Cars We Love: 1961 Jaguar XKE Series I

1961 Jaguar XKE Series I

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are a brand-new XKE anxiously waiting on the Jaguar stand in a darkened exhibition hall in Geneva, Switzerland. In a few hours, when the doors swing open, hundreds of the world’s most knowledgeable car experts will rush into the 1961 Geneva Motor Show and head straight for you, wanting to see if you are capable of upholding the rich traditions of beauty and performance demanded by your legendary heritage.

The matriarch of your family, the SS 100, with her sweeping fenders, could top 100 miles per hour in 1938. Your Aunt XK 120 was the belle of the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show with her stunning looks and 120 mph top speed. And your racing Uncles, C-Type and D-Type, won the most prestigious motor race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, five times between 1951 and1957. The expectations were unprecedented.

By any measure, the XKE (aka the E-Type) was a resounding success. The body design by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer with input from Jaguar’s maestro Sir William Lyons, was unlike any production car ever seen before. The experts raved, the press couldn’t get enough coverage, and car fans everywhere couldn’t wait to see one in person. After viewing the E-Type in Geneva, Enzo Ferrari, who knew a thing or two about automotive design, called it “The most beautiful car ever made.”

But beautiful appearance wasn’t all the XKE had to offer – it was also a technical tour de force. The sensuous body enclosed a 3.8 liter, double overhead cam, six cylinder engine fed by three SU carburetors, coupled to a four-speed manual transmission, to give the E a top speed of 150 mph and a 0-60 mph time of just under 7 seconds. All independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes gave the XKE exemplary handling. And the price was almost unbelievable. With the E-Type, one could have performance and handling comparable to an Aston Martin or a Ferrari for about one-half their prices.

1961 Jaguar XKE Series I

The Series I E-Type was built between 1961 and 1968, and upgraded in engine size to 4.2 liters in 1965. The improvements also included a fully synchromesh four-speed transmission, more comfortable reclining seats, and an improved electrical system. Originally available in either a roadster or a 2-seat coupe, Jaguar expanded the model lineup in 1966 by adding a 2+2 coupe with two small seats in the rear. An automatic transmission was also offered for the first time in ’66.

The imposition of U.S. safety and emission standards in 1968 did not bode well for the XKE design. The Series II E-Types introduced for 1968 saw sturdier bumpers, deletion of the headlight covers, larger turn signals and rear lights, and an enlarged and re-shaped grille opening. Series III XKEs launched in 1971 offered only a 5.3 liter V12 engine with a longer wheelbase to accommodate the new engine, and the two-seat coupe was deleted from the lineup.

By the mid-‘70s, the handwriting was on the wall. The XKE could no longer be updated and modified to meet all of the new driving regulations. It had already lost the purity of the original XKE design and without that, it was no longer a legend – it became easier to replace with a more modern design. After a production run of 72,515 cars, the last XKE rolled off the assembly line in September of 1974, although the announcement of the end of production was not made until February of 1975.

The XKE was launched with high expectations and exceeded every one of them in remarkable fashion to become, perhaps, the most famous car in Jaguar’s legendary history.




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Photos by Sicnag and Jack Snell


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