E-Type to New XJ | Fifty Years of Design Integrity

Fifty years ago, the New York Auto Show played host to the launch of an automotive classic: the Jaguar E-Type - or XKE as it was known in America.

If any country took the E-Type to its heart, it was the United States. More than two-thirds of all models built were sent across the Atlantic, establishing a special relationship that persists to this day.

On first sight of the E-Type at its launch, Frank Sinatra is reputed to have said: “I want that car and I want it now”, and old Blue Eyes was just one in a long list of Hollywood greats to covet the two-seater sports car. Steve McQueen, Tony Curtis, Britt Ekland and Brigitte Bardot were all celebrity owners.

The beauty, performance and passion that all Jaguars embody still resonates strongly in America to this day. The 21st century XJ limousine turns as many heads in New York with its lithe, powerful and captivating presence as the E-Type did when Sinatra first saw it 50 years ago.

Here, Jaguar’s Design Director Ian Callum explains why:

Two cars, two eras, one company. Both are entirely of their time but, crucially, both are Jaguars and therefore share a definitive purpose – to be fast and beautiful.

Few companies are fortunate enough to have the design heritage enjoyed by Jaguar; one that stretches back half a century and more. It’s this visual integrity that allows comparisons to be drawn between the groundbreaking new XJ luxury saloon and the legendary E-Type sports car, a machine so beautiful that it holds a permanent place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. These two cars may be separated by a gulf of 50 years, during which time the global automotive industry has changed beyond all recognition, but both are unmistakeably Jaguars.

Jaguar’s Design Director Ian Callum explains how two cars separated by more than a generation can share the same design philosophy: “Part of the purpose of a Jaguar is to look beautiful. We always tryto make our cars visually that little bit wider, lower and longer. That’swhat our proportions are about. When you see them together, the XJ and E-Type speak the same language.”

This is true even though the two cars fulfill very different needs. One is a high-tech limousine with sporting intent, whose unique flowing design is conceived to turn heads in the modern world. The other an iconic two-seater created for the ’60s boy (or girl) about town.

According to Callum, the E-Type demonstrates the overriding principle of sports car design: minimum bodywork encapsulating maximum performance. He explains: “The excitement and beauty of the car were almost created as a by-product. You’ve got beauty derived from its scientific purity of surface and excitement from its proportions.”

“We still work very hard to get the proportions of our cars as tight to the mechanicals as possible. Unlike the E-Type, of course, the XJ has to carry five people in total comfort but the principles of wrapping the body around the package to create exciting proportions are exactly the same now as they were 50 years ago.”

As envisaged by its designer, Malcolm Sayer, the primary aim of the E-Type was to be fast. Indeed, topping out at 150mph, it was the world’s quickest production car.

As an aerodynamicist, Sayer employed a uniquely scientific method of design, which involved the use of slide rules and logarithmic tables to plot the complex curves and straight lines that gelled so harmoniously to create not just the E-Type but its C-Type and D-Type racing predecessors.

“Malcolm Sayer shaped the E-Type with absolutely pure geometric lines,” explains Ian Callum. “He wasn’t driven by aesthetics for the sake of it, he was trying to build something that was shaped by mathematics. That’s how he built his cars up and their beauty is determined by purity and simplicity. That same restraint of line guides us to this day, in everything we do, as we create the next generation of Jaguars like the XJ.”

The E-Type, however, was more than the epitome of automotive beauty. It came to symbolise excitement, embodying Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons’ words that: “driving should be a pleasure not a chore.”

In its profile, stretched lines, prominent rear haunches and the arc of the rear window it was the archetype of sporting performance. The same is true of the XJ, which although it is very much a product of the 21st century, shares key styling attributes with the E-Type that have become firmly established in the company’s design language.

Flourishes such as the E-Type’s famous bonnet bulge – necessary to cover the straight-six engine – have been carried over to the XJ as a symbol of its potency. Both cars share the same sense of front-end drama to give that quintessential Jaguar ‘rear-view mirror’ presence.

Callum explains that it was Lyons’ ability to focus on the future that led to such distinctive designs:

“The E-Type was ahead of its time, just as the XJ is now. Williams Lyons’ philosophy was all about taking that next step. He was very adventurous and knew that it is Jaguar’s job to break the rules. He never looked back, always forward.”

A question Callum is often asked is whether he would design another E-Type. His answer is always the same: “I would refuse, it had its time and place. What I will do is create something as dramatic now as that car was then and I think the XJ achieves that.

“Jaguars should be bought for reasons other than simply pure pragmatism, they should be bought for their style, excitement and beauty. The XJ is the most dramatic, captivating car in its class. Job done.”

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