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.[3]

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.

XK-E independent rear suspension, inboard disc brakes, and subframe restored by Sport & Specialty of Durand, IL.  The
availability of this state-of-the-art unit in a production car was a "first" in 1961.  It is the go-to assembly even now for
people building hot rods and custom cars with IRS.

1 comment:

Christopher Perez said...

In my very mis-spent youth I owned at different times two of these. The first was a '64 FHC. The second was a '63 OTS. There still is little to compare the 3.8 litre with triple 2" SU motor to. Such fond memories.

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