting into eight-digit territory. 

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