I guess that ever since I was around five years old, I’ve been ‘into’ cars, especially old ones. Across the years I’ve driven many, many cars, so this is a strange admission for anyone in my position to make. It may not be wise to be saying so, but the truth is that until recently, I’d never driven a Jaguar E Type. In fact, I’d only ever sat in one for the briefest of moments, despite probably having had several opportunities over the years. Perhaps it’s a been a ‘Don’t Meet Your Hero’ thing. The car is just so gorgeous from every angle, yes every angle, that I’ve subconsciously been avoiding what could be a terminal disappointment. A little like finally getting to grips with Linda Lusardi, you’re scared it won’t be as good as the poster.
So we’re at Blyton Park, Linclonshire, England in May, overnight rain leaving the track wet, but blue sky means it won’t be that way for long. I‘m booked as part of a team of instructors to work on a corporate event, with a combination of contemporary and classic cars. The Gunmetal grey E Type in the lineup draws me over. Other instructors are standing chatting, so I figure I’ll put my hand up for the E Type. Now is as good a time as any to learn about E Type Jaguar handling, if I’m going to spend the day instructing in it, better get a few laps in to see what it’s vices are.
It’s ever so low, so I squeeze through the tiny door opening, then slide down into the deep red leather low backed bucket seat, there’s plenty of legroom once I’m installed, though with a crash helmet on not quite so much headroom, this car being a 3.8 litre Series One, not the later 2+2. Even so, my 6 foot plus frame is quite comfortable. Reach across the machined aluminium dash and twist the key, thumb the starter. She springs into life on the button, lovely crisp throttle response, a short, precise click forwards into first, more fruity straight six noises that bring an involuntary smile, we head out.
Four laps later, I’m in love. If they all drive like this one, I’ll be a convert for life. Why have I never driven one before? And do they really all drive as well as this? Later, I chat to the owner of the car, Udrive Cars’ head Paul Davis. “Given it’s job as a driving experience track car, there are a few changes, but nothing that takes away the period feel. Everything we’ve done was something that was possible in period, no modern technology, just simple engineering.”
This car has to earn it’s keep. It lives most of it’s life on track generating income for Paul’s business and providing an authentic E Type Jaguar driving experience for clients. “I built it from a barn find project which had been in storage locally for some years. To do the job, we’ve changed a few things but nothing expensive or exotic.” For a fifty year old car, it feels quite remarkably capable, but I’m told that all well-sorted E-Types feel that way of they’re set up correctly. Through the sweeping bends and direction changes of Blyton Park’s technical layouts we experience some body roll, but it’s very well controlled and the car is able to change direction and give feedback in the same intuitive way as a Porsche 911 even with the powered steering Paul has added.
Out onto the back straight and the superb 3.8 straight six makes the hairs on your arms stand on end. At the chicane, four pot brake calipers and vented discs all round stop us precisely with period Koni dampers controlling the standard springs over the kerbs with no dramas before that big booming exhaust sings onwards down the following straight. Far to soon, we have to return to the paddock and find some guests for the day. This could have easily become addictive, is this really how they drove when new? “A good one does, yes” says Paul. “This one has power steering, which you don’t really need to be honest. We’ve also fitted four pot brakes due to the nature of it’s job and a lightweight flywheel.” Other enhancements include different anti roll bars, 7 inch wide tyres on racing rims, plus poly bush suspension all round give the car it’s sharper handling. But as Paul says, there’s nothing there that wasn’t possible in period for anyone wanting to drive an E Type Jaguar on a track in the 1960s.
[quote]Back in 1962, alongside other cars of the era it must have quite literally looked like a space ship[/quote]
So the answer to the question is, ‘Yes, they really were that good’. A day’s work later, happy guests heading to the exit and the Jaguar is taking a rest. No matter what angle you view an E Type from, there simply isn’t a bad view. Back in 1962, alongside other cars of the era it must have quite literally looked like a space ship. Sitting in the paddock at Blyton Park, people are constantly reaching into their pockets, camera phones presented each time we roll out onto the track.
Fifty years since she was built, we’ve just spent an entire day on track rubbing shoulders with Impreza Turbos and other machines of a more advanced era and while we were slightly slower in places, we were far from being outgunned. The fact that Paul and his team have rebuilt the Jaguar to retain all of it’s period feel but with the ability to be reliable in a track environment speaks highly of both the original design and the engineering that went into the rebuild. I’m in love.
“I have another one, you know”.
“Ecosse blue, a Series 2 4.2 litre, fully rebuilt with roll cage and harnesses, debumpered bodywork, open exhausts. I think it’s quite fast…..”
Now that we have to try. Watch this space.
You can drive this E Type and book online here.
Blyton Park is owned by Richard Usher, full details here
Words and pictures Neill Watson