GRR

How to buy a Jaguar E-type

29th April 2020
Bob Murray

Ever since the day in 1961 when Enzo Ferrari confirmed everyone’s suspicions and called it the most beautiful car in the world, the world has been in love with the Jaguar E-type. At launch, it was twice as fast as most cars, three times as sexy and cost a fraction the price of sports car rivals. This icon – and never was that word more appropriate – is 60 next year, and now’s a good a time as any to do what every true enthusiast should do at least once in their lives… and own an E-type.

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There are a lot of E-types out there in different shapes and sizes with massively different (and recently fluctuating) price tags. Around 72,000 were made for global consumption between the sports car’s launch in ‘61 and the last V12 Series III in 1975. There’s something over 4,000 on the roads in the UK today – double what it was 25 years ago – and plenty are for sale at any one time. All you have to do is pick the right one for you.

“There really is an E-type for everyone,” says Marcus Holland who runs specialist sales, service and restoration company E-Type UK with his father Dominic. Indeed, E-types come with one of the widest value ranges of any car in the classic world. It is possible to pick up a dodgy one for £30,000… or bag yourself a rare flat-floor Series I with the all-important external bonnet latches for 10 times that. Then again you could spend £5 million or so on an original racing Lightweight E-type.

The then new Jaguar E-type at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show.
The E-type production line, 1961.
Designer Sir William Lyons with his iconic creation, 1961.

“These days finding a good one takes longer but there are still good ones out there and now is a good time to buy,” Marcus tells us. “Prices have softened in the past 12 months , but there will always be peaks and troughs and it’s always best to look at E-type ownership as a long-term proposition. Best advice is buy one because you love it and want to drive it, not because you want to make money on it.”

E-Type UK is a young company, formed in 2008, that is very much part of a new wave of specialists looking after all aspects of the E-type, often for a new, younger generation of owners – one not used to old-car quirks and unreliability. As Jaguar E-type owners and all-round classic car enthusiasts, Marcus and his dad knew how difficult old cars can sometimes be and resolved to do something about it where the E-type is concerned. So in 2016 they bought the company, combining their passion for the iconic car and for customer service with the experience, expertise and facilities for which E-Type UK was already known.

Today E-Type UK has reinforced its position among the most renowned E-type specialists in the country. Its restorations have won awards and its upgrades – including fuel injection, five-speed all-synchro gearboxes, power steering and air-conditioning – have been lauded as ways to enhance the E-type experience without detracting from its character. “People do not want a difficult and unreliable classic car,” says Marcus. “Modern buyers are not used to breaking down.”

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Marcus runs the 16-person team at the company workshops near Tonbridge, Kent. At 31, he is not far off half the age of the car he is devoted to. What is the appeal for him?

“Simple really: the E-type looks fantastic and, unlike most cars of its era, drives beautifully. It is a true motoring icon, but one you can use a lot. Classic cars will soon be so different from your everyday new car that driving an E-type is only going to become more and more an incredible experience.”

So, which E to go for? Roadster or fixed-head coupe? Two seats or the (longer wheelbase) 2+2 coupe? Open or faired-in headlights? Evocative straight-six power or the turbine-like thrust of the V12? All are questions the would-be E-type owner must face.

Marcus thinks £50,000 is a realistic starting point – options here, he says, could include a Series I roadster that needs restoring, a Series II fixed-head coupe, an “okay” SIII V12 roadster or a “very nice” SIII fixed-head. Up the budget to £70,000 and you could bag yourself a fine SII roadster with 4.2-litre engine and all-synchro gearbox – for many, the essence of E-type.

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There are cars that sell for less than £50k, but, says Marcus Holland, finding one that ticks the desirable boxes – sound bodywork, good history with a long-term owner and matching numbers – might prove tricky. Incidentally, do not underestimate the need for sound bodywork: E-types are steel monocoques and fixing a rotten one will potentially cost far, far more than fixing engine or gearbox.

Is there an E-type sleeper model? For Marcus such a car is the SIII roadster, the first Jaguar with a V12 engine. As much grand tourer as sports car, especially with the optional (but widely taken-up) automatic transmission, for Marcus the car is “fantastic everywhere, beautiful to drive and undervalued.”

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What about buying a project E-type? True barn finds are rare and often come with wildly ambitious prices given the amount of work inevitably involved in fixing them up. Marcus well knows how much work can be involved: E-Type UK has just finished the total restoration of 1964 SI 3.8 fixed-head coupe which took 2,500 hours over 18 months. The UK car was found in a garage, not a barn, but it had sat there unused since 1979.

“At first look the car appeared well preserved and rot-free,” says Marcus, “but after sandblasting and a strip-down, the extent of the damage caused by 40 years of inactivity, coupled with previous cheap repairs, revealed a major challenge. Many areas of the floor and the inner and outer sills were beyond saving.”

Today the newly finished coupe is resplendent in the original Jaguar colour of opalescent silver blue, with oxblood red leather interior and fresh chromework – not forgetting the red outline around its “mouth”, racing Lightweight style, as the owner had requested. In typical E-Type UK style, this isn’t the only non-original modification. This car’s 3.8 XK motor features high-lift cams, a stainless-steel sports exhaust, aluminium radiator and header tank for enhanced cooling, and a new five-speed gearbox, all changes to improve driveability and reliability.

All this work would put a car restored to this standard – in many ways better than it was when band new – in the £200,000-plus bracket, says Marcus. A big ticket item for sure then, but imagine how totally chuffed this car’s owner will be driving around in it for the E-type’s 60th anniversary next year…

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When buying an E-type, do…

  • Always go for a car with good provenance and matching engine, chassis and gearbox numbers
  • Get written/photographic evidence of any restoration work
  • Inspect the steel monocoque thoroughly – the bodywork and floorpan can be by far the biggest restoration cost
  • Buy any E-type you see with external bonnet latches – they are among the rarest and most valuable of all
  • Drive it as much as possible!

When buying an E-type, don’t…

  • Buy sight unseen however wonderful it sounds; get an inspection done by someone who knows E-types
  • Rule out cars with “restomods” like power steering, air-conditioning or bigger cooling systems, they can be perfectly acceptable and make the cars more usable and reliable
  • Rule out cars with replacement engines/gearboxes, but ideally ensure the originals are available with the car
  • Expect to make money on it – if you do, it will be a bonus

If you’re a fan of the E-type, you might be interested in reading about an E-type that came to the Goodwood Revival in 2018 but hadn’t raced since Le Mans 1962

  • Jaguar

  • E-Type

  • William Lyons

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