In the early 1960s, British sports cars were dowdy, sluggish, homely beasts—for the most part. When the E-Type arrived in March 1961 at Geneva, it just blew away the competition, knocked out the press, and captivated the public.
The car was gorgeous, totally unlike anything ever built for the street. Enzo Ferrari called it “[t]he most beautiful car ever made.”
Part of the reason for its success was timing. The swinging sixties were in full bloom, with “mini skirts, French bikinis, Andy Warhol and the Beatles,” and cars like MGs and Triumphs just didn’t fit anymore.
But the E-Type made people drool.
The car had enormous sex appeal and a racing heritage as well. Descended from the D-Type, which had won Le Mans three years in a row, the E did 0-60 mph in 7 seconds (unheard of in those days) and topped out at a bona fide 150 mph. To beat that, you’d have to buy a Ferrari or Aston Martin at over twice the price.
The roadster cost $5,595; the coupe, $5,895. The E was built with a monocoque (stressed-skin) body over a tubular frame with independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes—all from the D-Type. The engine had carried over from the earlier XK series but had advanced features like dual overhead cams, hemispherical combustion chambers, and three carbs.
E-Types were produced through 1974, and later models featured a V-12, but these Series 2 and 3 cars were considerably uglified to meet U.S. safety regulations. And performance really suffered.
The car’s success owed not just to its looks but to its race-car credentials. It did very well in competition but was easy to drive in traffic. I had a ride in one in the mid-‘60s and was impressed with its cornering power and classy interior. (The car was billed, in Europe at least, as a grand tourer rather than a sports car.)
Prices have now reached the stratosphere, so forget about owning one. But you can still drool.
Do you think the E-Type (XK-E in the U.S.) is the world’s greatest sports car? If not, what is?