1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2 automatic – road drive

2015 / 2016 Drive-My

Ultimate versatility… people who prefer ‘automatics’ (can now) sample the pleasure of safe, fast motoring in a car superbly designed to give just that. Public images of the unattainable are often in sharp contradiction to facts. Unusually, the E-type is every bit as good as the image of a name synonymous with the ultimate in high performance road cars, and the Jaguar reputation of good value for money keeps this car in the attainable range for quite a number of people.

As a sports car or Grand Tourer the E-type Jaguar offers all that the discerning and enthusiastic motorist requires for a fast interesting road car with completely vice-free handling, outstanding performance and the ability to cover long distances with a minimum of driver fatigue. Petrol consumption is reasonable for this sort of car (around 20 mpg is possible) and as a grand tourer it has some space for luggage even in the open 2 seater cars. Unfortunately some disadvantages accrue from the shape which, although both aerodynamically and aesthetically good, is difficult to park between other cars; this sort of short term annoyance, however, docs nothing to mar the long lasting pleasures of open road driving.

1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2 automatic

The original E-type design had one more obvious drawback; a carrying capacity limited to two people, preferably under six feet tall. With the addition of the 2+2 to the range. Jaguar have stilled this complaint; you can now have an E-type for six footers who can also extend the ownership for at least seven years of family ties, or more with a family of one trained to sit transversely. Two adults would be decidedly uncomfortable in the occasional rear seat but one and a child is quite feasible. Further, an automatic transmission — the Borg-Warner Model 8 — is now offered with the 2+2, and it was in this form that our test car arrived.

It is obviously not as fast as with the manual transmission or the lighter two-seater body that we tested in October 1964, and the automatic transmission is not as smooth as Americans might expect nor as versatile as English enthusiasts might want. There are many people, however, who prefer “automatics” for their own brand of motoring ease and who have so far been unable to sample the pleasure of safe, fast motoring in a car superbly designed to give just that. With both the 2+2 and the automatic option, the E-type has broadened its field successfully without losing its attraction in whatever form you buy it.

Performance and economy

With a little choke and a touch on the separate starter button six cylinders of Jaguar burst into muffled song: from the start there is a hint of something more than just motive power. After a mile or so of pan choke, during which the engine can stall or occasionally hesitate, spitting through the S.U.s if insufficient check is used, it reaches running temperature and is ready to give its customary smooth and powerful output. Although by current standards this unit, designed originally during the war, has a long stroke, it is still very free revving and is happy to start delivering its power from around 1,500rpm, a necessary attribute when a lot of time is spent in the torque conversion range of top gear. During our acceleration runs, we tried three different systems of gear selection, each quicker than the last by a useful amount. If you start in D2 — that is without first gear — you reach 60 mph in a “leisurely” 12.3 seconds; if you start in D1, the time is reduced to 9.1 seconds compared with the “manual” lighter coupe which needed only 7.0 seconds. The third way involved holding on to the intermediate gears so that first was used up to nearly 60 mph — reached in 8.9 sec. using up to 6.000 rpm, with some trepidation as the noise rises considerably beyond 4,500 rpm, the car reached 100 mph in under 20 seconds — fast by any standards and quicker than any other automatic yet tested.

1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2 automatic

Compared with our previous 4.2-litre coupe, this version with a maximum at 136.2 mph is some 14 mph slower — about 10 per cent. Such a difference is predictable and will be the subject of a future article, but briefly the increase of frontal area, power loss in the automatic transmission, a probable increase in drag coefficient with the more abrupt roof slope, and the use of radii ply tyres instead of the racing Dunlop R6s used previously, all combine to absorb more power than before. Such a figure is largely academic, particularly in this country, but a spell in Holland where we timed the maximum speed reminded us how useful is a truly effortless cruising speed over 100 mph. To all motorists, however, acceleration is the most important facet of this type of car, and the E-type is particularly well endowed: with the automatic, acceleration is instantly on tap for the heavy-footed.

The consistency of the fuel consumptions recorded at various stages of our test mileage was surprising. At worst with testing and many miles of unrestricted motorway we recorded 18 mpg; at best, which inevitably included London and weekend traffic where hard acceleration but lower cruising speeds are used, we approached 20 mpg a figure which most owners will be able to better, particularly with more frequent use of the D2 range. With a 14-gallon tank you get around 250 miles between stops.

