The car that made the 60s swing... Once in a great while, a car comes along that redefines everything. Think Benz three-wheeler, Ford Model T, Willys MB Army Jeep, Volkswagen Beetle, Jeep Cherokee and even the Dodge Caravan. After these vehicles were unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses, there was no going back to the way things were. This isn't always a good thing. For example, the Jeep Cherokee — a solid vehicle by all rational standards — is the spiritual ancestor to hordes of ungainly SUVs cluttering this nation's highways and byways (though, oddly, not our unpaved roads). Always a hateful apparition to my fuel-soaked eyes, the Dodge Caravan and its K-platform mates are responsible for generation after generation of kid-toting, DVD-equipped suburban buses. The Jaguar E-Type, on the other hand, brought only good things. Every sports car built since the E-type arrived at the Geneva show in 1961 has been influenced by the Shag-u-ar. And in concept at least, is a sports car ever a bad thing? We argue no, and propose the Jaguar E-type for induction in the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage.
Put on your time-machine hats (time machine hats?) and follow me back to before the E-Type. It was a barren land, filled with rust, inertia and frankly, a lot of ugly-ass cars. Sure, there were some beautiful, nimble and fast machines to be had (I mean, Italy's been a country since 1848, right?) but rarely did all three attributes blend together like in the E-type. Take Chevrolet's Corvette for instance. A looker since day one, but nice two-speed automatic you had there. Germany had hyper-exotics like the Mercedes-Benz 300SL (your life savings, please) and cute little rollers such as the Porsche 356 (slooooooow). Italy made tongue-wagging masterpieces like the Fiat 8V Ghia, but it didn't exactly dance, and its two-liter, 70-degree V8 was the size of a Chevy small block yet only half as strong. It was the E-type that finally put it all together in a single, winning, stunning package. Compared to every other sports car of the day, the sporty Jag was cheaper, faster and oh-so-much-better looking.
The E-Type, or XKE, was massively sophisticated for its day. Built around a central steel monocoque, the chassis was remarkably buff, yet light — something the competition just didn't offer. There was a sub frame up front to cradle the engine and independent suspension. The strong center section comprised the passenger compartment. The rear section was odd, if not innovative, as the driveshaft actually functioned as the upper section of the two wishbones. This shrank the fully independent rear end dramatically. Obviously, with a complex setup like this, accident avoidance was of the highest concern. (It ain't gonna hammer out.) Disc brakes at each corner, too.
So the E-Type was light and nimble enough to dance, but could it fly? Well, despite being offered initially with the archaic XK twin-cammer I-6 (a 3.8-liter version) tuned to reach 265 horsepower, the E-type was the fastest car in the world on its release, capable of hitting an honest-to-goodness 150 mph. Two years later, in 1964, a 4.2-liter version of the XK150S's motor showed up with a matching synchromesh gearbox. The previous four-speed did not have synchromesh, which sounds pretty romantic to us. In 1971 Jaguar released the malaise era Series 3 E-type. The good news was that it had a beefy (if not leaky) 5.3-liter V12. The horrible news was, it only came in an awkward looking 2+2 configuration. But hey, the 70s sucked.
So let's forget about the Series 3 and really the Series 2, too (give me glass headlight covers or give me death), and we'll concentrate on the Series 1, which is without question one of the very best looking cars ever made. Automobile's Robert Cumberford has called it "Phalliform Perfection." In fact, Cumberford stuck the E-TYpe's schnoz on the cover of his book Auto Legends: Classics of Style and Design. Praise doesn't get much higher than that, kids.
Designed by Malcolm Sayer, the man who also penned the awesome D-Type, the E-Type was one of the first cars designed in a wind tunnel. Kind of. Sure, the initial shape was worked over in the tunnel, but not trusting an artificial environment, Sayer would affix four-inch strips of wool to various points of the vehicle. Then he had legendary development engineer Norman Dewis take the E-type prototype up to 130 mph, because that was as fast as the XK150 chase car could go. Sayer would then observe the wool and the car in motion and note the discrepancies, which were typically around eight percent. As Dewis recalls:
He did the wool tuft tests on the circuit just to check his work in the tunnel. You could see a higher drag on the circuit, which is why he allowed the 8 percent difference. He was right every time, there was no question about that. He really knew his stuff.
To finish with another Cumberford quote, "The XK-E ended up looking the way it did solely because of the aerodynamic requirements — and yet it was still achingly gorgeous." Funny side note; the wind tunnel sucked so much power that they could only use it at night otherwise it would cause blackouts. So Sayer, Dewis and the rest of the team would go hoist a few pints "and wait until the pub closed. Then when they'd all gone home, we'd look around Higham village and see all the lights going out. The we'd say... come on, we can do the tests now and that would go on until two in the morning sometimes." Can you say Fantasy?
Regular readers of Jalopnik will recognize the above image. I took it when I was car hunting in a Reliant Scimitar and we stumbled across a British guy who essentially said, "I used to have one of those, come look at my E-type." I mention this because I still so clearly remember the moment when my new best friend pulled back the car cover. It simply blew my mind. Nothing is supposed to be that spectacular, that jaw-droppingly beautiful or — dare I say it — that perfect. Seriously, the damn thing looks perfect. Cutting-edge technology, world-class speed, a price that shamed the competition and a design so modern yet so classic that any peers the E-type may have are already in the Garage. We don't keep the world's greatest mechanic on retainer for nothing. Vote Jaguar. Vote E-Type. Vote now.