Home » Why I Hate ‘The Most Beautiful Car Ever Made’

Why I Hate ‘The Most Beautiful Car Ever Made’

Jaguar E Type Damn Good Design Ts2
ADVERTISEMENT

One of the crucial attributes for a car designer to possess is the ability to separate what they personally like, from what customers like. It’s important for me when either designing a car, talking about the design of cars, or reviewing cars, to put aside my own preferences and tastes and understand what’s important to people actually buying the thing in question. My fallback analogy is this: I hate the sodding Beatles. Their stupid haircuts. Their stupid suits. Their stupid jangled caterwauling. All of it makes me want to scoop out my eyeballs with a melon baller and shove an ice pick through my ears. I just don’t like them but the point is I do recognize their importance and why other people like them, even if it’ll be a cold day in hell before any of their music darkens my playlists. Another bit of swinging sixties Britishness that is universally adored but I’m caustically ambivalent about is the Jaguar E-Type. Put the kettle on (coffee, white, no sugar and don’t bring me any of that freeze-dried instant crap), it’s time for Damn Good Design.

Enzo Ferrari supposedly called it “the most beautiful car ever made” (it’s unclear whether he actually said such a thing). It’s one of six cars on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (David, Torch and Mercedes will no doubt be thrilled to learn three of the others are a Willys Jeep, a Beetle and a Smart). No click bait list of best looking cars is complete without an E-Type somewhere near the summit. Good grief it’s all so predictable. Saying you like E Types like saying you like The Beatles.  Can’t you make even a modicum of effort into being just a little bit original?

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Jaguar as we know and understand it really got going properly as a car company after the Second World War, that particular dust-up forcing a change of name from the Swallow Sidecar Company. Their first post-war sports car was the sensational XK120 of 1948 – named after its top speed of 120mph. It was a raffish unadorned streamliner that riffed on the profile of the pre-war BMW 328. Solid steel wheels and enclosed rear wheel arches gave the original roadster a touch of the art-deco. It represented a yearning for speed and glamour from a bombed-out country still reeling from war. Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart were among the first customers for what was then the fastest production car in the world. As the forties became the fifties the XK120 begat the XK140 and finally XK150, moving further away from the original’s simplicity to a more traditional wood trim and wire wheels look.

Etype1
This is exactly how I would have an XK120

I Want That Car And I Want It Now

In 1951 and 1953 Jaguar had been victorious at Le Mans with the C-Type, a racing version of the XK120. They followed that up with a purpose-built racer, the D-Type, which won the race in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Both these cars had their shape honed by the aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, who had previously worked at the Bristol Aeroplane Company during the war. The quintessential British boffin, his aerodynamic curves created from mathematical formulae helped the big cats on the mighty Mulsanne straight, but away from the unique challenges of Le Sarthe, Jaguar’s fortunes in the World Sportscar Championship were mixed. This led to several unsold customer D-Type racers being converted into a road-going version, the XKSS, but Sir William Lyons had long wanted a new high-speed sports car to replace the XK150.

Etype3
C & D Type ‘Continuation‘ Cars
Etype4
Believe it or not they left the factory looking like this

What emerged in 1961 at the Parc des Vives hotel in Geneva was no less a sensation than the XK120 had been thirteen years earlier. A heady mix of wartime and racing engineering experience clothed in Sayer’s aero forms further developed from the D-Type, the E-Type was all thrusting symbolism and mechanical theatre, dripping with tumescent sex appeal. The voluptuous curves of the D-Type had been stretched, smoothed and rounded into something a lot less feral and a lot more suggestive.

ADVERTISEMENT

It sent the press and public alike into fits of rapture – priced at a bargain £2097 for the roadster and £2196 for the fixed head, nothing could touch its combination of speed, style and price. It had a 3.8-liter XK straight six engine lifted from the D-Type making 265bhp, a four speed box and crucially, independent rear suspension and disc brakes. Jaguar claimed a top speed of 150 mph when the typical asthmatic family sedan of the time would struggle to gasp its way much past seventy. Jaguar’s top speed claims might have been exaggerated but it didn’t matter. You were not going faster at any price.

