• Graham Eason

Replacing The E Type

The trouble with creating a great first album is that it makes producing the second album even harder. Which may explain why it took Jaguar 5 years to start work on the E Type’s replacement. And things didn’t go entirely smoothly.

When Malcolm Sayer, Jaguar’s chief designer and father of the E Type, began work on the E Type’s replacement – code named XJ21 – in 1966 the company was facing interesting times.

The E Type had been a deliberate tilt away from the XK’s grand tourer market towards younger customers seeking smaller, lighter sports cars. Although it was priced similarly to the XK and sold in twice the numbers, it wasn’t a profitable car. It was complex and still a low volume model, but with all the overheads of a mass produced car.

Jaguar XJ21 prototype

Pressing Problems

In the early 1960s Jaguar had been pushing for volume, anxious to find a viable base from which to grow its model range. And survive. This was already an uphill struggle, but in 1965 disaster struck. As part of a wider reorganisation of the British car industry, Pressed Steel, which produced all of Jaguar’s car bodies, was bought by British Motor Corporation (BMC). Overnight this put Jaguar’s entire business at risk.

The firm had little option but to seek a merger (in reality, a takeover) by BMC. This was the only way to secure production of car bodies. But on the upside it would also give Jaguar access to the economies of scale and deeper pockets of a volume manufacturer.

Late 1967 proposed Jaguar model range

Jaguar joined BMC with a clear strategy based on 3 saloon models and 4 sports cars. The sports car range included an E Type replacement, a smaller 2+2 coupe and a large GT car.

Alongside these models Jaguar was developing new engines – a 5.3 litre V12 that would also be capable of spawning a 3.5 litre V8. Both engines would share components and be built on the same production line. The plan was to use the larger engine in the GT and the smaller one in the E Type replacement.

With BMC backing, these plans promised much. In the mid 60s Jaguar was at the top of its game – the E Type was a runaway success and the Mk2 was the doyen of the middle classes. Building on those blocks seemed the work of a moment.

Except, of course, it didn’t quite work out that way. Instead of delivering security and funds, BMC added a layer of bureaucracy that Jaguar’s management didn’t need – its founder William Lyons wasn’t a man to take orders. It quickly became clear that BMC was itself a mess and lacked money.

Lack of Focus

Early design sketch for XJ27, which became the XJS

Alongside this, Sayer’s plans for XJ21 seemed to lack focus. Where the E Type had been developed quickly around a pure focus on aerodynamics, essentially a side project with few expectations, the new car carried a huge weight of expectation. The E Type was a success and Jaguar needed a volume seller. Consequently, XJ21 seemed to develop with competing priorities including rectifying perceived weaknesses of the E Type and reflecting modern styling trends. The design studies, all based on the longer 2+2 E Type chassis, look cumbersome and awkward where the E Type is complete and sinuous.

Sayer’s work on the larger XJ27 grand tourer suffered similar problems. He pitched this car to management offering easier access – the narrow doors were one of the big criticisms of the E Type – and a long, low aerodynamic shape influenced by the Italian design houses. The XJ-S has matured like a good wine, but Sayer’s original designs do look ungainly and unresolved, a mix of ideas rather than one single, cohesive idea.

V Bad

Jaguar V12 engine in the Series 3 E Type

These were not the only problems at Jaguar. While the V12 engine was developing smoothly, the V8 project was proceeding somewhat less well. In order to share components and cost the V8 had to use the larger engine’s 60 degree V angle. As most V8s have a 90 degree angle this resulted in balancing problems. The engineers worked hard to solve these problems, creating an engine with 200 bhp from 3.5 litres, but in the process they had to shelve the reasons for it existence – the common components and the shared production line. This didn’t go down well with the BMC paymasters who refused to fund the extra costs.

The problems with the V8 seriously impacted the XJ21 project. Without an engine the project stalled. It didn’t help that XJ21 was essentially a reskinned E Type, a car itself based heavily on the D-Type of the 1950s, albeit with independent rear suspension. So by the late 60s the new car risked being dynamically outclassed by newer competitors.

When the V12 engine was launched in the Series 3 E Type and XJ12 saloon in 1971 and 1972 respectively, this problem became acutely clear to Jaguar management. Good as the V12 E Type was, the XJ12 offered a superlative driving experience that simply highlighted how old the E Type had become.

The Stag Snag

Even if the XJ21 hadn’t suffered these problems, it seems unlikely that Jaguar would have been allowed to proceed with two sports cars. Now under British Leyland control, Jaguar was being remodelled to fit into a range of cars that now included Rover, MG and Triumph. XJ21 risked cannibalising sales from the newly launched Stag.

And so it was that the E Type replacement, XJ21, gave way to XJ27, the car that became the XJ-S. The XJ27 was essentially a XK150 replacement, a grand tourer designed to deliver the big, comfy, luxurious car that Jaguar’s American customers seemed to want.

Hello XJS

Where the XJ21 was a triumph of hope over logic, the XJ27 was all about cold, hard reality. Unlike XJ21, the future XJS was designed around common mechanicals – a shortened XJ6 chassis – and pitched to compete at a premium price. It would be relatively cheap to make and expensive to sell, so volume would never be a key issue. XJ21 offered none of those advantages.

And so it was that in 1975, some time later than originally planned, the world got the XJ-S. And the world was quite disappointed, mainly because it was expecting the E Type’s replacement. Viewed on its own merits, the XJ-S, as time has proven, is a brilliant car, arguably one of the best Jaguar has ever made (certainly it’s longest lasting). But an E Type successor it was not. As this history shows.

Another Attempt

Jaguar XJ41 prototype

Jaguar toyed with an E Type replacement from 1980, developing the small XJ41 and XJ42 coupe and convertible. Clearly influenced by the E Type’s style, these cars once again suffered due to lack of funding and competing priorities. Jaguar fiddled with them throughout the 1980s. By the late 80s and known as the F-Type it was virtually ready for launch, complete with 4WD and twin-turbo options. They were bigger and heavier than the original 1980 proposals, but still identifiably smaller than the XJS and aimed at a more sporting market.

And then fate intervened yet again. With the F-Type production-ready, Jaguar was bought by Ford and priorities changed. Ford wanted to sort out quality first rather than complicate matters with a new model. Instead of the new car Jaguar got a revamped XJ-S.

Subsequent sporting Jaguars followed the XJS mould but borrowed the E-Type’s style. The XK8s of the late 90s and early 00s were grand tourers. It would take until 2013 and the small, focussed F-Type before Jaguar would truly produce a new sports car to succeed the E Type. That car’s success suggests that the trials and tribulations of the intervening 39 years may well have been a lot of missed opportunities.

We have a choice of three E Types to drive from £99

Perhaps the failure to directly replace the E Type was really a blessing in disguise. It saved the car from pastiche and preserved its reputation as a beautiful, capable sports car. Whatever, much as we love the cars that followed, the E Type remains, for us, unrivalled.