Do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to follow Leonardo da Vinci on Twitter, watch Bruce Lee in a Quentin Tarantino movie or listen to a track recorded by Jay Z and Miles Davis? Fascination with the past is a typical human response that stems from either sentiment or curiosity. It can lead to Jurassic Park or the Chevrolet SSR - and both are dangerous ideas.
But when you combine nostalgia with a dose of experience and progress, the results can be one of the most extraordinary cars to have ever turned a wheel. We're referring to the Eagle Speedster, which was built to answer the question: what if the Jaguar E-type was still built today?
The company wanted to see what would happen if they breathed new life into what is perhaps the most beautiful car in history, putting the E-type recreation on par with modern supercars.
Mark Eichert's Jaguar E-Type - Obsession
To discover the answer, we visited Eagle's headquarters sheltered in the British countryside in the county of East Sussex. It's here that the first classic car inspired model was born - the Eagle Lightweight Speedster, made famous by its celebrated appearance on BBC Top Gear in 2011.
More recently, Eagle gave the Speedster a sibling, in the shape of the Low Drag GT. It was born late last year and we were fortunate enough to be the very first people outside the company to drive the car. We were accompanied by the Eagle Speedster from Top Gear, with Paul Brace, the creator of both cars, at the helm. Your Eagle Speedster experience can't get better than this.
The new car is clearly a nod to the E-Type Lightweight Low Drag Coupe racecars, of which only three were built in 1963. Its shape and color are reminiscent of the most popular example - the streamlined coupe (serial # S850662), which crashed shortly after its completion and was only reconstructed in 2011. While the original is priceless, an Eagle isn't exactly a cheap substitute. The Eagle Speedster comes with a shocking price of $1-million, while the coupe is another $250,000!
Yet can an old E-Type be worth about the same as the entire Ferrari range put together? Well, the price is governed largely by the manufacturing costs, which are extreme.
To put it into perspective: for the same amount as designing the Eagle Speedster windshield and making ten of them (as a reserve for future replacements), you could buy a new Lamborghini Aventador. So every journey in an Eagle risks perhaps the most expensive stone chip in history!
Since there will never be more than a handful of these entirely hand-built beauties in existence, the full cost of the project's R&D must be borne by a few cars. Taking this into consideration, as well as the employment of the small workforce of highly-skilled British craftsmen, the manufacturer's profit on each car is relatively small.
Driving a pair of cars costing $2,250,000 is a sobering experience but it left us in no doubt that if the E-type were still around today, it would be exactly like this.
Half a century ago, the E-Type was the most important model in Jaguar's history. It embodied all that was great about the 1960s, with its sensual curves and long hood clearly evoking the sexual revolution. The dramatic classic car proportions also emphasized its aerodynamics and engineering, promising new levels of performance.
Eagle has remained faithful to the spirit of the original cars, taking the aesthetic to an even higher level: exaggerating the proportions and making them even lower - the Speedster is only 39" high, for example.
The rear-end is both longer and more sculpted, while the front is distilled to the essence of Malcolm Sayer's original concept, which he penned in the 1950s. There's something brutal about the low, raked windshield, minimal ground clearance and exposed exhaust pipes. It's not something that can be replicated today but Eagle is able to get around the modern regulations.
Officially, each Eagle is based on an original E-Type. They still bear the black license plates from the classic car era. So while they're thoroughly rebuilt, somewhere underneath the sinuous body is a chassis stamped with the original serial number from when it was constructed in Coventry all those years ago.
Under the hand-beaten body, every detail is very close to original but has been slightly improved in some way, down to the number of teeth on the steering gear or the shape of the gas pedal. Apart from the front indicators, which are taken from the younger Jaguar XK8, there are few half-measures here.
Most modern car manufacturers could learn about fit and finish here, as well as the sophistication of design solutions. And while the giant corporations have multi-million dollar budgets and teams of engineers around the world, one person - Paul Brace - is essentially responsible for the Eagle sports cars.
Not only is Paul the technical director who devised the hundreds of developments, but he also designed the bodies, which are admired by everybody from Jeremy Clarkson to Jaguar's own head of design, Ian Callum.
Eagle also created its own five-speed gearbox, with the ancillary components supplied by the top names in motorsport, such as the clutch and brakes from AP Racing or the adjustable suspension from Öhlins. Paul also added anti-roll bars for good measure - after all, he used to be a racing driver.
All these enhancements have eliminated the inherent shortcomings that limited the E-Type's original creators. The classic car narrow wheels and track, for example, have been substituted by wider equipment, tightly packed into the wheel wells using modern tires; the early carburetors were exchanged for electronic fuel injection; the wheelbase is 2" longer to allow more room for the occupants.
Visually, the Eagle interior is similar to the original. There are the same classic car toggle switches on the dash as the Series 1, but they have different functions assigned, such as modern luxuries like air conditioning. The seats are considerably more comfortable than before, although you still sit quite high in order to see over the pronounced power bulge in the hood. The owner of the Coupe we drove even opted for power steering.
