The E’s ‘pointless’ swansong.
The more advanced students of Jaguar lore will by now have recognised that a good many of the most well-loved cars from Browns Lane were at best, incidental, if not wholly accidental in conception. Similarly, when it came to the subject of mid or late-life facelifts, not only were they predominantly of a reactive nature, but rare indeed was the aesthetic revision that amounted to a palpable improvement. But while it might be considered a little provocative to describe the Series 3 E-Type as being accidental, it would hardly be inaccurate to suggest that it was unplanned.
While Sir William Lyons ran Jaguar in his benignly autocratic style, product planning was also somewhat reactive in nature, largely informed by the ever-shifting vagaries of the US market, a case in point being the Autumn 1968 refresh of the E-Type, the series 2. Beyond this, the intention was to develop a new model to replace the E-Type entirely, one derived from the E’s basic substructure and suspension design. This model, dubbed XJ21, was projected to debut around early 1971 at the latest.
A core component of XJ21 was to be Jaguar’s new, all-aluminium V12 engine, subject of a great deal of internal debate within Browns Lane. Given the commercial importance of this new power unit, engineering director, Bill Heynes suggested developing a limited-run V12 version of the Series 2 E-Type as a means of carrying out a soft-launch for the powerplant, allowing not only valuable customer experience to be gained, but also for manufacturing to iron-out any residual issues before production was ramped up for the more significant XJ12 saloon.
In November 1968, following discussions with both Sir William and Deputy Chairman, Lofty England, Heynes assured both that changes to the V12 model would be kept to a minimum, allowing it to be introduced at least a year before XJ21 would enter the market. Designated XJ25, the bulk of the design work for the V12 E-Type would be carried out by Mike Kimberley and Malcolm Sayer, with oversight from Bob Knight.
That the wider (if lower) V12 engine fitted the E-Type engine bay at all was not only fortuitous, but a direct consequence of the E-Type’s ancestry, that of the Le Mans winning D-Type endurance racer. Had the E not employed a similar design of detachable spaceframe forward of the front bulkhead, the costs involved would have been prohibitive. As it was, the installation, entailing a redesigned subframe, proved a very tight fit, with a great deal of knife and fork engineering necessary to ensure that the first XJ25 prototype worked at all. While the fixed-head bodyshell was largely carried over from the incumbent 2+2 model, a major advance was the adoption of the longer wheelbase floorpan (and doors) for the drophead model, allowing for a more commodious cabin. Otherwise, visual changes were kept to a minimum.
Furthermore, the adoption of XJ4-style inclined front wishbones, provided an anti-dive geometry. This, coupled with low profile Dunlop radial tyres and ventilated disc brakes, made for more reassuring road manners. Power-assisted steering, was also offered for the first time, to help mitigate XJ25’s additional weight.
Visually, the most obvious change lay in the E-Type’s more planted stance. This was a consequence of wider track widths, front and rear, which also necessitated the wheelarches receiving a subtle flair. For cost reasons, stylists investigated the adoption of ‘tacked-on’ wheelarch extensions, before abandoning the idea on aesthetic grounds. For the first time, the E-Type was adorned with a chromed grille which rather gilded the lily. Below it was mounted an additional air scoop to further aid cooling. Aft, apart from badging, only quadruple exhaust outlets suggested what lay beneath. Inside too, little of note was altered, although matters of cabin ventilation and air conditioning did receive attention.
By 1969, with XJ21 dead on the table, what had initially been intended as a short-term stop-gap, would now be forced to play a far more significant commercial role. As such, sales and marketing required the V12 E to assert its own identity, with the car becoming dubbed E-Type Series 3, or XK-E V12 in the United States.
The Jaguar V12 engine had been an open secret for some time and its introduction was greatly anticipated. But owing to delays with the V12 engine, the Series 3 made its belated debut in March 1971. The United States was the chosen venue for the official unveiling of the Series 3, presided over by Jaguar’s 71 year old founder, making his final visit to Jaguar’s most commercially significant market.
