“The Most Beautiful Car Ever Made”

So said Enzo Ferrari about the Jaguar XK-E

In 1961, many would argue that the most beautiful cars came from Maranello, Italy. How about Ferrari’s 250 GT short wheelbase Berlinetta coupe, or the California Spyder? So, when Enzo called a car “the most beautiful ever made,” he must have been talking about one of his famed Ferraris, yes?

No. The Commendatore was referring to a Brit, the just released Jaguar XK-E. The names behind it were almost a secret – William Lyons, William Heynes, Malcolm Sayer, Lofty England and Norman Dewis – yet what they created became as much if not more a part of automotive history than the Ferraris from Maranello for the many enthusiasts who considered the Jag more “ownable” and usable.

Steering wheel detail of the 1955 Le Mans-winning Jaguar D-Type. Photo: Shutterstock.

We had a sense of what was coming from Jaguar. There were rumors. There were hints. What did Jaguar have up its corporate sleeve? It was like waiting for royalty at an auto show.

Jaguar E-Type headlight. Photo: Shutterstock.

First came the March, 1961, Geneva Auto Show, the E-Type prototype so close to not being finished it had to be driven from Coventry to Switzerland, arriving with just minutes to go at the show.

We recall the new Jaguar from the April, 1961, New York Auto Show that left us mesmerized, the exterior design so unlike what we’d come to expect from Ferrari. It reflected just the sort of Jag history we were dreaming of, based on a pair of Coventry’s Le Mans winners, the C- and D-Types.

A pair of 1961 Jaguar E-Types. Photo: John Lamm.

Credit for the E-Type goes to Malcom Sayer, who also gets plaudits for the C- and D-Type. We’ve heard about the commotion that could go with the design work in Italy, but the E-Type’s image apparently came in a far more sedate manner. Sayer was an aerodynamicist with the Bristol Aeroplane Company during World War II and took – despite its super sexy appearance – a very studious, scientific approach to the E’s shape. Wind tunnels, small prototypes, and test tracks brought a result that resonated particularly well in the early Swinging Sixties era of The Beatles, miniskirts, transistor radios, Chubby Checker, Timothy Leary and LSD.

Instrument panel of the 1961 Jaguar E-Type. Photo: John Lamm.

No wonder New York’s Museum of Modern Art has a 1963 E-Type roadster in its small car collection to represent both the design and the era.

Under Sayer’s styling was a stressed-steel semi-monocoque chassis that made the rest of the sports car world look over its technical shoulder. The Jag had 4-wheel disc brakes years before Corvettes had them, to say nothing of the independent rear suspension still under development for the “Vette.” Porsche’s 911 wasn’t even launched until 1963.

1961 Jaguar E-Type interior. Photo: John Lamm.

Engine? No need for Jaguar to apologize there, not given those Le Mans wins with the same basic power plant. According to legend, the idea of a twin-cam, straight-6 engine came from discussions between Lyons, Heynes, Walter Hassan and Claude Baily as they scanned the skies looking for German bombers during World War II.

However it came about, the result was a very handsome power plant that would be used for decades by Jaguar with a variety of displacements. New for the E-Type was 3.8 liters, 265 horsepower, triple SU carbs and a sweet exhaust sound.

Spoke wheel from a Jaguar E-Type. Photo: Shutterstock.

Road tests put the 0-60 time in sub-7 seconds – about the same as the Corvette but with a higher top speed, a very advertisible 150 mph. We loved that part of the initial advertisement, it so played to our anticipation.

A logo that says power, style and class – the Jaguar E-Type V12. Photo: Shutterstock.

In the end, some 72,000 E-Type coupes, roadsters and 2+2s were built, going through a long list of changes. The 6-cylinder engine size rose to 4.2 liters and a V-12 was added to the mix. Regulations dictating engine emissions, fuel economy, and safety equipment weighed heavily on the Jaguar sports car, with many variations from country to country, some of the most onerous in the U.S.

For 1960, Jaguar created E2A, an E-Type prototype that was raced at Le Mans by Briggs Cunningham. The drivers: Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen. Illustration: Jaguar, courtesy John Lamm.

To promote the E-Type on the track, Jaguar developed special competition versions. It created a dozen lightweight E-Types to race and they did well in private meetings. In the U.S., Bob Tullius campaigned an E-Type that won the 1975 SCCA National championship.

Never one to permanently sign off on its history, Jaguar will honor the 1961 launch of the E-Type with six matched pairs rebuilt to original spec. That will include both coupes and roadsters. The automaker points out that, “Every E-type 60 Edition built by the team at Jaguar’s Classic Works facility in Warwickshire will be an existing 1960s 3.8-litre E-type fully-restored to exclusive 60th anniversary tribute specification.”

Unlike most Ferraris, E-Types are not unattainable to many potential owners. Just search “Jaguar E-Type for sale” online and you will find them. Who knows, you could end up owning one of Enzo Ferrari’s “most beautiful car ever made.”

Top: 1961 Jaguar XK-E. Photo: John Lamm.