Then you think about the Lightweight Speedster's name; it was derived from the 12 competition roadsters that were built by Jaguar in 1963. Aluminum was used wherever possible, as it is today by Eagle. It formed everything from the bodies to the engine, gearbox to the diff casing and all the way to the dashboard.
As a result, the Eagle Lightweight Speedster weighs 2222 lb, with the GT coupe only 66 lb heavier. This is similar to the minimalist Alfa Romeo 4C today, and yet the modern Italian sports car only has half the power. The Eagle power-to-weight ratio is actually closer to a 997 Porsche 911 Turbo!
A car made when The Beatles topped the charts has a right to rattle, creak and breakdown occasionally, but not these cars. So while the six-cylinder XK engine can trace its roots back to 1949, these are the only part of the car not made at the Eagle workshop. In fact, the internals were cast a stone's throw away at Crosthwaite & Gardner - a small company regarded as one of the best in historic circles and tellingly where Audi went when rebuilding its Silver Arrow racecars.
The engines are bored and stroked to 4.7 liters and some feature a carbon fiber intake manifold for the fuel injection, yet the classic tone of the British inline-six remains. It may be disguised at low revs, but once you give it more throttle the engine reveals a vocal talent worthy of the C- and D-Types at Le Mans.
To date, only two Speedsters have been built, and the sole Low Drag GT has existed for only a few weeks. So we can assume the lads at Eagle would be rather annoyed if I only came back with one of them. But while seated in the coupe I have no other option but to floor it.
Immense torque arrives from surprisingly low revs, effortlessly moving this neoclassic sculpture into supercar territory. The pace and directness of the original E-type have been enriched with the reactions and precision of a modern supercar. And yet the Eagle has one advantage over its modern counterparts - it's relatively small and has better visibility, so the driver can make full use of the road's width, opening up the corners and enticing you to get on the throttle early.
Should you choose to cruise in fifth gear, the car will conform to your wish. Although the Lightweight Speedster doesn't even have a convertible roof, both cars are born as grand tourers and remain perfectly stable at highway speeds - unlike most cars from the '60s...
The level of refinement will come as a shock to E-Type owners. On this point alone, the Eagle has nothing in common with the original.
So while we're constantly told that meeting your idol from the past usually isn't a good idea because your hero turns out to be a perfectly ordinary human being, driving the Eagle Speedster and Low Drag GT was like driving the E-Type of your dreams.
In many ways, the Top Gear episode didn't actually speak highly enough about this machine. It has everything that made the Jaguar such an icon, but with none of the drawbacks or limitations of the early cars.
2014 Eagle Low Drag GT
longitudinal front-engine, RWD
4.7-liter six-cylinder 12v with fuel injection, individual throttle bodies, carbon fiber intake manifold
Eagle five-speed manual transmission
AP Racing four-piston calipers, 315mm rotors f, 280mm r
Independent wishbones with Ohlins adjustable dampers
Wheels & Tires
16x7" f, 16x8" r cast magnesium "peg-drive" wheels, 225/55 R16 f, 235/60 R16 r Vredestein Ultrac Cento tires
350hp at 4800rpm
360 lb-ft at 3600rpm
Building the world's best E-Type
The creators of the Lightweight Speedster and Low Drag GT didn't come from obscurity. Eagle is owned by Henry Pearman; one of the most respected Jaguar E-Type specialists in the world. His company's main occupation for the past 32 years has been looking for the best specimens, then taking them apart and reassembling to the highest standards. The majority are restoration projects, but many are resto-mod conversions using modern components for the suspension, brakes, tires, fuel injection, etc.
During our visit, the showroom was full of E-Types, all built to a standard hard to find anywhere else in the world. And this is why Eagle attracts clients like Martin Brundle or Norman Foster.
Finding Eagle's workshop is your first challenge. You're looking for a gate in a hedge, which keeps the company's collection of buildings out of sight. Nestled miles from anywhere, these sheds and workshops conceal the automotive gems worth millions of dollars.
Despite attracting collectors from the USA, Middle East and Japan, the location is deliberately difficult to find. Eagle is understandably secretive - not only for security reasons but because it's also the owner's home.
It's still very much a family business, with a group of 14 closely-knit workers arriving each day. They've done this for a very long time: long enough to have become world-renowned. The business operates like a miniature factory, where many parts are designed and produced in-house, with hundreds of parts in stock and strict production procedures adhered to.
The idea for their first model came when one of Eagle's customers, an enthusiast from Connecticut, asked for something "a bit special." Initially built as a one-off, Eagle Speedster No1 met with so much interest the company decided to build another - the "Black Cognac" Lightweight Speedster that is seen in our photos and the famous Top Gear episode. The silver Coupe is only their third car!
It seems astonishing that these three cars have caused such a stir, but they sit at the pinnacle of the resto-mod movement, sharing space with luminaries such as Singer's Porsche 911 conversions. And while Eagle might be new to vehicle construction, there's no room for experiments or to learn from their mistakes. You certainly won't hear "ASAP" mentioned either. A typical Jaguar E-type restoration can take up to a year, so the company only works on about ten cars per year. As a result, Eagle has an eight-year waiting list. But that's the inevitable price of perfection. That, and upward of $500,000...