Regulation changes, which included a displacement limit of 3.0L, rendered the Jaguar D-Type virtually obsolete for the '58 season. By then the iconic Jaguar had won Le Mans 3 times in a row. The Works team had already w/drawn from active racing at the end of '56, having clinched the important Le Mans race 4 times in the last 6 attempts. In '57 privateer teams like Ecurie Ecosse & Briggs Cunningham continued to race the D-Type, w/the former adding a 3rd victory to the machine's tally. Some D-Types were equipped w/3.0L engines for '58, but the limited power available really exposed the weaknesses of the chassis & engine.
Jaguar founder William Lyons had not discarded the D-Type w/its thoroughly modern semi-monocoque chassis at all. From '57 onwards he used the now defunct racing department to turn the D-Type into a proper road car to replace the XK-series. The 1st 'E-Type' prototype was constructed later that year & bore close similarities to its racing counterpart. It was dubbed the E1A in reference to its aluminum monocoque chassis. The biggest difference was the adoption of fully independent rear suspension, replacing the archaic live-axle used on the D-Type. Equipped w/a relatively small version of the XK I6 engine, E1A was extensively tested & only rarely seen in public.
Far away from the public eye, Jaguar's engineers continued their work. Turning a racing car into a production road car clearly took some time. For financial & practical reasons it was decided that the chassis of the road car should be constructed from steel instead of aluminum. It took a further 3 years before the 2nd E-Type prototype was built. Even tho it featured the steel semi-monocoque chassis, it was still dubbed E2A. Construction commenced early in 1960 & the completed machine was ready for testing in March. William Lyons clearly felt that cars were best tested under racing conditions, so E2A was finished as a racing car.
As mentioned earlier the chassis of E2A followed the familiar pattern of the D-Type w/a monocoque center-section & a front subframe, which housed the suspension & engine. The difference was the use of the much cheaper & more durable steel instead of the lighter aluminum, as well as the incorporation of fully IRS. In accordance w/the latest regulations, Jaguar fitted E2A w/an all-aluminum 3.0L engine. Equipped w/the highly advanced Lucas FI system, it produced close to 300 bhp. The car was finished off w/an aluminum body similar to the D-Type, altho w/only a little imagination the final shape of the E-Type road car could be distinguished.
The final step from the XK-SS to the production XKE was the Jaguar E2A, shown here being readied for test runs at Le Mans in 1960.
Long time Jaguar privateer Briggs Cunningham was asked to run the car. Cunningham entered the car the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans race & sent over 2 of America's most talented drivers; Dan Gurney & Walt Hansgen. Liveried in American racing colors pioneered by Cunningham almost a decade earlier, E2A proved quick straight out of the box. Despite its heavier 'production' chassis, E2A clocked the 2nd quickest time in practice. Thanks to Malcolm Sayer's efficient design complete w/a gallant fin on the headrest, the Jaguar was believed to be the fastest car down the Mulsanne. In the race a split injector pipe caused delays early on & eventually E2A's retirement after the engine seized (due to a failed head seal & burned piston).
NOTE: For the 1960 Le Mans 24-Hour race, Cunningham entrusted this unique beauty to the incredibly strong driver pairing of the contemporary BRM F1 team’s ex-Ferrari star Dan Gurney & veteran multiple SCCA Champion Walt Hansgen. Dan Gurney – today revered as one of the most charismatic of all America’s great racing drivers & as creator of the enduring All-American Racers Eagle operation – recalled of E2A:
“The drive in that Jaguar was a big pearl for me. And it was a privilege to be sharing it w/Walt Hansgen, one of my heroes. But we’d had some difficulty w/the car’s handling. It was new, this was its 1st race, & the Jaguar engineers running it regarded Le Mans as their specialty.
“But at 1st that car had been difficult to drive just down the straightaway. The least disturbance would send it into a series of tank slappers. My co-driver Walter Hansgen was such a faithful Jaguar man he didn’t criticize, but I guess I was only interested in trying to win. I felt that if we left the car the way it was & it rained, we’d be in real trouble.
“So I made myself unpopular by tenaciously asking ‘Can’t we find why it is doing this?’ w/Walter standing quietly like it didn’t bother him. Thru my constant questioning we finally found that they’d set up the car at the MIRA test ground w/a fair amount of toe-out on the rear wheels. If the car leaned just a little, one way or the other, it was leaning on a wheel which would direct the tail in a different direction. We got them to change it, & it became a normal, good handling car…”.
Dan Gurney & Walt Hansgen got along really well & as recorded in the wonderful biography Walt Hansgen, by Michael Argetsinger (David Bull Publishing, 2007) Walt himself noted: “After talking it over w/Mr Heynes & Tom Jones” – Bill Heynes being Jaguar’s chief engineer & Tom Jones one of ‘E2A’s creators – “…it was decided to try…⅛-inch toe-in & 2° negative camber…at 12.30 Friday night the car was tried down the Mulsanne Straight. The handling was completely transformed & I was able to go down the road w/one hand on the wheel, yet completely relaxed… As a matter of fact once the car was broken (away) or committed into a turn the road holding was excellent. In practice I crossed the car up on purpose going thru the Indianapolis turn & was very pleased w/the recovery…”
For the American road racing season, E2A was fitted w/a larger, D-Type engine. Once in the U.S., Hansgen immediately score a victory, altho in a minor race at Bridgehampton. He came very close to beating the much higher rated competition during the Road America 500, but eventually had to settle for 2nd. For the prestigious L.A. Times G/P at RIR, Cunningham called in the service of newly crowned F1 World Champion Jack Brabham. He struggled to keep up w/the lightweight specials & eventually finished 10th. His Cooper team-mate Bruce McLaren was handed E2A next for the Laguna Seca Pacific G/P. Plagued w/small problems, he could do no better than 12th in 1 of the 2 heats.
At the end of the 1960 season, E2A was shipped back to the Jaguar factory in England & was retired from racing. A few months later the final production E-Type (see pic at bottom) was unveiled at the '61 Geneva Motorshow & the rest, as they say, is history. The introduction of the road car did not mean the of E2A's usefulness. It was 1st used to test Dunlop's Maxaret ABS. After being stored for several years, E2A was called upon one more time, as a decoy. To divert the attention of the media for the new mid-engined XJ13, E2A was very publicly tested. For this purpose the big fin was removed & the car was painted British Racing Green. The 3rd task was to be E2A's final one before being placed on the list to be scrapped.
Fortunately Jaguar's customer competition car manager Roger Woodley stepped in. He had recently married Penny Griffiths, who w/her father Guy had brought together an impressive collection of important Jaguars, which were displayed Camden Car Collection. After much persuading, Jaguar decided to sell E2A under the condition that it was never to be raced. Before delivery, the car was repainted in the American racing colors, but not refitted w/the fin or the 3.0L FI engine. Shortly after Griffiths rec'd a 3.8L D-Type engine, which turned E2A in a fully operational car again. Eventually the family also obtained a correct all-aluminum FI engine, but it was never fitted to the car.
Honoring the agreement w/Jaguar, E2A was never raced, altho it did make various public appearances in the hands of Penny Griffiths. She has brought the car back to Le Mans & also demonstrated the unique machine at both Goodwoods. After more than 40 years of ownership, she decided to let go of this much prized possession. E2A was offered at Bonhams' Quail Auction in August of 2008. Prices of up to $7 million were expected before the auction, but the long time owner was happy to let the unique Jaguar go for almost $5 million ... a world record for a Jaguar sold at auction.
Like the Jaguar XK 120 of 13 years earlier, the Jaguar XKE was a masterwork, but one w/real racing roots.