Friday, February 12, 2016
Join Me In The Wayback Machine (Jaguar XK-E)
It's hard to overstate the impact that the Jaguar XK-E made on sports car buffs when it was introduced in 1961. This is from its Wikipedia page:
At a time when most cars had drum brakes, live rear axles, and mediocre performance, the E-Type sprang on the scene with 150 mph and a sub-7 second 0-60 time, monocoque construction, disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, independent front and rear suspension, and unrivaled looks.
Starting with the XK-120 in 1948, Jaguar had a reputation of value for money. But Jags got heavier and more refined (and less track-worthy) in the 1950's. And Jag went from cutting-edge technology to also-ran. Little did the public know that, when the factory LeMans effort was shut down, William Lyons green-lighted a study of turning the D-Type into a road car. The engineers figured out how to do the D-Type's aluminum monocoque in steel, and it was a rigid chassis for the times.
Which brings us to value for money. These figures are from memory, and thus unreliable in preciseness. But I'm fairly confident of my orders-of-magnitude. The XK-E sold for about $6000 in 1961. A Ferrari 250 GT cost twice that; the 250 GT SWB even more. An MGA cost about $2500 (the MGB was two years away). This was a bit more than a basic Chevy or Ford. A Fiat 1500 roadster was about $3000. An Alfa Giulietta was a bit over $4000. Porsche 356's ranged from $4500 to $5000 (the 911 was 3 years away, and would cost as much or more as an XK-E when it arrived).
The Chevy Corvette, perhaps the XK-E's closest competitor, started north of $3500. But by the time you checked the boxes to get the good stuff, it was over $5000. And for 85% of the cost of an XK-E, you still got a stick axle and drum brakes. Is it any wonder there was a long waiting list for an XK-E, even in the States? (The initial production run was for export only.)
It was a engineering tour de force in 1961, at any price point. At half the price and 90% of the pace of a Ferrari, it was brilliant. And drop-dead gorgeous. We all said so. Today, we geezers tend to lump the XK-E in with 250 GT's and Corvette Stingrays (IRS, disc brakes) and Porsche 911's into a Golden Age. But back then, for a few years, the XK-E was King of the Mountain.
I've not driven an XK-E, but had a long ride in a well-driven Series 1 car in 1974. By the standards of the day, it was a sports car. It was marketed as such and raced, including at the international level. But it's not a sporty car. That hood is every bit at long as it looks: visibility could be better. Without power steering, parking and low-speed maneuvers are a chore. With a 4-speed box and long diff gear, it doesn't scoot away from rest. It shone as a road car--a GT--which was its intended use.