JACKSONVILLE, Fla. _ Sixty years ago a legend was born in secrecy. The first Jaguar XKE prototype, a roadster, was assigned an official chassis number; 850001.
On March 11, 2018 the 23rd annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance will celebrate and honor the British icon that changed the world of sports cars forever. A full class of Jaguar XKEs will take to “The Amelia’s” field nearly six decades after the XKE’s glamorous public debut by Jaguar founder and Chairman Sir William Lyons at the Hotel du Parc des Eaux-Vives on Lake Geneva.
Jaguar unleashed its new E-Type on March 15, 1961. It was an engineering, marketing and design masterpiece. The E-Type, named XKE in America, was at least one full design cycle ahead of the other glamorous players in the premium high performance grand touring category.
Enzo Ferrari declared Jaguar’s E-Type was “the most beautiful car ever made.” In 1996, The Museum of Modern Art added an E-Type roadster to its permanent collection. The XKE was just the second car ever installed in the prestigious and highly selective Manhattan institution.
The XKE is a pure blood descendant of Jaguar’s three-time Le Mans winner, the legendary D-Type. The potent D-Type’s design DNA flows through the svelte contours of the XKE courtesy of Malcolm Sayer, the aerodynamicist who also drew the sublime shapes of the Le Mans-winning C- and D-Types. Even today, the E-Type’s silhouette, born in the 180 mph cauldron of Le Mans during the fifties, looks fresh and modern.
Beneath those breathtaking contours lurks an inventory of race-bred engineering and advanced design that set the E-Type apart from its contemporaries; monocoque construction, rack and pinion steering, independent front and rear suspension, disc brakes and Jaguar’s renowned and beautiful Le Mans-bred DOHC straight-six cylinder XK engine. The recipe delivers a top speed of 150 mph, sub-seven second zero-to-60 times with poised and athletic road manners. All at a price that was less than half of a contemporary Ferrari or Aston Martin. The impact of the E-Type was esthetically and commercially seismic.
Upon its introduction in 1961 the XKE became the standard bearer for a revived and renewed Britain: The Beatles began performing in Liverpool, James Bond and Dr. No wowed American movie audiences and The Avengers became a trans-Atlantic television sensation. This new age led by the 1961 introduction of the XKE became known as “Cool Britannia”.
Though it was never meant to be a racer in the mold of its immediate ancestor, Jaguar’s triple Le Mans-winning D-Type, the XKE won its first race just a month after its Geneva introduction vanquishing both Aston Martin and Ferrari. In their first entry at Le Mans E-Types finished fourth and fifth overall in the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans. A decade-and-a-half after its debut and a year after production finally ceased, Jaguar’s XKE was still winning: Bob Tullius won the 1975 SCCA National B Production national championship with a Group 44-prepared V-12- XKE.
“The XKE isn’t simply one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, it’s one of the greatest designs of all time,” said Bill Warner, founder and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “The XKE is so beautiful and perfectly proportioned that Jaguar’s American ad agency simply put pictures of a red coupe and roadster on a white background in their magazine ads with the tag line ‘This is the new Jaguar XK-E!’. The shape sold the car. No gimmicks, no slogans, just that perfect XKE shape.”