E-Type - Still a Sex Kitten or an Old Stray Cat?
In the 60 years since it was introduced, the E-Type has become one of the world's most iconic automobiles, so I thought it was about time I went for a drive.
Few cars ever reach the status the Jaguar E-Type has in the 60 years since it was revealed to the world. In the 1960s, anybody who was somebody had one. Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Elton John, Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, George Harrison, and many other icons of yesteryear drove them. Enzo Ferrari himself famously said it was the most beautiful car ever made. Just about every “drive before you die” list includes it. Naturally then, I had to get behind the wheel and find out if the E-Type really could live up to the reputation it carries or if its gorgeous bodywork and flowing lines are hiding something below.
The first thing I noticed when I slipped into an E-Type for the first time yesterday was that there was a surprising amount of room inside despite it being (by modern standards at least) quite a small car. The particular example I was driving was a 1963 flat-floor coupe, which thankfully did have enough room in the pedal box for my annoyingly wide foot – something that I cannot say of a number of European sports cars from the 1960s. The second thing I noticed was that the seats were actually surprisingly comfortable – typically I find smaller seats and chairs that don’t come up to my shoulders quite uncomfortable, but somehow the seats were fine for me, and continued to be fine for the next 194 miles.
Speaking of those miles, I think it’s time we discussed what those miles were like. By modern standards, the early E-Types are quite difficult to drive – the choke has to be manually adjusted, the clutch is heavy, the brake pedal requires much more pressure, the gearbox has no synchro in first, and the steering has no power assistance. It’s also hot and noisy inside, and after you’ve filled it up it reeks of gasoline. However, I can honestly say that I’ve never driven a car that more thoroughly deserves its reputation than the E-Type.
My time with the E-Type was really divided into two sections – the first couple hours of enjoying it on the twisting roads through Angeles Forest, and the following several hours moving around Los Angeles. I believe those hours were really able to give me the best possible picture of what it’s like to live with an E-Type by using it for the two things they’re really used for today – enjoying a spirited drive on some lovely driving roads and cruising around town on weekends.
Up on the roads in Angeles Forest, I genuinely felt lost in another world. After about a mile or two my phone lost signal (relegating me to an endless loop of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” until I got fed up and paused the stream and just enjoyed the engine note) and mile by mile I began to feel like I’d left everything behind. Sometimes I wouldn’t see another car for miles – it was just me and the Jag. Frankly, I think that’s about as close to driving nirvana as I’ve ever gotten. After a few minutes and several gear changes I grew comfortable with the gearbox and could properly slot it in every time. A few minutes later and I grew comfortable with the chassis and brakes and could find just the right pace for the drive. I won’t say I was ripping it – such a term would be too vulgar for the E-Type, and it wasn’t my car so I wasn’t truly pushing it – rather, I think the proper way to describe it would be that I was going at a gentleman’s pace. Not so fast as to be screeching the tires or cooking the brakes but proceeding in a sporting and quick manner. Being able to experience the E-Type on roads like those was truly a subliming experience – the sort of experience that truly frees a gearhead like me (and many of you who read this) from the world and gives us something to connect ourselves to. Each corner flowed into the next and the E-Type was sure-footed and graceful through them all. The 265 horsepower gem under the hood performed well too, never leaving me wanting for power and delivering an incredible soundtrack that made me forget all about wanting to listen to music along the way.
Bit by bit, though, I was brought back to reality as I descended from the mountains and back down into Los Angeles. While it wasn’t exactly ideal, having to end my journey towards automotive nirvana allowed me to understand the E-Type as a proposition in the modern world. Above any other car I’ve driven – all the supercars and other classics – the E-Type garners attention. No matter where I went, people were staring, taking pictures, and complimenting me on a car that wasn’t mine. That certainly felt good, but the sweat bath I’d taken along the way certainly didn’t. The whole experience of driving the E-Type around was very much a mixed bag in that regard. Yes, it felt like I was the coolest man alive when I pulled up anywhere, but then I felt like a massive tool making sure I was in reverse and wrenching the wheel around to park.
During my time with it – it’s age did begin to show. On the way up the roads in the forest, it began to overheat, and on one occasion I had to bump start it after leaving the fans on to cool it. The brakes never worried me that they wouldn’t stop the car, but they took a lot of pressure on the pedal to start working hard. Even when the engine was warm, I’d have to adjust the choke to keep it alive at stoplights.
None of that matters, though. The simple fact is, there’s very little out there that can match the E-Type for what it gives you. When it’s parked in your garage, it’s a work of art that even Rembrandt couldn’t match and when it’s on a good road it dances like Baryshnikov and sings like Pavarotti. There aren’t many cars on this planet that can rival the E-Type for making you feel truly, properly special. It may have aged a few years, but this kitten still knows how to play.