You don't have to be a car enthusiast to know that the Jaguar E-type is one of Britain's finest accomplishments when it comes to engineering and design. Despite being released in the 1960s, the Jaguar E-type remains a staple part of Britain's heritage, and continues to remain at the forefront of conversation when 'pioneering automotive legends' comes up as a topic (this is quite often when you're car nerds like us).
However, Jaguar also released a hardcore racing version called the 'Lightweight E-type'. Its remit was simple: outperform the competition on the track and steal the hearts of millions while doing it; not much to ask, is it? Problem is, there are few people who know about the Lightweight E-type these days, so here's five facts that you can share around the dinner table next time you're at the in-laws.
There are only 18 in existence
The original Jaguar E-type was unveiled at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show; and some may remember the tale of how Norman Lewis, Chief Development Test Engineer, took one of the first cars all the way from Coventry to Geneva in just 11 hours. This was the platform on which the E-type would go on to be one of the world's most famous cars.
Despite boasting high performance, Jaguar wanted to make the E-type into a competitive racing car. So, between 1963-64 they created and produced 12 'Lightweight E-types' that weighed less than one metric ton, had even more power and were far more stable during high-speed cornering. This was no easy task, because the original E-type was designed to be a road going sports car, making it a bit too soft for racing in standard format.
The eagle eyed among you may have noticed we said that 12 Lightweight E-types have been made when the sub-heading says '18'. This brings us onto the next fact.
Image credit: Nick Dungan/Patrick Gosling
Six "missing" Lightweight E-types were recently built
Despite designing and creating the blue prints for 18 Lightweight E-types, Jaguar only ever made 12 of them. The remaining six chassis numbers were confined to Jaguar's old production ledgers, laying dormant until 2014.
When Jaguar started up their 'Special Operations' division, they decided to bring the missing six cars to life, meaning the 18 originally designed cars would all exist as originally intended. However, it wouldn't be plain sailing for Jaguar; because the designs weren't as meticulous back in 1963 as they are today, and each subsequent build was designed to be an improvement on the previous one.
As a result, Jaguar's engineers had to spend months researching, photographing and scanning the original cars so they had a final specification that could actually be built upon. Stratstone are fortunate enough to own one of the six Lightweight Jaguar E-types that were brought to life, you can keep up to date with it through our hub page.
Image credit: Jaguar Media
The "missing" Lightweight E-types were built using old methods
Despite having the latest technology and some of the most advanced machinery available to them, the technicians at the Whitley Technical Centre were handed the challenge of building the cars using the same methods and techniques that were originally implemented back in 1963.
The reason for this was simple, Jaguar wanted to ensure the Lightweight E-types they were building would be able to take part in classic racing competitions. Because modern technology and parts would enhance the performance of the cars, the technicians had to resort to the old school way of building vehicles.
It was a painstaking process for the technicians, because they had to use the same riveting (i.e. an old fashioned rivet gun) and welding techniques from the 1960s. They even went to the effort of welding in the same pattern, too. Here's a fun fact for you, the builders struggled to source a replica of the badge that sat in the steering wheel. Instead, Dave Marshall, Heritage Recreation Engineer, had to improvise: "Replicas are poor quality, but I couldn't find originals. So, in the end I took a slightly damaged original to a jeweller to make exact copies. It's a plastic emblem badge, but it has a 24-carat gold inlay."
Image credit: Jaguar Media
One of the original Lightweight E-types was driven by Sir Jackie Stewart
During the development of the Lightweight Jaguar E-type, the former Jaguar racing boss, Lofty England, decided that the car needed a young talent to come through and help develop its on-track prowess. John Coombs, a highly regarded voice during the development of the Lightweight E-type, would often field his Ferrari 250 GTO with Formula 1 World Champion Graham Hill behind the wheel, leaving the Jaguar's seat open. A young Scottish lad was winning everything in Formula 3 that season, his name was Jackie Stewart. He was brought in by Lofty and his first test would be at the famous Silverstone racing circuit.
However, Coombs didn't like the idea of a young and inexperienced F3 driver coming through and potentially damaging the car, he said: "Across the empty circuit we heard him going through Abbey Curve, and there was no break in the exhaust note. I realised he was taking it flat out".
Lofty signed Stewart following a series of lap records at Silverstone that very afternoon. During the remainder of the racing season, Stewart went on to secure a number of wins in the Pale Grey E-type. Stewart continued into Formula 2 and subsequently, Formula 1; where he went on to win three World Championships.
Learn more about the Lightweight E-type's racing heritage
They raced at Le Mans in the 1960s
Jaguar were well versed when it came to racing at Le Mans, they had experienced huge success during the 1950s with the Jaguar C-type and D-type. They even won it three times in a row from 1955-1957, which is no easy feat.
However, the engineers at Jaguar had their work cut out with the road going E-type, because it was designed to be a road going sports car. On top of this, Ferrari were a dominant force in the world of endurance racing and were investing millions of dollars in a bid to fend off a challenge from Ford. The battle between Ford and Ferrari ultimately determined the results for the whole decade, and what a war it was.
Although the Lightweight E-type performed incredibly well; with a lighter body shell and silky 3.8-litre straight six helping to propel the car out the corners, Jaguar were unable to secure a win at Le Mans. The ferocious power of the Ferrari's V12 engine gave the Italians too much of an edge.
The Lightweight E-type wasn't Jaguar's most successful racing car, but its legacy is perhaps the largest the British marque has created.