We take a look at the most affordable of the E-types...
When the Jaguar E-type first broke cover in 1961 it was universally accepted as the most exciting and beautiful, yet attainable, sports car that had been ever been built.
As time went on though, the E-type strayed from the design purity which the original Series 1 was famed for. Some changes improved the car, namely the move away from the tough-to-use Moss gearbox, but others were much less welcome. The Series 3 E-type became the least popular iteration due in part to the thirsty 5.3-litre engine, which upset the cars handling, but also its extended 2+2 floorpan that many believe spoiled the attractive proportions of the earlier cars. It’s because of this that the V12 E-type is the most affordable of the range, and can provide a bargain route into E-type ownership.
Jaguar E-Type V12
Power (bhp@rpm) 272bhp@5850rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 304lb ft@3600rpm
Top speed 146mph
Gearbox 4-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Rust will be your chief concern when looking at a car of this age. However, the value of the cars is now so high that the majority have been restored. So your main worry should be the quality of that restoration. Panel fit will be the first giveaway of a poor job, so make sure gaps are equal and even over the entirety of the car. Check for rippling in the bodywork and any signs of excess filler use – a magnet wrapped in a soft cloth is a useful tool to have to hand. The history file shouldback up work that has been done.
If it’s at the lower end of the market then you should be wary of rust. The base of B-pillars is a common rot spot and sills can be vulnerable too. If you can, get the car up on ramps to inspect the underside, paying particular attention to the anti-roll bar mountings. Also check the rear wheel arches – these panels are double skinned and moisture can creep in along the leading edge.
The big V12 engine is less desirable than 3.8- or 4.2-litre variants due to extra weight upsetting the E-type’s handling, but also because it has a prodigious thirst. All told though, the 5.3-litre engine is a great piece of engineering that is capable of lasting much longer than its smaller relations.
Despite its ability to cover big miles, its aluminium heads are vulnerable to overheating, as are delicate internal components. An electric fan is a good sign, but it can be used to hide overheating problems. Fire the car up and let it idle for 15 minutes, keeping a close eye on the gauges. Thenwatch for ignition amplifier troubles on hot re-starts.
Both automatic and manual gearboxes are reliable and pleasant to use, but many owners choose to upgrade to Borg Warner units. This shouldn’t affect value unless the car is to concours standard, and is generally accepted within the Jaguar community. It is still wise to check for any unusual noises, worn synchromesh and any signs of jumping out of gear.
The oily bits of the V12 E-type are quite rugged, but can be vulnerable to road salt and grime on examples that are less well cared for. Even if the bodywork looks good, make sure you get under the car to inspect the suspension to check for signs of corrosion – the rear radius arm is a common rot spot.
Make sure that the brakes are strong and pull evenly. As inboard units they can be a real pig to fix yourself, and will cost a fortune if you have to outsource to a specialist. Check for any leaks, as the differential will have to be removed for access.
If chrome wire wheels are fitted, make sure that they are in good condition. Tap the spokes and check for a ringing noise. Look too for signs of regular cleaning. Refurbishment or replacement is very expensive, so take this into account if you find any flaking chrome or snapped and bent spokes.
Be aware that many E-types have been repatriated from the Unites States and converted to right-hand drive – their values will be less than original UK cars. The chassis number will provide a clue. If it begins in 1 or 5, it is right-hand drive, if it begins with 2 or 7 then it was originally a left-hand drive example.
Electrics are relatively simple, so shouldn’t pose any issues in restored cars. A project is a different matter – brittle wiring can cause havoc, with the only real option being a new wiring loom. This is an expensive undertaking and will need to be taken to a specialist.
The range is fairly rare in this country, although it has a huge following in Europe where the cars are more plentiful. A black one is the ultimate baddies’ car from Cold War thrillers, and your perception of the range might be coloured just as much by this as by the fact that thousands of them served as taxis all over the world.
But the Fintails were much more than all those things, because the range also embraced high-spec, high-tech six-cylinders at the top end. These aren’t for the weak of wallet if they need work, but they are rewarding to own and to drive, and you can guarantee that you won’t often see another one at a classic car event.
All the cars are built like the proverbial tank, all of them offer plenty of room for family transport to and from events, and basic running costs are reasonably affordable too. Just don’t expect to find very many spares at autojumbles in the UK. Your starting-point for spares should be one of the used parts specialists; some of them have New Old Stock parts too, so you might just get lucky.
There aren’t enough roadworthy Fintails about for you to be too picky when you go looking. Basically, if it’s a good sound car and you can afford it, we’d recommend you go for it. Otherwise, you might hold out for a more desirable specification for a very long time.
In an ideal world, you’d probably go for a manual-transmission 220 or 220S, with carburettor six-cylinder engine and a reasonably comfortable specification – though don’t forget Mercedes charged extra for just about everything in the 1960s, so equipment levels can be surprisingly spartan.
A Fintail Mercedes isn’t quite as easy to live with as more popular and numerous British-made classics, but in some ways it’s more rewarding because of its relative rarity. As they say of so many things, the highs are higher but the lows are lower!