Aston Martins and Ferraris at double or triple the E-Type’s money were not even close. When it appeared in New York a month after Geneva, Frank Sinatra apparently said “I want that car, and I want it now.” Bogie’s opinion on the new Jaguar remains sadly unrecorded, as by then he was worm food. Still, it’s impossible to overstate the effect the E-Type had on its release. Sir William Lyons certainly wasn’t ready for its impact; because of their slightly antiquated production methods, Jaguar couldn’t build the cars fast enough.

Etype5
Is that an E-Type in your pocket or are you pleased to see me?
Etype6
British workers not on strike. Sobriety levels unknown.

Iconic upon launch, the E-Type has remained an object of lust and desire in the sixty years since. Good going for a car built in an unglamorous ex-wartime factory by men in brown coats with horn-rimmed glasses. Even if it hadn’t been the fastest thing on the road in its day people would still have revered it for the way it looks. And this is where my problems with the E-Type begin.

Breaking The Rules

When you enroll at car design school you are not handed a big book of Car Design Rules that Are Not To Be Broken. The closest thing to a default text is probably H-Point, which doesn’t get into the aesthetic side of things at all but covers pretty much everything else. However, there are rules, or rather guidelines that will help nudge you in the direction of a pleasing aesthetic outcome as you scratch your way through hours upon hours of sketching sessions. It takes time, trial and error, and an innate artistic sensibility to gain an understanding of what works and doesn’t, and why. Although Malcolm Sayer was in the strictest sense an engineer, he did have an artistic side. And the E-Type does break a couple of what we would now consider cardinal car design rules, but by gets away with it through sheer chutzpah.

Etype7

ADVERTISEMENT

A healthy dash-to-axle ratio is something that idiots think defines how good a car looks. It concerns how far away the centerline of the front wheels is from the base of the windshield when looking at a car from the side. Taking this dimension in isolation, the E-Type has way too much of it; a consequence of packaging a locomotive of an inline six in what is a very small car – only 145” (4.6m) long, 65” (1.6m) wide and 48” (1.2m) high. But taken as an overall proportion, the bonnet length is balanced out by the passenger cabin taking up almost the entirety of the back half of the car, and the fact it sits very lightly on its inset wheels.

Another issue in side profile that goes against the rules is the pillars. Ideally, side pillars should all align to an imaginary convergence point (or points) somewhere above the roof of the car. On the E-Type the A and B pillars are parallel. By itself this is not a massive problem – the B pillar had to be at that angle because otherwise the side glass wouldn’t be able to drop into the door. But A-pillar being so upright creates an unholy mess at the base where it joins the sheet metal, because the door shut line then has to travel forward to create a big enough door opening to swing your legs in. Thus with the door open there’s a bloody great corner in the door opening, perfect for cracking your kneecaps on. This was probably driven by Sayer wanting as much curvature in the windscreen as possible for aerodynamic reasons, but it’s a compromise too far. Better to move the base of the A pillar forwards and flatten out the windscreen a bit, giving you a bigger door opening and then you could make do with two normal size wipers, rather than three tiddly ones.

Etype10

Etype8

You get the feeling looking at an E-Type that the metal skin is struggling to contain everything inside it. The way the bonnet bulges. The mechanicals hanging out underneath the car, in particular the no-effort-made exhaust pipes. The passenger compartment barely wrapping around two occupants and their luggage. This is not someone wearing something tight but considered in order to look alluring – it’s the twat wearing Aviators who skips leg day in a top two sizes too small. It’s almost bursting out all over the place. And don’t get me started on the humpbacked 2+2 or the later bloated series III V12 models, which were just embarrassing. For a car verging on caricature, they push it too far into bad comedy.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sayer designed aircraft before he designed cars; little wonder the E Type looks like a tear in the wrong place and it’ll explode like a Comet airliner. That may sound a bit melodramatic but remember that bargainacious purchase price? These things were thrown together from cheap materials, and Jaguar didn’t exactly have a reputation for reliability. In one darkly humorous episode of Mad Men, one of the major characters attempts to gas himself to death, using the exhaust from his E-Type. But he fails because the car won’t start. But was their ever more perfect car casting than Jaguar in a sixties set show about ostensibly high-flying, good-looking men drinking and womanizing their way through the working week?

It’s The First Footballers Car

And this is the second part of my problem with the E-Type. It was released right at the start of the swinging sixties. Away from Hollywood stars, it was the epitome of ‘a lot of flash for not much cash’ – the very first footballers car. George Best, probably the first celebrity footballer and a man known for his heroic exploits on the pitch, in the bar, and in the bedroom, had three E-Types.

