Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
I’ve wanted to drive an E-Type since I was five. An uncle or somesuch had given me a car book for Christmas, and the slinky Jag leapt off the page as the sort of thing that surely only superheroes and Very Interesting People could be granted access to. It was sylph-like, sumptuous, carved from the magical sparkling corollas of celestial rainbows.
As you might imagine, the day that arrived recently when I was finally able to drive such a thing was a reasonably exciting one. My inner child was bouncing off the walls, almost wetting himself with tear-strewn joy. This was clearly the very zenith of my achievements – having done this, what else could there possibly be to aspire to?
But, to be honest, it wasn’t all that great.
Sorry, no, I’ve washed my mouth out with soap and hot gravel – allow me to rephrase.
It was glorious. It was magnificent. But it just so happened that the E-Type I was driving, a Series III V12 drophead, had its roof down, and I was driving it through the snow. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever been that cold. Within five minutes I’d lost all sensation in my fingers; after another forty minutes or so, my face was frozen into that expression that Jack Nicholson pulls at the end of The Shining.
But this isn’t the E-Type’s fault. The voluptuous Jaguar is every iota as delicate, rewarding and downright charming as I could have hoped. Its marvels are written in the stars, it goes almost as well as it looks, and it looks downright sensational.
That rumbling 5.3-litre V12 is an entertaining old lump (I tried a later version in the XJ-S last year, so I was already primed for the addictive snarl and surprisingly eager nature of the revs), and it’s a hell of a lot of engine to shove into a lithe and lissom little roadster. You can easily steer the thing from the rear – although that may have had something to do with all the black ice – and, once your brain and unresponsive fingers have reconciled the initial befuddlement that the brakes don’t do all that much and the steering is a little, er, maritime, you can get into a rhythm with it pretty smartly. By modern standards it’s not exactly quick, but it’s quick enough, and that’s all you need; it’s not meant to be a blistering point-to-point supercar, it’s a leggy grand tourer that elicits smiles and a cheery waves from passers-bys - something you can play up to with gusto by waving at every pedestrian in the vicinity to see who responds. Simple pleasures, etc.
The driver’s seat is a sublimely old-school place to be. If you’re over six feet tall, you’ll need to push the thing all the way back, the steering wheel resting on your thighs as your feet find their way to the weirdly offset pedals, but it’s something you adapt to immediately as the whole car, seemingly ever-so long as you approached, now shrinks around you like a well-cut suit. Before you lies a plethora of gauges, the likes of which a modern car could only dream of; the windscreen’s close enough that you can touch it without taking your hands off the wheel (and you need to duck slightly to keep your forehead below its chromed crossbar), and the rear axle is as-near-as-dammit right under your backside, meaning that you steer it like a Caterham: with your hips. It’s hardly the last word in refinement, but it’s never less than thoroughly entertaining.
‘Never meet your heroes’? Cobblers. If every one’s as beguiling as the E-Type, let’s meet ’em all.
With effusive thanks to Great Escape Cars.