A thing of beauty
It was an icon of the Sixties – and it was conceived by a Yarmouth schoolboy. BBC Radio Norfolk’s David Clayton profiles the Jaguar E-Type.
I’m rather proud to discover that the man who designed the most beautiful car in the world and little old me went to the same school, and I almost certainly designed a car similar to his.
If you could gather up all my childhood scribblings you’d probably see that a seven-year-old’s flight of fancy was a make-believe car with an unnecessarily long bonnet with a low sleek back. My innocent mind created a drawing free from the constraints of engineering practicalities and a car that was fast enough (in Dinky form) to burn rubber on our kitchen floor tiles.
When Malcolm Sayer put his designer’s pencil to paper he managed to come up with similar lines to mine, but created the iconic Jaguar E-Type. Yes, both he and I are old boys of Great Yarmouth Grammar School – but many years apart. I daydreamed out of the same classroom windows he did, trod the same echoey corridors he did and walked up and down the same pavements along Salisbury Road in the north of the town.
I’ve mused that as he died in 1970 and I was there through a good deal of the Sixties, did he pay a visit to his old school? Hopefully in an E-Type? Did he come to prize day and make a speech? I’m wracking my memory but I fear he didn’t.
A recent poll had the E-Type ahead of all those stylish Italian super cars for sheer motoring beauty and Cromer-born Malcolm Sayer conceived it and presumably drew it with an HB pencil long before a computer could have ever spun it around on a screen in 3D and rendered it aerodynamically perfect.
Even the great Enzo Ferrari bowed to the E-Type’s design by calling it “the most beautiful car in the world” and just look at the staggeringly gorgeous supercars they rolled off their Italian production line! Up until now I’ve written about the modest family cars we’ve all grown up with and could generally afford, but the E-Type was way up at the luxury end of motoring and all of us could only dream about it. But let’s dream shall we?
The E-Type grew out of successful Le Mans cars designed to succeed in the 24-hour race. Sayer designed those too. In 1960 the E-Type came off Sayer’s drawing board and immediately turned heads with its sleek lines and powerful looks. With experience gained in the aeronautics industry, Malcolm Sayer wanted to create a low-drag shape – and just look at what he did.
I’d like to think some of that artistic flair was born in the Great Yarmouth Grammar School Art Room where I wielded a mean paint brush too. I got O-Level Art, by the way. He got “legend” status. The first E-Types fed the export market but soon they began to appear on our roads and I remember “spotting” one. My well-thumbed car-spotters book confirming the gorgeous red beast was the E-Type. I applaud whoever it was in the Jaguar hierarchy who didn’t try to give the car a cheesy Sixties name, which undoubtedly would have dated by now. The E-Type, as a name, is timeless and lifts it into another class entirely.
I’ve talked to a local owner who would rather be a little modest and not reveal who he is but he has a few – lucky chap – and even races one in classic sports car races. He tells me the car is the ultimate in speed and looks, and I wouldn’t disagree. He says they still drive well and have what he refers to as a “big lump of engine.”
I’d agree with that too. I had the sheer pleasure of being driven around Norfolk in a car rally with another local E-Type owner, Kip Bertram. I never graduated past the passenger seat – Kip’s not daft – but his V12 is a fine, fine motor.
I’d also never sat behind 12 big cylinders in my life and the first thing you’re aware of is the refined throb of the power house under the long sleek bonnet stretching out in front of you.
Despite having the top down I was really aware of the smell of the engine. It was the motoring equivalent of a body-builder doing a work out and perspiring aromatically – if you see what I mean. Kip and I have enough hair for a top-down drive to be a nuisance, but boy did I rather like posing in it. On Norfolk’s country roads it rather felt like the beast under the bonnet never quite unleashed its real power.
The E-Type Jaguar has a slightly unfair reputation of being a poser’s car. There’s a deal of innuendo about the long bonnet versus the owner’s masculinity. E-Type owners laugh that off, smug in the knowledge they actually own the iconic supercar and it is all down to envy – of the car.
Cast your minds back to late Sixties Saturday night TV and “Dee Time”. Yes, that was Simon Dee in the convertible E-Type, sporting the raffish cravat and spiralling down the futuristic car park after picking up the attractive blonde lady in white PVC boots and mini skirt. The closing credits were a weekly sales ad for the E-Type linking it irrevocably with one of the coolest men of the late Sixties. Was he the inspiration for Austin Powers? Well whatever – the fictional Austin also had a Union Jack coloured E-Type Jaguar and revelled in replacing the “J” with “Sh” when he referred to it!
The E-Types have gone through something of a renaissance value-wise probably because they’ve notched up their 50th anniversary. According to the E-Type racing owner I talked to you could have picked one up for five grand in the early Nineties. These days you’d need £30,000-£40,000 and a big fat wallet for filling the tank. Really top models in perfect condition reach six figures.
I wonder if Malcolm Sayer realised how enduring his E-Type would become because, let’s not forget, he designed what is generally accepted as the most beautiful car in the world and I went to school with him – nearly! Now where’s that lottery ticket?
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