Oil consumption, which had started at a very reasonable 400 miles per pint, increased to 100 miles per pint during the trip to Holland where the engine had to work rather harder, but this did not drop with lower cruising speeds on our return; we would expect nearer the 400 per pint of our previous road test car to be the norm.


The Borg-Warner Model 8 automatic transmission is used in the Jaguar saloons for which it is well suited as a natural complement to power steering. But the enthusiast may express surprise that someone who buys are E-type presumably for pleasure motoring, could possibly want to remove one of driving’s keener pleasures. How well does automatic transmission go with sporting performance? It has three ratios instead of four: it has some overriding control over their selection, though no: as much as with a manual box: it will change up or down almost instantaneously; there is some power loss; and the automatic transmission is combined with a higher final drive — 2.88 instead of 3.07 — which gives wider speed ranges for the three gears.

Select D1 for starting and the car moves off very smartly in bottom gear with some whine as if with subdued straight cut gears; if you keep your foot flat on the floor the upward changes occur with a forward surge at 5.100 rpm and 4.800 rpm respectively. If mechanical sympathy forces you to case the throttle you should get second gear but may get top if you release the throttle too far: there is an appreciable jerk when changes occur above 3.000 rpm

In D2 you start in second gear, so there is one less opportunity for a surging change but acceleration is correspondingly leisurely. L for lock-up can be selected at 80 mph on the overran when approaching a corner, but the unit does not change into second gear until about 65 mph unless you press the accelerator first. This is the smoothest and most satisfying change in the “box”. Below 15 mph in L, first gear comes in automatically with an unpleasant jerk or it can come in when just accelerating hard at 20 mph without actually treading on the kickdown switch. For the person who wants an automatic E-type, this unit will fulfil all needs except the complete smoothness associated particularly with American units: in time you learn to help the transmission but this should not be necessary, and the installation does not seem as naturally smooth as other Borg-Warner units. A period of driver adjustment is necessary before the progress through the gears will be as smooth to a passenger as a well driven manual transmission.

Apart from the distant sound in bottom gear and a slight wheeze as the gears change, there is little noise from the gearbox, and only a faint whine at steady speeds on light throttle from the back axle. On the test hills, D1 was needed for a start on a 1-in-3 slope, but a 1-in-4 hill was surmounted in D2.

Handling and brakes

The effect of automatic transmission on the E-type’s handling is more pronounced than in other cars. Without the drive line rigidity, it is impossible to vary the attitude of the car on the throttle in the way that you can on the manual car; stability is considerably enhanced by the use of SP 41 HR tyres which further limit slip angles until final rear end breakaway, now rather more sudden but at very high cornering forces.

If the petrol filler cap is on at all tight, it is difficult to get on adequate grip on it without barking knuckles on the sharp edges.

Up to this point the handling remains neutral and the car goes just wherever you aim it, but if you prefer a more obvious final oversteer and want to corner fast, you can brake sufficiently deep into the corner to provoke the tail and use the extreme sensitivity of the steering to warn you that this is about to happen; when it does you can release the brakes put power on and balance the car on the throttle. This is smoother if you use left foot braking so that releasing the brakes and starting to accelerate appears to be one continuous movement; considering the size of the pedal. Jaguar must surely have had left foot braking in mind.

At near track speeds it is possible to reach final power over steer but the car comes back under control as soon as the throttle is eased, albeit with a bit of a lurch which is the only thing to tell you that there has been any roll at all. Most of the time the car stays very flat and the handling is always very safe with upper limits that few will ever explore. With a limited slip differential it is difficult even in the wet, to provoke tail slides until you kick down into bottom gear when the increased power available is sufficient to break adhesion; this too is easy to control, but it would be even easier if the steering were higher geared, not requiring so much arm twirling, particularly in town.

Little effort is required for steering but there is quite a lot of kickback — we suspect a fair amount of this is gyroscopic in origin due to the considerable changes of camber as the offset wheels move up and down on bumps or potholes — but we should not like to lose any of the delightful feel and sensitivity just for a reduction in kickback.

