Jaguar’s E-Type has been a showstopper from the start. Specifically the 1961 Geneva International Motor Show, when Jaguar took the wraps off its coupe and convertible concepts. No less of an expert than Enzo Ferrari instantly judged the E-Type the most beautiful car in the world. Many car connoisseurs still hold this view.
Jaguar had intended to remember that introduction 60 years ago at the Geneva show originally set for March, but pandemic lockdowns iced those plans. So Jaguar came up with a new way to celebrate.
But first, a little more history.
Back in early March 1961, Jaguar’s new cars barely arrived in time for their much-anticipated introductions — after a couple of epic drives that are part of E-Type lore.
The company had decided to preview the coupe for magazine journalists with early deadlines, and some mischievous journalists had gotten it up to 150 m.p.h. on back roads — a racecar-worthy, and prison-worthy, speed at the time.
So after that joy ride, the coupe was still drawing attention at Jaguar’s headquarters in Coventry, England, long after it was supposed to have left for Geneva. Too late to transport it, a public relations manager, Bob Berry, decided to drive it, catching the midnight ferry from Dover. But he ran into fog that lasted until Reims, in France.
Now critically late, to make up for lost time Berry set out on the drive of his life. He arrived just 20 minutes before the scheduled unveiling on Geneva’s waterfront, against the backdrop of its famous water jet fountain.
There was barely time for the steaming coupe to be wiped down. William Lyons, the company president, said, “Good God, Berry, I thought you weren’t going to get here.”
“It was the only car I actually drove flat out from one end to the other of a journey,” Berry recalled years later, according to a Jaguar history. “It was the most incredible journey of my life, and I’ve never forgotten it.”
An even more hair-raising journey was in store for Norman Dewis, Jaguar’s estimable test driver, who was still back in Coventry with the E-Type convertible. Lyons hadn’t planned to introduce both cars in Geneva, but the response to the coupe was so staggering he changed his mind.
He phoned Dewis and told him: “Drop everything. Bring the open-top E-Type here immediately.” Dewis did, completing his trip in about half the time it had taken Berry.
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Dewis, who died two years ago at age 98, vividly recalled the story of his journey, shortly before his death.
“It was in the days before motorways in the U.K., or the autoroute in France,” Dewis said in an interview at a concours event in Amelia Island, Fla. “It was mostly two-lane roads, through small towns, all the way. Across customs checks and through border crossings. I averaged 68 m.p.h., including the ferry crossing.”
He added, “As soon as Bob Berry saw me, he came over and said: ‘Thank God you’ve made it. Look at the size of these queues.’”
Indeed, the smitten crowd placed orders for 500 E-Types.
When the two cars returned to England, they had covered a total of 3,400 miles — not bad for preproduction prototypes not intended for that kind of hard use. Impressively, both vehicles are still with us; the coupe, with the license plate 9600 HP, is in private hands; the convertible, tagged 77 RW, is still in Jaguar’s collection and is scheduled to be exhibited in the British Museum.
Had the cars not made it to Geneva 60 years ago, it certainly would have been a world-class embarrassment, and might have dampened the enthusiasm. But they made it, and that storied introduction helped propel the E-Types to a production run that lasted a completely unanticipated 13 years.
A couple of years back, Jaguar announced that it would produce a few “continuation” replicas of its most famous cars (as Aston Martin has done so successfully). Those models, including a few E-Types, have sold quite well.
But this year, the company decided that the E-Type had earned its own special remembrance. As a commemoration, Jaguar is offering six pairs — a coupe and a convertible — in the same livery as the Geneva show cars, for sale to the public. The catch is they are sold only in pairs. No pricing has been revealed, but the continuation cars’ base prices were $440,000 each.
Here’s something else that will be special about the so-called E-Type 60 Collection: The pairs are Series 1 E-Types from the early 1960s, not replicas. They are being completely rebuilt, and the engines, gauges, electrical systems and more will be modernized. Their paint jobs — Flat Out Grey and Drop Everything Green, in honor of their hasty journeys to Geneva — are exact recreations of the colors of the show cars. Jaguar further promises that those colors will never be used again on any Jags.
The delay for the 2021 Geneva show has given Jaguar extra time to add a new wrinkle to the whole project: It will wait a year, allowing time to finish all 12 cars, and hopefully to sell them all. (Some are already finished and sold, Jaguar has announced.) And come 2022, they will all be driven from Coventry to Geneva for a grand event, via the same route as the prototypes — this time obeying the speed limits.