Jaguar E Type Buyers Guide
Updated: Jan 22, 2020
If you want an E Type then, frankly, no other car will quite do. Plenty of car firms tried to make clones of the E Type's basic shape and concept - the Datsun 240Z is the closest copy - but none have the essential ETypeness that defines the E Type experience.
If you're in the market for an E Type then chances are you also know which one you want as preferences tend to be sharply defined between the different Series. But maybe, just maybe, we can help change your mind.
This Buying Guide is intended as a general introduction to the car rather than a detailed assessment. It's based on our experience maintaining and restoring these cars.
Jaguar unveiled the E Type in 1961 to a shell-shocked world. The car was - and remains - achingly beautiful, with the added advantage that it wasn't particularly expensive. This was a slice of exotic that people could aspire to. The car was designed to be very aerodynamic, taking styling cues from the XKSS and D-Type, and at first Jaguar did not expect to sell many - after all, it was a replacement for the XK sports car, which was never a huge seller. The E Type was available as a coupe or convertible.
The first E Types (dubbed Series 1) had 3.8 litre XK engines - producing 265 bhp - and the Moss box, plus various features that were later altered, including the 'flat floor' design. These cars are considered the 'purest' and are the most sought after. The Series 1 adopted the 4.2 litre XK engine and synchromesh gearbox in late 1964.
In 1966 Jaguar addressed criticism of the car's lack of space by launching the 2+2 on a chassis lengthened by 9 inches and with token rear seats. This model was clearly aimed at the USA and the growing European 'GT' market and was available with an optional automatic transmission.
Most E Types were sold to the USA so when America tightened up its safety legislation Jaguar was forced to make cosmetic changes to the car, the first of many alterations that purists consider 'ruin' the car's original lines. So in late 1967 Jaguar announced the Series 1.5, which was essentially a Series 1 with raised front headlights, in the process losing the aerodynamic cowls.
The Series 1 was replaced a year later by the Series 2, which gained new, larger rear lights, some front end changes and a more luxurious interior but lost the iconic push starter. The 2+2 received a new windscreen design.
This new version didn't last long either, being replaced in in March 1971 by the Series 3. Available as a coupe and a convertible, the Series 3 was built on the extended 2+2 chassis and, for the purists, represented a capitulation to the USA and GT markets. Much more luxurious and softer than the earlier cars, the Series 3 gained chrome, flared wheel arches, power steering and, perhaps less controversially, Jaguar's superlative new V12 5.3 litre engine with three twin choke carburettors. It produced a quoted 285 bhp. The last E Types were made in 1975 and sold alongside the new XJS.
Why Buy One?
The E Type is as good to own and live with as can be imagined: its looks don't fade with familiarity and driving one is always an occasion. Few cars are as instantly recognisable by so many people - and as loved.
All E Types are quite easy to drive and feel reasonably modern by classic car standards. They are fairly practical - once you get used to the narrow doors on the short wheelbase cars - although even the 2+2s are strictly 2 seaters.
Which is Best?
The different E Type models used to sharply polarise opinion, with the consensus being that the later the car, the less desirable. That has changed significantly in the last 10 years, with many buyers appreciating the luxury, build quality and practicality of the later V12 cars. Values for all cars have skyrocketed and the divide between older and newer models is less sharp.
If you're not already decided on which E Type you prefer then there are some decisions to help guide your choice. Coupe or convertible will be an obvious choice - personally we prefer the coupes, but the convertible is hard to beat in the summer. Then your decision is really about aesthetics and budget. The very early cars may be the most sought after but their Moss gearboxes are not for everyone. If you're not too picky about aesthetics then the Series 2 cars are a good option if you want a short wheelbase car - they're generally more comfortable and quieter than the earlier cars. We also like the V12 cars, particularly the coupe - they may not be as achingly beautiful as the early cars but they're still good looking and the V12 engine is an absolute gem. Auto cars and 2+2s are the cheapest, for good reason - but if your budget is tight and you must have an E Type, then they're worth considering.
There are plenty of E Types about but good ones are genuinely rare. If your budget is finite we recommend adjusting your requirements to include less desirable specification cars rather than buy an average or poor car that is closer to what you want. The restoration costs will quickly exceed any saving you make.