In Europe it is fortunately an accepted fact that if you endow a car with the ability to go really quickly it is an essential social duty to make it stop too, not just once from high speed but repeatedly, and in the braking department all Jaguars arc very well equipped. Large disc brakes with twin circuit systems and a good servo give powerful effortless stopping; in our fade test there was little rise in pressure during our 20 stops from around 85 mph at minute intervals, and only a slight increase in pedal travel which returned to normal as the brakes cooled down again.

On the Continent we travelled many miles on motorways in very heavy downpours without touching the brakes; when they were applied, they required considerably increased pressure and it took two or three applications to bring them back to normal. Two trips through the watersplash give much the same effect and again the E-type required higher pressures than before for the same efficiency. The handbrake could just hold the car on a lin4 hill and provide a 25 per cent stop when one rear wheel locked.

Comfort and control

Even with independent suspension all round the balance of ride and handling is always a compromise which Jaguar have mastered to give the E-type very good handling and a ride which, though obviously not so good as that of the S-type, is very good by sports car standards. At out-of-town speeds the suspension takes sharp bumps as if they were rather longer undulations, and generally smooth’s out progress very comfortably but still retains the taut feel that is so reassuring at high speeds. Side winds have more effect on the 2 plus 2 than on the smaller car, but not enough to call for speed reduction or even directional correction; hump back bridges have to be taken with caution to keep the rear wheels on the ground.

With the addition of the 2 plus 2 to the range, all sizes of people can now own an E-type because of increased room for knees and head; the steering column can be adjusted for rake (with a spanner) and driver reach altered to make anyone at ease. The seats are well shaped and give sufficient side-support to get the better of the difficult compromise between good support and easy access; they have ample sliding adjustment as well as an alternative position for rake, and arc high enough to give even small people a commanding view over the bonnet. Getting over the high body still tends to discourage the use of tight skirts.

The rear scat is pretty occasional for adults; one can sit in fair comfort transversely but two would find it rather confined, even if the front seat had been pushed well forward until the passenger’s knees were touching the parcel shelf rail. At most the rear would accommodate one adult and one seven-year old for longish distances with a shortish driver, but the big advantage is the extension that this grants to the family man’s E-type ownership.

Unfortunately the heating and ventilation of the E-type are rather below par; the main trouble is that the airflow to the screen is inadequate for good demisting. Sliding levers at the passenger’s end of the facia control air flow and temperature but at speeds up to 50 mph or so you need a booster fan. With the two-duct control knobs twisted to warm the feet the output is good, but it takes practice to sort out the best combination. The system needs a positive outlet rather than open and noisy rear quarter-lights, with fresh cold air at face level.

Comfort in a grand tourer is not complete unless the car is quiet at grand touring speeds; in this our test car was not as good as some E-type coupes, having rather poor sealing on the passenger’s door, but even at speeds over 100 mph it was still impressively quiet and completely relaxing for long journeys; the combination of good seats, good ride and little noise make this an ideal travelling companion, and it is not until you arc travelling at over 4,500 rpm that the engine becomes at all obtrusive when the subdued hum becomes more of a hard working throb.

The general effect of good forward visibility is maintained all round with an adequate view of following traffic through the rear window — Triplex heated as an option on the test car — and a good view sideways around the thin screen pillars. The triple wipers sweep a very good area of windscreen and stay in place at all reasonable speeds, except in certain side wind conditions when the windward blade lifts on part of its stroke.

A disadvantage of aerodynamic priorities is that the headlights have to be faired in behind sloping glass covers which cut out a lot of light; on main beam, 90 mph is about the limit on straight roads; fast enough though this may be, it is not surprising that owners are tempted to fit spot lights inside the radiator intake.

Fittings and furniture

When the 2 plus 2 is being used as such, the room behind the rear seat is the same as with the ordinary coupe, and you can get a surprising amount of luggage in without obstructing the rear view. With the “plus 2” part converted into luggage space by moving the top half of the rear scat forward on toggle levers, the capacity is even greater and more than adequate for two people. Our 7.8 cu. ft. of square luggage stayed below the natural line from the mirror to the rear window, but more could be accommodated without obscuring all the vision, although it would probably need to be anchored securely. Access is through the rear door, released by a small lever behind the door pillar and finally opened by pressing a safety catch inconveniently mounted on the wrong side of the partly open door.

