Saturday 26 March 2011
Price in 1961: £2,256 (the equivalent of £38,000 today)
Top speed: 150mph
0-60mph: 7 seconds
Consumption and CO2 emissions: Nobody worried in those days
Best for: Turning heads, winning hearts
Also worth considering? Aston Martin DB5, Daimler SP250, Mercedes 300SL
Almost exactly 50 years ago, Jaguar launched the E-Type at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. Its beauty has probably never been surpassed. It was very fast, even by today's standards, but throughout its long life – it eventually bowed out in 1975 – it was comparatively inexpensive. I hesitate to add to the millions of words that have already been written about this remarkable car, but I recently had the privilege of hearing from three men whose lives have been touched by the E-Type at Jaguar's 50th anniversary celebration for its most famous model at this year's Geneva show.
The first was retired Jaguar test-driver Norman Dewis. When the single E-Type that had been allocated to demonstration runs at the 1961 show was overwhelmed with eager potential customers, an urgent message was sent to the factory in Coventry, asking that a further example be sent out in order to help cope with the demand. Norman drove through the night to Geneva, arriving for the next day's programme with 12 minutes to spare. His average speed, excluding the ferry crossing, was over 68mph, a staggering feat when you consider that very little of his journey was on motorways and that he had to drive through central London in the evening – but then the E-Type was good for 150mph.
The second was E-Type owner Chris Rooke, who let me drive his car over part of Dewis's Geneva demonstration route. I'd previously driven a 1961 E-Type, but Chris's car is a fixed-head 1969 Series II model, which combines the wonderful essential character of the original with a host of small updates that make it a little easier to live with and to drive. It is the subject of a superb ground-up restoration to better-than-new condition, chronicled in detail in a 350-page book. Not many other models of car inspire that sort of effort and devotion.
And the third man? That was Ian Callum, Jaguar's design chief, who has the difficult job of investing today's Jaguars with something of the excitement that accompanied the E-Type. He appears to be succeeding. I drove his modern masterpiece, the latest XJ, to Geneva this year; I couldn't match Dewis's pace, but the XJ turned almost as many heads as Chris's restored car did. I'm almost as old as the E-Type, so doubt I'll live to see the XJ's 50th birthday, but I suspect there will be a party of some sort. The Jaguar tradition appears to be in good hands.
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