The Jaguar E-Type is a work of art in the literal sense of the word. The dark blue 1963 Roadster is among nine cars on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
To justify his choice, MoMA said: “The Jaguar E-Type’s elegant bullet-like shape remains one of the most influential and imitated forms of design in sports car design.”
Thus, the E-Type is more than just a car. It’s a cultural icon, a thing of beauty, a sacred cow. Trying to update one is like adding double glazing to a Grade II Georgian townhouse. Or is he?
Based on a picturesque farmhouse in Kent, E-Type UK has been restoring classic Jaguar cars since 2008. And in 2018, it revealed a one-of-a-kind Series 3 V12 Roadster, informally known as “Project Zero” (not to be confused with Between it and the electric E-Type Zero, which Prince Harry drove home from his wedding that same year).
Rebuilt for over 3,000 hours, Project Zero is full of ingenious upgrades: fuel injection, a five-speed gearbox, LED lighting, Bluetooth connectivity and more. This was a restumud before most of us heard the word. And when the press drove it, reviews were generally positive.
“They tightened every screw, screwed in every screw and made the type E you wanted,” Alex Goy said in his video for Carfection. “I adore this thing.”
That car became the genesis of a new project called Unleashed. A limited set of 10 examples will be created, priced at £300,000 plus the cost of the E-Type donor. And here I am, on a perfect sunny day, for the first day’s drive.
Camels can breathe easily. E-Type UK has not polished the tulips with air scoops, spoilers or bulky ingots. The differences here are subtle, and designed to improve upon the existing look rather than reinvent it. However, park the Unleashed car next to the Standard Series 3 and it will instantly look a lot more modern.
The most obvious change — and judging by social media comments, the most controversial — are the “angel’s eye” LED headlights, which are inspired by American restaurant models. However, it greatly enhances the usability of the car, says Head of Marketing Jack Twinham: “It’s no longer like using candles in the dark.”
The famous long hood has additional air vents, while the specially designed chrome bumpers are much simpler than the original, with no upper fender and a “floating” front grille. Deep wire wheels have also grown from an inch to 16 inches, to fully fill the flare brackets.
“We encourage customers to stick with heritage colours,” says Jack, as I contemplate Jaguar’s shimmering black paint. All 10 cars will be based on the Series 3 Roadster, but more projects are planned under the Unleashed banner – likely an E-Type Lightweight or classic racer ready-to-go.
Tilt the massive E-Type’s bumper forward and the V12 appears in all its naked glory. The original engine weighed 5.3 liters and produced “between 200 and 250 hp”. Here, it is expanded to 6.1 liters and operates with fuel injection with individual throttle bodies, as well as a damped flywheel and a 12-branch ceramic-coated exhaust, which jumps to 380 horsepower.
A five-speed manual replaces the three-speed automatic gearbox that many 3 Series cars left in Coventry. E-Type UK has also upgraded the cooling – via an aluminum radiator, oil cooler and ECU-controlled fans – to improve reliability.
To sharpen the chassis, there are adjustable dampers and stiffer torsion bars with polycarbonate bushes. The stronger stopping power comes from large brake discs, braided hoses, and a four-pot front caliper.
With the factory-fitted hardtop in place (the canvas roof is still there, folded behind the seats), climbing inside the E-Type is a tight squeeze. You bow your head, then wriggle across the wide sill on a low bench. Your legs are outstretched, flanked by the aluminum center console, as you look through the letterbox-sized windshield. Even after 60 years, it’s still special.
Acknowledging that folks have grown since Twiggy was a pin-up, E-Type UK installed a detachable Moto-Lita steering wheel for easier access. For me, the jars have a slightly thicker leather edge – I prefer a tall wooden wheel – but the rest of the cabin blends classic and contemporary to great effect.
Traditional Smith gauges and rocker switches, for example, are now lit by cool LEDs. There’s also subtle mood lighting for the footwell area, along with pool lights that illuminate the floor when the doors are opened. 2021 is very…
Unleashed also comes with moderate flaws that the original E-Type owners, including Frank Sinatra and George Best, could only dream of. This includes remote central locking, climate control air conditioners, power windows, heated windshields, and a vintage-looking radio with Bluetooth connectivity. This is a car that you can drive every day, even if few owners will do it.
Hit the red start button (another E-Type UK addition) and the V12 engine will be buzzing to life. Even at idle, it sounds great, a rich roar swaying from the four exhaust pipes in the shape of a fan. The upper components are layered and mechanical, like a European thoroughbred, while the Basilin line is deep and resonant, like an American muscle car. I can’t suppress a smile.
I wouldn’t be chasing the red line today – this car is already sold out, and will be available with its new owner soon – but I quickly found out I didn’t need to. The high-impulse engine does light work for a body weighing around 1,500kg, pulling hard and smoothly through the gears while you gain momentum like a runaway train.
Granted, it won’t scare any supercars, but that doesn’t matter. This is performance you can really take advantage of on the road. No numbers were mentioned, but I think the 0-62 mph sprint is around 4.5 seconds. maximum speed? Far from the claimed original speed of 150 mph, which has always been a bit optimistic anyway. As for fuel economy… it’s better not to think about it.
Like Project Zero, Unleashed still feels like a Type E, but with smooth jagged edges. Its power steering is easy—perhaps too light for my taste—and the brake pedal feels positive and reassuring.
The manual gearbox is also more satisfying than the dual-clutch paddle-pull. The chrome ball bearing is reminiscent of classic Ferraris and doesn’t like being rushed. Get the timing just right, and the entire driving experience seems to come together.
Despite the suspension modification, this is a car with a relatively low profile. Again, this is a bonus down the road, as you can enjoy the natural, playful balance of the E-Type, and feel its transition from initial skidding to squeaky skidding, all without making ridiculous revs.
Just be aware that this recent change does not extend to the electronic stability control. This function returns to your right foot.
As the world goes electrifying and cars become more like white goods, restaurants like E-Type Unleashed are becoming more and more attractive. Beautiful, analog and completely immersive to drive, it reminds us why we loved cars in the first place.
There are plenty of options in this market now, from the Singer 911 to the Alfaholics GTA-R. But if you arose and lust after E-Type, I suspect only E-Type would. Drinking in the sight of this as he’s bathing in the spring sunshine, exhausts chirping furiously, I can’t argue with that.
Oh, and the other eight cars in the MoMA group? Cisitalia 202 GT, Ferrari 641 F1, Volkswagen Beetle, Willys Jeep, Fiat 500, Citroen DS, Porsche 911 and Smart City Coupe. Truly, art moves in mysterious ways.
Tim Peet writes for Motoring Research
price: £300,000 (plus a Type E donor car)
Energy: 380 hp
0-62Mph: 4.5 seconds (estimated)
maximum speed: 170 mph (estimated)
Weight: 1500 kg