American automotive journalist Henry Manney III, with a timely flourish of ear-appropriate sexism, called it “the greatest crumpet catcher known to man.” Are you in a spandex-clad metal band? Don’t shove armadillos in your trousers – stick a 1:18 die-cast E-Type model down there instead. Forget figuratively, it is literally a dick on wheels. Part of me can’t help feeling that part of the E-Type’s enduring appeal to the male enthusiast is that deep down in the lizard part of their brain, they think it will make them irresistible. If the Mini was the classless part of Carnaby Street and the Swinging Sixties, the E-Type was déclassé.

Etype9
The oldest swinger in town. Series III V12 from 1974

A lot of my antipathy towards British sports cars of the sixties is based on the fact I felt they represented a nation in post war decline – fashionable on the surface while doing little to advance the state of the art underneath. The E-type was of the moment when it was released in 1961, but being based on a racer that last won Le Mans in 1957 it was trading on former glory. You might think I’m being harsh, but in 1963, just two years after the E-Type launched, the C2 Corvette, Porsche 911 and Mercedes Pagoda all appeared, advancing the state of the sports car art in very different ways while simultaneously making the E-Type look very old hat indeed.

Finally wheezing off the stage like Jumpsuit Elvis in 1974, despite several aborted attempts Jaguar never really replaced the E-Type properly until the F-Type appeared in 2013. That car dies this year as Jaguar rebrands itself as a maker of high-end EVs.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Corvette, 911 and SL continued to evolve and stay relevant, and are all still in production.

All images courtesy of Jaguar Media

Relatedbar

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
298 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steve Harris
Steve Harris
2 months ago

I’ve never particularly got the rapturous reception that the e-type gets, it’s proportions seemed odd, but now I understand why 🙂

I also do not like the Beatles, but that I can articulate.

Endusone
Endusone
2 months ago

I think the point about the lines of the pillars is a really good one. Something in that area always bothered me and I could never put my finger on it. It’s like almost good, but there’s something clunky about it…and that’s it. It is definitely a penis car, but I don’t mind the long hood.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago

Next tell everyone that the Z8 is terrible! What a dogs breakfast of a car. The Z3 is so much better and the 507 towers above both of them

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

How do you mean? To me that couldn’t be less true of three roasters from the same brand. I am genuinely curious to hear your perspective

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Totally. But the changes are so dramatic that someone who didn’t know that might not even realize it the designers know they’re playing on a theme, but I’d argue whoever did the Z8 went off the rails. Most disagree, naturally

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Also, the clownshoe lady!!!!!!!! That is all

NAMiata
NAMiata
2 months ago

To me, the best comment on the E-Type is that I have known few cars that elicit as much of a reaction from non-car people like my wife. A “what was that?” is inevitable everytime we see one in the wild. As for compensating, I’m sure it’s far less worse than the guys we have in the States driving pickups jacked up 24″.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
2 months ago

Since you have clearly articulated your objections to the E-Type, what is your opinion of its near contemporary the Lotus Elan? I think in many ways it’s everything the Jaguar wasn’t, small, light, cleverly engineered and based on more modern guts. On the down side the Elan was barely removed from its kit car antecedents and was a bit fragile because Colin Chapman thought the ideal race car fell apart as it crossed the finish line.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

I’d say the Elan was attractive enough, The Avengersmade it a cult car and Mazda clearly based .the MX-5 after the Elan

Juan Butera
Juan Butera
2 months ago

Adrian, have you ever owned an XK-E? I have. I bought a new 1969 FHC and drove it 140,000 miles. Sold it in 1975. I am the only person I know who bought an XK-E new and used it up. At 140,000 it needed an engine overhaul and all kinds of other stuff. Paid $6,900 and sold for $2,500. It was very reliable, the only thing that ever broke was the alternator and that happened all the time on American cars of that era. I never had problems bashing my knees – 6’2″ and only 165 lbs back then. Longest road trip was 3 weeks Houston-Lubbock-Ruidoso, NM the up the Rockies through Yellowstone to Idaho Falls and return. If the XK-E breaks design rules it is the rules that are BS.

298
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x