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.
Climbing into the E-Type was always going to be like turning back the clock. This glorious old Jag has never been restored and the interior is a bit scruffy in places. There's a wonderful patina about it-you can tell that every one of its 41,400 miles has been enjoyed. It's great to see the thing being used, instead of spending its days as some museum piece.
The first E-Type cabins had rows of toggle switches, which just added to that swinging '60s vibe, but here they're chunky rockers with none of the tactility or sense of occasion of their forebears. The fine Smiths instruments try to make up for it though, with a really evocative look, despite the fact that the dash is a bit of an ergonomic mess.
The hood stretches ahead for what seems like a mile and those louvers-essential for keeping the enormous V12 cool-quicken the pulse ever so slightly. No red button to push, so a twist of the key gets the starter motor churning for a second before the 5.3-liter engine catches with a spine-tingling cacophony. No character-smothering engine management systems or fuel injection, just two banks of cylinders fed by four Zenith Stromberg carburetors. Give it some revs and the sound is hedonistic. You can almost hear it slurping fuel like some alcoholic let loose in a distillery. The Series III is a whole world away from the earlier cars, which were unforgiving, noisy, harsh, but fun. This one has only a four-speed manual 'box but the ratios are widely spaced and there's so much torque from the V12 that it doesn't really need another cog. It wallows in the corners, which the others did not. Piling on the speed over some twisting back roads could induce queasiness at any moment, it's so softly sprung.
It feels powerful, though, and would make a brilliant companion when cruising around the south of France or beachfront Santa Barbara. But here it's not working. It's a car that lost its sense of direction and purpose. In hindsight, Jaguar did the right thing in killing it off. The XKR is a thoroughly resolved, modern GT sports car. No car will ever have the same impact on the world as the first E-Type, but that was more than 45 years ago. Nothing shocks us anymore.
2007 Jaguar XKR
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, supercharged and intercooled
Six-speed sequential automatic with paddle shift
Independent double wishbone (f), independent multi-link with half-shafts acting as upper suspension links (r), CATS electronically-controlled active damping control
Ventilated and drilled steel rotors, 12.8-inch front and rear, ABS, EBD, electronic park brake
* Wheels and Tires
Forged alloys, 8.5x20 (f), 9.5x20 (r), 255/35 (f), 285/30 (r)
Length x Width x Height (in.):188.6 x 74.5 x 52Wheelbase: 108.3 in.Curb weight: 3671 lb
Peak Power: 420 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Peak Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top speed: 155 mph (limited)
1975 Jaguar E-Type
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.3-liter V12, sohc, 24-valve
Independent with anti-dive geometry, upper and lower wishbones with torsion bars and anti-roll bar (f), independent with double coilover shocks, single wishbones, swinging driveshafts and radius arms, anti-roll bar (r)
Ventilated 11.2-inch steel rotors with servo assist (f), solid 10.4-inch inboard rotors (r)
* Wheels and Tires
Pressed steel rims with chrome hubcaps, 6x15E70 VR15 Dunlop SP Sport
Length x Width x Height (in.):
184 x 64.5 x 49
Wheelbase: 105 in.
Curb weight: 3196 lb
Peak Power: 272 bhp @ 5850 rpm
Peak Torque: 304 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.4 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph
Ian Callum: Sensual healing
When designing a sports car, the importance of first impressions cannot be over-emphasized. Like seeing a blind date for the first time, your mind is made up within a second of looking at it. If a Jaguar is ugly, it'll be in trouble, so it's good that Ian Callum is head of design.
If there's one man who knows how to skin a cat, it's Callum. He's a car enthusiast as much as anything, not just on the payroll because it's a job. He's served time with Ford and was responsible for some of the company's most startling concept cars before landing the job as designer of Aston Martin's seminal DB7. When he went over to Jaguar, he was actually heading the design teams for both manufacturers, but that didn't last long. He's carried out some subtle tweaks of Jaguar's older models, such as the S-Type, which looks far less awkward these days. The new XK, however, was his first proper stamp on Jaguar's design aesthetic.
He's justifiably proud of the XK and XKR. Looking at the rear three-quarter view, you get the true sense of what the car is all about. The glass area on the rear hatch is only a third of the width of the car, giving the haunches plenty of drama and a squat, purposeful look that spells performance. Lithe, athletic and muscular, yet not too retro like previous Jaguars, this is the finest looking big cat since the E-Type and places Jaguar firmly in the 21st century.
He's made it quite clear he wants to throw away the rule book, just as Sir William Lyons, founder of Jaguar cars, would have done. The next Jaguar (the XF) will replace the S-Type, which could be make or break for the company. Expectations are understandably high but, in Callum's hands, things are looking good.
Aluminum: a Cat's best friend
Ever-increasing levels of equipment and safety features mean cars weigh twice what they used to. This makes for less fun, higher fuel consumption and more pollution. Hardly a desirable state of affairs.
Jaguar, though, has been busy investing huge sums in new technologies, resulting in its new cars being all-aluminum in construction. Eschewing the separate spaceframe and exterior panel methods used by many others, the XK uses an all-aluminum monocoque body structure. This is high-tech aircraft engineering put into car production. Just like the E-Type back in the 1960s.
Using innovative epoxy bonding and riveting processes, the result is a structure that is both incredibly stiff and light. This means Jaguar, a company with finite resources, can get away without designing an all-new engine. With a bit of fine-tuning, the new XKR has a 12 percent higher power-to-weight ratio than its predecessor-mainly down to the use of aluminum instead of steel. The XK Coupe chassis is 30 percent stiffer than the previous generation and the convertible is more than 40 percent stiffer, which makes for a much more rewarding experience behind the wheel.