The rear compartment is covered in pvc with rubber faced strips, matching the colour of the rest of the interior and the leather seats. Tradition is evident in the facia layout—many dials and switches on a wooden background; the switches, grouped in threes, need learning and switch on upwards, aircraft fashion, but the most used wiper and electric washer switches arc paired together at the right hand end of the line.

Only something very flat can fit into the shallow glove locker, but more oddments can go in the central arm rest or on the passenger’s parcel shelf with its padded rail limiting the movement of the passenger’s knees.

Servicing and maintenance

Servicing is needed every 3,000 miles but this is not beyond the scope of the private owner armed with the 22-item tool kit supplied and a syringe to fill the back axle. You can get a wall chart with all servicing points on it or follow the driver’s handbook.

Underbonnet accessibility to anything not in front of the engine is good, but the bonnet docs not open very far. It is released by sliding levers at either end of the bulkhead, which is rather inconvenient for a driver on his own, particularly as it is often necessary to lean on the bonnet when sliding the lever back in again.

Triple wipers sweep a very good area of the new taller screen. Headlamp covers are shaped toughened glass.

Maintenance chart


Every 3.000 miles — check radiator level, drain oil and filter renew, top-up carburettor damper, check allow running adjustment.

Every 6.000 miles — renew oil filter, clean fuel filter.  Carburettor filters, adjust timing chain.

Every 12.000 miles – renew air filter, check exhaust system.

Steering and front suspension

Every 6.000 miles — grease all nipples, check front wheel alignment.

Every 2.000 miles — fabricate and check end float of front wheel boards.

Transmission end rear suspension

Every 3.000 miles — check levels of rear axle and gearbox level (manual or automatic).

Every 8.000 mile lubricate suspension nipples.

Every 12.000 miles — drain rear axle, drain manual gearbox (only), lubricate and check rear wheel bearing.

Wheels and brakes

Every 3.000 miles — check tyre pressure, check fluid levels in clutch and brake reservoirs.

Every 6.000 miles — examine brake pad.


Every 3.000 miles — chock battery level and connections. Lubricate alternator and check points, clean and test sparking plugs.

Every 6.000 miles — check alternator belt for wear.

Every 12.000 miles — renew plugs and check headlamp alignment.

Scuttle top hard but would yield. Parcel shelf padded on edge of fibre board, front passenger’s seat is pushed forward you could just got another adult in. Headroom is adequate.

With the back seat forward, we installed 7.8 cu. ft of our test luggage without obstructing the mirror view at all. More could safety go in. if tied down. The rear compartment is 36 ½ in wide and the longest diagonal, with the scat in the 2+2 position, is 49 ½ in. The comprehensive toolkit is housed in the spare wheel well under the floor. The jack has a ratchet lever.

Interior of the 2+2 showing the transmission tunnel gear selector. The seats are in extreme positions with the driver’s one raked bock of the alternative, but very similar, angle. High door sill tends to get dirty as people step up over it.

PRICE in 1966 £1,973 plus £412 12s. lid. equals £2,385 12s. lid.

Basic price without automatic £1,857.

Total £2,245 8s. 9d.

Safety check list 
1 Steering assembly
Steering box position Ahead of front axle line.
Steering column collapsible? Universally jointed — yes.
Steering wheel boss podded? No
2 Instrument Panel
Projecting switches, etc. Switches, heater and radio controls protrude.
Sharp instrument cowls etc? None
Effective padding? Scuttle top hard but would yield. Parcel shelf padded on edge of fibre board.
3 Ejection
Anti-burst door latches Yes
Child proof door locks No, but no rear doors.
4 Windscreen Laminated

5 Door structures

Interior door handles and window winders

Front quarter light catches




6 Back of front seats Tubular frame well padded with no projections
7 Windscreen pillar Rounded and firmly padded
8 Driving mirror  
Framed? Rounded metal frame
Collapsible No
9 Safety harness
Type 3-point
Pillar anchorage Good, well bock without obstructing rear passengers 
Floor anchorage Well placed

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