It's hard to imagine the impact Jaguar's E-Type must have had in1961. Designed by Malcolm Sayer-who had previously designed aircraft-the E-Type showed that mathematical calculations and aerodynamic principles could result in unspeakable beauty. That it was also cheap(ish) and could reach 150 mph meant its fate was assured. A legend had been born.
This one is no ordinary E-Type. It's the very last one ever built, and it's worth more than half a million dollars. The final 49 cars were painted black, which was quite fitting as the end of production was akin to having a death in the family. All were fitted with brass plaques bearing Sir William Lyons' signature-confirming their provenance and exclusivity. This didn't make them any easier to sell. Dealers were practically giving them away. Things have now gone full circle and they're the most sought-after of all E-Types. Getting a new black XKR to meet it was one of those not-to-be-missed opportunities.
Looking at this end-of-the-line Series III, it's a reminder that the E-Type didn't grow old gracefully. Thanks to American legislation, the purity of its original design was diluted and messed about with. Bumpers and lamps were raised along with the ride height, resulting in a look that had drifted off course. Gone were the elegant wire wheels and, with the resulting bloated appearance, gone was the sports car DNA. It was now a gentleman's express in the same vein as a Jensen Interceptor. Just a decade before, it had been an adrenaline rush on wheels.
The cries for another Jaguar cut from the same cloth as the E-Type aren't from those hankering for another Series III. They want the excitement of the original. And the latest Jaguar sports car almost makes the grade. To be fair, nothing is likely to cause such a stir as the original, but it's the spirit of the thing that really counts.
The supercharged XKR is only distinguishable from its 'normal' sibling, the XK, by two vents in its hood, the mesh sections in its nose and the aluminum slashes in the front fenders. It's a truly gorgeous thing. It's a big car with masses of road presence. Styled by Ian Callum, previously of Aston Martin (no surprise), it's an athletic shape, curvaceous and sexy. Callum revealed that he'd been thinking a lot about the actress Kate Winslet when penning the XK's overall shape. You can tell. It's voluptuous. Just looking at it makes you want to caress it. It's a car you'd volunteer to wash every day... by hand.
Put your foot on the brake, press the red starter button and listen as the 4.2-liter V8 woofles into action. A prod on the gas sees the revs jump with cat-like reflexes and the exhaust note changes from deep muscle-car burble to full-on roar. On the move, it's incredibly civilized, with Jaguar's active CATS suspension soaking up any imperfections in the road. But once the need is felt for some spirited driving, its demeanor is transformed. It stiffens up and guns wherever its pointed, without ever becoming unrefined. It's extraordinary in its range of capabilities.
The engine note also becomes more noticeable. Jaguar's engineers have been busy toning down the supercharger's whine, but it's still present (although five decibels quieter than the dominating noise of the previous XKR). Knocking the automatic shifter over to the left engages the six-speeder's Sport mode and, when using the paddle-shifters behind the wheel, the car's true spirit hits like a ton of bricks. Mid-range surge is heroic. According to those in the know, if the 155-mph limiter was junked, the car is good for another 20 to 25 mph, putting it squarely in Porsche 911 territory.