While the new V12 engine generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, there was an undercurrent of disappointment amidst the press corps that the car in which it was housed was not as exciting – many expressing the belief that Jaguar really ought to have replaced the E-Type entirely by then. Because while the Series 3 looked distinctive, for many, it was not the breakthrough car they had hoped for.
“BLMC’s Middle Class Ferrari” was how UK’s Car magazine previewed the car for their April 1971 issue, which also included road impressions gleaned from a pre-production fixed-head model. Car’s un-named “Jaguar-ophile of long standing” expended considerable column inches upon a technical description of the twelve cylinder unit, making much of the Formula One-inspired Lucas Opus electronic ignition system. This had been described within Jaguar’s press release as Pointless, a reference to the lack of traditional contact breakers within the distributor itself, promising more reliable ignition pulses, benefiting both emissions, and it was hoped, reliability.
Car’s correspondent was able to sample both manual and automatic versions, both of which impressed with the V12’s uncanny silence, outstanding flexibility and smooth running characteristics. Also discovered was what would become one the engine’s defining traits – the deceptive nature of its performance. Nevertheless, the character of the engine itself came under scrutiny, Car’s scribe lamenting that the V12 “wasn’t a fire-breathing hemi-headed, bellowing monster” … before conceding that “Common sense dictates that the emphasis on quietness and torque is the only way to go in these restrictive days.”
The official US press launch took place in the heat of Florida that year. The majority echoed Car’s praise for the power unit, if less so for the now somewhat dated E-Type concept. Given the E’s intended customer-base, the setting would prove apt, but it would also highlight an embarrassing oversight on the proving team’s part. While prototypes were thoroughly tested in the UK, on mainland Europe, and in the frigid wilds of Canada, little worthwhile mileage had taken place in the baking heat and humidity of North America.
As the press corps got under way, E-Types began cutting out left, right and centre, the much heralded Opus ignition modules failing in the heat. Jaguar technicians were forced to improvise on the spot, with overheated modules taking a step towards full immersion amid Palm Beach’s many swimming pools. But while it would make for an amusing after-dinner anecdote, it was hardly the auspicious debut Jaguar was hoping for.
Part Two will follow shortly
 The Jaguar V12 engine will be profiled in a separate article.
 The XJ12 saloon (dubbed XJ10 internally) was to have debuted in Autumn 1970. Owing to delays with the V12 engine, it was not introduced until July 1972.
 Confirmed to this author by Jim Randle in 2016.
 The first XJ25 prototype – a Sable fixed-head was built from an experimental bodyshell in December 1968. It was later raced with some success.
 This was insisted upon by Lofty England – who was one of life’s taller gentlemen.
 Calibrated to appeal to the tastes of American drivers, it was not met with universal acclaim.
 The 2+2 body-in-white had been substantially revised at Pressed Steel Fisher, with the number of body pressings reduced and simplified, making it cheaper to build.
 Dubbed ‘eyebrows‘ at Browns Lane.
 Jaguar insiders have suggested that retooling the wheelarches was possibly the most costly aspect of the XJ25 programme.
 The 1968 Series 2 E-Type had already been in receipt of considerable interior safety and convenience-related improvements.
 Before the original E-Type was launched, Sir William had experimented with a mesh grille arrangement, before adopting the elegantly simple horizontal bar. The Series 3 grille was styled to harmonise with that of the concurrent XJ saloon.
 E-Types were marketed in the United States as XK-E.
 The US market would account for over 75% of all E-Type production, and was, throughout the 1960s, the best-selling Jaguar model sold there.
The 4.2 litre six-cylinder engine was also to have been offered on the Series 3, but apart from about three pre-production prototypes, none were built.
Fun fact: The Series 3’s bumper over-riders were shared with the Austin Maxi.
Sources: Jaguar E-Type – The definitive History: Philip Porter (Haynes)/ Norman Dewis of Jaguar – Developing the Legend: (PJ Publishing)/ Jaguar E-Type – Denis Jenkinson (Osprey)/ Car Magazine – April 1971.