Starting something new is always difficult, because it is the opening line or the first impression that creates the style or the theme that follows. Likewise, in writing, it is the first paragraph, the first line or even the first word that sets the scene, and with such a rich history of topics to choose from, the automotive industry is not an easy one to start with, as what might be key to one reader, might not appeal at all to the next reader.
But there must surely be few who would argue that the Jaguar E-type (or XKE to our friends across the pond) would not be a good place to start. By the time this blog hits your screen, it will be almost 50 years to the day that the E-type was introduced to the world at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1961. Okay, so there will be those who don’t think much of the Cat from Coventry, but you will just have to swallow a bit of nostalgia from the lines that follow.
You see back in the fifties, Jaguar had pretty much dominated the Le Mans 24-Hours for most of that decade and when it became public knowledge that the company was about to replace the shapely XK-series, the anticipation amongst the Jaguar loyalists was almost unbearable. So it was not totally unexpected when the covers were pulled back on the E-type at the Geneva show, that the crowds were ten deep around the car.
While the Geneva show car was a non-runner, a press demonstrator was fortunately on hand to give the journalists a taste of the car’s performance. When the pressure mounted and the queues for a ride began to form, Sir William Lyons called for another demonstrator to be driven over from the factory in Coventry, and it fell to Norman Dewis to drive the car over to Geneva. Dewis, who was just returning to the factory after a day of testing at the MIRA proving grounds, got the call to collect a suitcase of clothes from home and head immediately across the Channel to the show.
It’s a long story, but Dewis made it onto the 22h00 ferry just before they were closing the gates, after a high-speed dash from Coventry. A swift journey from Ostend the following morning saw a rather tired Dewis arriving at the Geneva show, whereupon Sir William instructed him to join the other E-type in a series of press runs on a well-known local hill climb route – “without so much as a cuppa,” Dewis told me. The E-type went on to stun the crowds with its good looks, and the journalists with its performance credentials.
Just 54 Jaguar C-types were produced in the 1950s and this was followed by the D-type, of which only 78 were manufactured – this included 16 of the road going XKSS models. So when Sir William planned the E-type, which took much of its design language from the D-type, a run of just 250 cars was initially planned. After the Geneva show this was readjusted upwards to 500 and then 1,100 cars, but by the time the E-type had run its course through three series upgrades, a whopping 72,529 of this much loved sports car had been manufactured.
Leaving the E-type’s impressive motorsport record aside for now (that’s a subject for another day), the long, low and sleek sports car set a precedent that other motor manufacturers sought to copy. The now-familiar front oval grille was one of the E-type’s most significant contributions to the world of vehicle design, as this was the forerunner of a more sleek and aerodynamic shape, which was to be followed by many other sports cars for years, even decades to come. Take for instance the Mazda MX5, Ford Taurus, Buick Riviera and many others including the Aston Martin DB7. The oval grille design ran through the whole Jaguar sports car line-up, including the XK8 series and the XJ220 supercar, and can be seen in Jaguar’s lineage even up until this day.
When a sports car has such an impact on the market for so many years, one has to look beyond the car itself and acknowledge the success that this design represented. Even today, at 50 years of age, the E-type is still a head turner – countless movie stars and celebs wish they could say the same thing about their bodies – so next time you see an E-type on the road, show it some respect.
We would like to wish the ‘E’ a very happy fiftieth birthday!