On The Road
The E Type may have been sold as a sports car but really it is more of a junior GT. The ride and handling are more smooth and comfortable rather than sharp and full of feedback - this can be a bit of a surprise to anyone new to the car. But get an E Type on a fast, flowing road and none of that really matters - the experience is about the long bonnet, the engine noise and the pointing fingers and smiles from passers by.
The steering on Series 1 and 2 cars is heavy without assistance, on later assisted cars, too light for most tastes (in the Jaguar style of the period). You sit very low and this is key to the E Type experience. The long bonnet, questionable brakes and spongy handling mean considerable care is required when driving an E Type.
Living with an E Type
The E Type is the archetypal weekend car. The car's Achilles Heel is its complicated and rust-prone bodywork, but mechanically it is relatively simple and therefore generally quite reliable. Even the V12 cars, which have a reputation for being money pits, are perfectly easy on the pocket if well maintained. Rear axles tend to need regular work and maintenance, not helped by the inboard brake system - this is not a cheap job. Replacing a clutch, as with the Mk2, is an engine-out job and therefore expensive.
What to Watch Out For
Any E Type should be bought on its bodywork first and foremost. These are genuinely complex cars whose structure can hide a multitude of problems. They haven't always been worth much either, so many cars still conceal evidence of poor previous repairs and in particular filler - a small repair job can easily mushroom into something much more significant.
There really isn't any part of an E Type that escapes the curse of the rot monster - cills, rear quarters, front and rear floors, A posts, doors and bonnet (particularly along the chrome seam) are all common problem areas. It is worth paying particular attention to the bonnet as they cost upwards of £6,000 to replace, plus 40 hrs in the workshop to get them to fit properly. Similarly, doors tend not to fit well unless previously fixed properly by a specialist (which will involve many workshop hours). Unless the door has been replaced or professionally repaired, expect extensive use of filler to overcome the problems inherent with trying - and failing - to fit them properly. You can spot problems easily - the panels will be poorly aligned, door rubbers won't sit properly and the surrounding paintwork will likely be damaged.
E Type bodywork rectification is really the work of an experienced bodyshop - there is a huge amount of work required to match up new panels and secure a good quality job. It isn't worth cutting corners on restoration due to the high cost of buying one.
The XK engine fitted to E Types from 1961 to 1970 is strong, durable and robust. But it is prone to wear and this will be obvious from high oil usage, smoke on start up and low oil pressure. Parts costs and rebuilds are not excessively expensive as these are straightforward, simple engines.
The V12 has a reputation for unreliability that is totally unjust. Well maintained 5.3 motors are as durable as the XK, but regular, correct maintenance is crucial. For instance, the V12 needs the correct coolant mix or can be prone to head gasket failure. The V12 is a more complex engine to rebuild and you should budget around £10,000 for this if required.
The E Type has inboard rear disc brakes - replacing them requires dropping the whole rear subframe. The Moss and synchromesh gearboxes are strong but both are prone to wear on second and third synchromesh. The change should be firm and solid. Also check the propshaft.
Choose a car and find a specialist to maintain it
The huge rise in E Type values has also affected parts costs - most parts are available but are often batch-made or made to order, so expect high prices as well as delays. Doors and bonnets are particularly pricey - a new bonnet will set you back over £6,000 and require 40 hrs to fit. Even replacement seats are expensive - expect to pay £1,500 for a pair.
E Type ownership is hugely rewarding
Mechanically the E Type is robust. Both the XK and V12 engines need regular oil and coolant changes - the V12 particularly. Poor coolant mix will kill the later engine quickly. Clutches can wear quickly - drivers often ride the clutch due to the narrow pedal box - and are expensive to replace. The rear axle is also prone to problems, particularly due to the inboard brakes.
The usual checks apply when buying an E Type - check the history thoroughly, check the chassis and engine numbers (it is easy to replace the original E Type engine with later XJ6 motors) and the mileage. Check for accident damage - these are fast cars with questionable brakes and handling and accidents are common. Well used or regularly used cars are a much better bet than a barely used example - use will shake out problems, lack of use creates them.
Buying and owning an E Type is an experience many strive for and few attain. It is a privilege to savour, but one that she be approached objectively and pragmatically.
At www.fixclassiccars.co.uk we have restored several E Types from Series 1 through to Series 3. We're happy to help with advice and recommendations - call 01527 893733 or email firstname.lastname@example.org