Exactly 60 years ago, at its launch at the Geneva Auto Salon in March 1961, the Jaguar E-Type not only stole the main European automobile show but was headline everywhere in the world. The “Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari described the new Jaguar as the most beautiful car ever made.
But the whole launch show in Switzerland was very nearly a disaster. The firm had been eager for UK motoring journalists to road-test the model in the UK before the show, but that left little time to actually transport it to Switzerland. Eventually, Jaguar PR man Bob Berry drove it flat-out from Coventry, arriving 20 minutes before the covers were lifted. “Good job, Berry,” founder Sir William Lyons is said to have uttered as the car was hastily cleaned up and put on display. “I thought you were never going to get here.” Amid frenzied demand to try out the vehicle, Lyons decided another “E” was needed. The test driver Norman Dewis was conscripted to make the same journey with a roadster pre-production prototype. He managed it in 11 hours at an average speed of 68mph.
It will surprise many that the E-Type body is not the result of pure styling or thorough wind-tunnel tests. Jaguar’s chief aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer created the body shape on a purely mathematical basis. The actual experience has proved the car to have very low drag. Curiously, big boss William Lyons also played a significant role in shaping the E-type (and many other Jags), despite a lack of any formal technical expertise.
However, its beauty was not the only great surprise to the public. The new Jaguar was fast, very fast, actually. Its 265hp was only seen in racing cars or limited production cars like Ferrari and Aston Martin. Autocar magazine got its best-recorded performance figures to date out of the E-Type. It said it delivered “what drivers have so long asked for, namely, sports-racing-car performance and handling, combined with docility, gentle suspension and the appointments of a town car.” On the far side of the pond, Road & Track noted that it “comes up to, and exceeds all our expectations.”
All this package might look very expensive, but relatively speaking, it wasn’t. When it launched, it carried a £2,160 price tag – around half of what you’d have paid for an Aston Martin DB4 and a third of the price of a Ferrari 250GT. For many, the new racing car performance Jaguar was an affordable dream.00
Enzo was right. The E-Type became a 1960s pop culture British icon and frequently reaches the top five most beautiful cars ever made in media polls.One of the first cultural institutions to recognize the E-type’s broader importance was New York’s Museum of Modern Art – MOMA. It acquired a 1963 roadster in 1996 to be part of its collection. At the time, it was only the third car to make it into the hallowed halls.