Cat Walk

“Driving should be a pleasure not a chore”.

W.L.

William Lyons sure didn’t know the meaning of the rather gloomy word “boring”. As the man who founded what is known as one of the finest and greatest British sports car manufacturers, he had the right vision to build the right cars. Has anyone ever felt boredom behind the wheel of a classic Jag? We’ve never heard anyone complaining about driving one, ever. As we’re in quarantine, and we see spring go by from our window watching the unfolding of the motoring season, we stay home and gaze at the pictures of the cars we driven in the past. Passing through the folders on our computers we came across that time we drove three Jags in the northern French Countryside, around a small town named Le Mans.

For those of you who do not know, the Jaguar legend was forged here, in 1953, where the XKC (also known as C Type) driven By Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead took the victory, the first in a total of 5 overall victories won in a decade. The chance to take the wheel of a XK150 fixed-head coupe and two E Types was too good to say no… also because these three are very remarkable cars indeed. With the looks of the French being everything but friendly, we thundered through France in pure British fashion! Driving a classic Jaguar is quite an experience and It’s not just a matter of pure admiration of their aestethics: it’s pure driving enjoyment of a refined and well-balanced GT of another era and here we got to drive a properly-sorted evolution of a true automotive-specimen.

The Xk150 FHC was perhaps the F Type SVR of its day. In particular, the one we drove was a rare S, at the time one of the fastest and quickest production GT’s. With a sprint of 0-60 of only 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 218 kph, it ensured a thrilling experience. Thanks to its specially designed Westlake straight port cylinder head with high compression and triple SU carbs, it was a true gentleman’s land rocket for the time, as it produced north of 200 hp. Equipped with a Thornton Power-Lock differential and produced in only 282 examples, it represented Jaguar’s state of the art before the E Type revolution. It’s quite a rare beast to find and to drive it’s remarkably British, masculine, heavy and requires direct inputs. The gearbox is not synchronized and you need to double-clutch and de-clutch quite often to get smooth shifts. The throttle pedal is quite long and you have to carefully dose the pressure in order to make the car behave more appropriately. It’s comfortable, but the skinny tires suffer under the massive torque of the 3.8 litre six. It’s a big brute which likes good manners and has a vigorous acceleration which is followed by the distinctive and remarkable snarl of the exhaust. It was the last model before the E Type and it represented the last evolution of the classic XK dynasty, started in 1948 with the XK120, a model which put Jaguar under a remarkable light in the automotive industry. Yet, if you look at the 1959 XK and look at the 1961 E Type, you would think that they’re cars at least a decade apart. They’re not in fact, and the level of implementation of the technical and aerodynamical experiences made with the D Type in racing fields all over the world.

The E Type it’s an outstanding piece of British culture. It’s Great Britain at its finest and it is one of the well-loved heroes that come from that tiny island. It’s so quintessentially British that driving this car is like climbing the skies in a Spitfire: pressing on the accelerator gives the sensation of thundering above the ground with the melody of its hammering Rolls Royce Merlin V12. The feeling is of a relentlessly surge of power and grace. Cars like the E type are the ones you wish never gave back the keys because it’s just so cool. It has always represented the most balanced mix of everything that makes people love cars: it’s gorgeously beautiful, has torque, horsepower, handles great and it’s a symbol, an icon of an era. The E type is a car for cool people and makes everybody who drives it as cool as a Hollywood star. Look at this car as the classic well dressed chap that everyone likes and it’s great to hang around with. Whatever it does, it does beautifully and smoothly, without feeling the need to over exaggerate. Maybe the biggest surprise the E had back in 1961 besides its speed was its price: 3.980 £, little less of the price for a Ferrari or a Maserati. This made many enthusiasts access the thrill of speed and made distances on the old motorways definitely shorter. It also was very appealing to the American market and in the early days, 2 out of 3 cars made were shipped overseas and for the first six months of production it was impossible to get a rhd example: as a matter of fact, during the first six months of the E type’s life only six right hand drive cars were built for the domestic market, and were all destined to celebrities. The E was the car of winners, cool people, those who didn’t need to celebrate their success but
make a strong statement about their tastes and achievements in life. The Jet Set loved the Jag E Type. Perhaps the appeal such a car had on famous people could be better explained in Frank Sinatra famous quote “I want this car and I want it right now!” exclaimed inside Max Hoffman’s Jaguar New York dealership. In particular, the 1961 Carmen Red “VJY 237” E-Type, chassis #850070 is the 70th example ever made and it was owned by one Mike “The Bike” Hailwood. A rising star racing for Honda at that time, he had to wait and get one of the handful available. Escape on Wheels had the great privilege of driving it on the backroads around Le Mans, and what a drive that was. The first generation E Type is the incarnation of speed. The XK engine here is way more refined than the old unit, and while in the XK150 you sat on the car, on the E Type you sit in the car. It pulls in any gear while maintaining poise and grace. The space inside the cockpit was not the greatest and even for two short Italians is quite difficult to get
comfortable: gone is the ample and living-room like atmosphere that characterized its predecessor and the pedals are slightly offset and all of the same size and height. The Moss modified gearbox that was fitted to car was a joy to drive. Smooth, regardlessly of the gear action and surprisingly easy to use and operate: just put it in 4th and watch it cruise at 160 kph all day long. It sure was a great choice for a man who made speed his way of life: a 14 times Isle of Man TT winner sure loved the thrill of having the hottest new thing around in his stable of racing cars. One of automotive history’s greatest mysteries is how British people are capable of designing great roadsters. In a Nation where it rains constantly and the Sun comes out rarely, they design some of the most gorgeous open-top motorcars, which stir emotions even today. In our test we saw two extremes spanning 13 years of E Type production: from 1961 to 1974. The first and the last E types ever made. Surely not by their numbers, but definitely by their behavior and series.

The 3rd series V12 is indeed a step up in refinement under many aspects. Whereas the Hailwood’s 3.8 is characterful due to its flaws, the 5.0 V12 feels almost completely different. Equipped with Jaguar fist 12 cylinder engine developed by Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy after the experiences made with the XJ13, the ’74 is remarkably smooth, silent and powerful. As you would expect from a high-ranking British GT, it’s all about refinement.
“KTW434N” is one of the 19 manual cars of a total production of only 50 Commemorative Roadsters E Types built to celebrate the end of one of the most remarkable cars of our times. Black with a tan leather interior is the final step in evolution of a great car. How does it differ from the 3.8? They’re two separate worlds of the same universe, two characters of the same person, each representing a very different eras in motoring. The “Flat Floor” is raw and more compromised but ultimately more crude, which is a thing of distinction given that it vibrates more and it’s definitely more involving under many aspects. The V12 is the queen of refinement and the best incarnation of Jaguar’s motto of “grace, space, pace” as it took the original capability of the 3.8 to munch mile after mile without fatigue and enhanced it to the next level. The Adwest power-assisted steering, Lucas transistor ignition, anti-dive front suspension and ventilated front disc brakes transitioned the E Type from a sportscar to an ever more refined and luxurious GT, which at its price-point when new was truly the best value-for money available to the public.

Can an afternoon get more exciting than this? Not really, especially because when the Union Jack goes motoring does so in the most exciting and remarkable way.

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