Lightweight E-Types | What You Need to Know
January 28th 2022
The Jaguar E-Type is, without any doubt, a very key part of Jaguar culture, and as anyone within the community who shares this classic car love will tell you: loving or owning a Jaguar comes with so much more than interest in or possession of a car. There's a rich and passionate history behind what we have today, and the Lightweight E-Type is a brilliant part of the legacy. It's exciting and special - a wonderful thing to be able to share if you already know the history, and a particularly exciting thing to learn about.
The History of Lightweight E-Types
The late 50s and early 60s were prime time for Jaguar, and their position at the top of their field was characterised by short-run, hand-manufactured production that typified many sports cars in the 1960s.
The C-Type and D-Type brought home a combined five wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours and following the successful unveiling of the classic E-Type in 1961, Jaguar appeared to be on roll. With the British brand now in high demand and the successful expansion of the saloon car range taking up a lot of resources, the once pioneering competition department fell behind other competitors. With time and resources to build an appropriate competitor from scratch in short supply, we find the genesis of the Lightweight E-Type.
The concept was to use aluminium panels and a modified lighter version of the XK engine with an aluminium block in place of the regular cast-iron block, to create a lighter vehicle, better positioned to put Jaguar back on top. Jaguar approved a line of Lightweight E-Types to be produced as a limited run in 1963, and these would use more aluminium in the body and a lightweight aluminium block for the 3.8-litre XK engine.
The 18 Lightweight E-Types in Existence
As established, Jaguar created the original Lightweight E-Types between 1963 and 1964. The original E-Type, a road-going sports car, was incredibly popular but was just too soft for racing. The new Lightweight E-Type was even more powerful and more stable at high speeds, and most importantly, due to their greater weight reduction, was a lot more competitive.
Malcom Sayer played a key role in the inspiration for the Lightweight E-Type; the pioneering aerodynamicist was responsible for the Low-Drag Coupé in 1962 that inspired the Lightweight with its innovative use of aluminium panels to shed weight, riveted and glued to the monocoque to improve chassis stiffness. With a curvier rear and with a fast rake to the windscreen, these features combined with a stripped-back interior made for optimised aerodynamics. The Lightweight E-Type left behind any unnecessary features included for comfort and swapped out the glass in favour of Plexiglass (other than the windscreen, naturally). Critically, only 12 of the 18 cars planned were actually built. Despite the 18 blueprints waiting ready, the final six sat in Jaguar's old production ledgers, nothing more than a vintage document until 2014.
6 New Lightweight E-Types Introduced in 2015
The six new Lightweight E-Types started as a dream between colleagues in a pub, but when David Fairbairn moved to the Special Operations division in 2014, design director, Ian Callum, says it was "absolutely natural" to make that dream a reality - Jaguar style.
They started the complicated process to create the six missing cars, each of which would adopt their intended chassis number, left blank in the original Jaguar logs. Using the original blueprints was more complicated, as record-keeping has come so very far since 1963, which necessitated the engineers to research extensively, to the extent of photographing and scanning the original cars to create a complete specification. Interestingly, the left side of the standard original E-Type was deemed superior, so it was scanned and reversed, and now forms the right side.
This project was invested in creating an authentic replica, to such a degree that the new Lightweight E-Types all have full FIA homologation for historic racing. The quality and precision that went into the new Lightweight E-Types is as authentic as it comes, but to a standard that just wouldn't have been reachable in the 1960s. They had resin tools made to replicate the original machinery, no longer in use today, and of the car's 340 components, very few were made by outside suppliers.
Starting life in Jaguar's Whitley Plant, the aluminium panels are shaped and riveted, and spot welded by hand, then paired with the tubular engine subframe. The next step in the new E-Type life cycle occurs in Gaydon, where it's painted and meets its drivetrain, after which it heads for the final stages at Browns Lane. In fact, the new Lightweight E-Types were finished in almost the exact spot as their older siblings.
Why Are Lightweight E-Types Special?
We know that Jaguar is steeped in history, but the Lightweight E-Type, even more so. Naturally, the rarity makes the Lightweight E-Type particularly special, as it's essentially an endangered breed. They are the product borne of "failure" - essentially, as far as the Le Mans 24h is concerned, this is an underdog story. The C-type and D-type remain Jaguar's most successful competitors at Le Mans and Sebring, but nonetheless, the Lightweight E-Type was a fixture in smaller events, and the success in this aspect - combined with the rare history - makes the Lightweight E-Type all the more special among the classic e type jaguars. Of course, anything with only a few articles created is a special event, and these cars particularly merit the preservation and awe that comes with such a special endangered status!
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