Jaguar E-type V12 road test

Tony Baker and Drive-My

Jaguar’s epic V12 fast, smooth and practical: why the S3 E-type is on the rise. Now is the time to reappraise Jaguar’s super-smooth V12. Jaguar E-type V12 Coventry’s alluring sophisticate is a great classic that you can really use.  Return of the silent sports car. Bentley may have coined the term but Jaguar perfected the idea, says Malcolm Thorne as he falls for the charms of a Series 3 E-type and tries to fathom why the V12 is so underrated. Photography Tony Baker.

With the original E-type of 1961, Jaguar created a world-beater without a single serious rival. Indecently quick, achingly beautiful and sold at a bargain-basement price, it’s little wonder that William Lyons’ race-bred sportster became the darling of the swinging ’60s. Here was a sublime pin-up to rival Twiggy’s androgynous delicacy and partner the hippest icons of a generation. What cooler way to close trendy chat show Dee Time than with an E-type? The Jaguar was as much a part of the headlines as Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick, Mary Quant’s hemlines and Paddy Hopkirk’s mastery on the Monte.

Jaguar E-type V12 road test

Jaguar E-type V12 road test

A decade into the car’s lifetime, though, the world had changed. The Beatles had gone their separate ways, Simon Dee had signed on and, a far cry from ’1966, England’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ went out of the 1970 World Cup in the quarter finals. A year later, the Mini Cooper was gone, too, replaced by a blunt-nosed by-product of BL’s myopic business plan. Like it or not, the ’60s were over, and it was time to move on.

Dare I even suggest that, exquisite though the E-type had been at launch, the shape was starting to look a bit dated alongside newer designs? And the performance from its by then-strangulated straight-six had slipped further from the fantastic – albeit strategically enhanced – 150mph top speed that had stunned the world in ’1961.

“With the 3.8- and 4.2-litre, we’d had a very good car,” recalls Jaguar’s former chief test driver Norman Dewis, “but the emissions regulations in the States had sapped a lot of power from the Series 2. Performance was what sold the E-type, but we couldn’t clean up the ‘six’ any further without losing yet more power. America was our most important market, and [Sir William] Lyons was insistent that we had to keep our customers there happy. We needed to get the performance back – and we had just the thing to do that.”

The answer, of course, was the magnificent V12 that had first seen the light of day in the ill-fated XJ13 of 1966, although the engine’s history goes back considerably further. “It was designed by Claude Bailey in around 1958 or ’1959,” explains Dewis, “but at that time we were doing fine with the ‘sixes’ so we didn’t need it. It wasn’t until [Walter] Hassan returned to Jaguar from Coventry Climax that we did anything with it. We built a 5-litre four-cam version for the XJ13 and that produced 510-550bhp, but then they brought in the 3-litre limit at Le Mans, making it redundant. When it came to giving the E-type more power, though, that engine was perfect.”

Jaguar E-type V12 road test

Jaguar E-type V12 road test. The E-type’s slim build is a bonus on narrow lanes, where it is far more adept than its image as a relaxed cruiser will have you believe. Note broader rear track and fat radial tyres.

Weighing in at 680lb, the new all-alloy unit was remarkably just 80lb heavier than the ironblock ‘six’ and, as the world’s first mass-produced V12 since the late-’30s Lincolns, would give the E-type a unique selling point. In the transition from racer to road car, the engine lost a brace of camshafts and gained an extra 300cc, but was none the worse for that. As Dewis remembers: “The four-cam had more power, but Hassan thought that the extra cost, weight and complexity were unnecessary. As much as power, what we were aiming for was flexibility – and the V12 was very docile.” It was also a far more modern car.

Where the six-cylinder E-type had been a svelte evolution of a 1950s competition legend, the ’70s incarnation was very much looking towards the future. Bigger, roomier and easier to live with, the Series 3 defined what the next wave of sporting Jaguars would be all about.

Purists today are quick to dismiss the V12 as a kitsch boulevardier, a car whose greatest virtue – its turbine-smooth engine – is far outweighed by its gargantuan thirst. Critics also cite what they view as the desecration of a timeless shape. Or they bemoan the finger-light assistance that made manoeuvring a doddle, but robbed the steering of feel and precision. New wine in an old bottle, complained some; a poor relation to a magnificent bloodline said others.

Jaguar E-type V12 styling

Jaguar E-type V12 styling

Those who are prepared to scratch a little deeper, however, are rather more considered in their appraisal. “I bought mine in October ’1972,” says civil engineer Alan Hames, who still owns his concours yellow roadster today. “I’d had a Series 2 since 1970, but was particularly tempted by the new engine – as well as the more attractive bodywork – and I immediately found that the Series 3 was much better to drive, with stronger brakes plus improved comfort.”

Approach the V12 from a neutral perspective, and you can see where Hames is coming from. Malcolm Sayer’s update isn’t exactly subtle – what was back then? – but to me it oozes period chic. It looks its best when painted a suitably ‘bathroom’ hue and riding on narrow-band whitewalls, the latter sadly absent from ‘our’ otherwise delicious Azure Blue roadster. Embrace it as a product of its day, and yes, this is a wonderfully stylish design that exudes early-’70s glamour.

The way in which the wheelarches have grown neat little flares endows the Jag with a far more muscular stance than its predecessors, the wider track and fatter low-profile tyres doing as much for modernity as improved dynamics. Autosport was full of praise in ’1971, saying that the look gave it ‘tremendous sporting character’.

As you climb down over the broad, high sill, the familiar Series 2 dash is there, although the wood-rim wheel has been replaced by a smaller leather-trimmed item. More significantly for the long-of-leg and pear-of-shape, access is easier and the cockpit roomier thanks to a wheelbase stretched by 9in, the same as the previous 2+2 model. Compared to earlier two-seaters, there’s space aplenty to spread yourself out – to such an extent that, in the pre-child-seat ’70s, Hames often used to squeeze himself, his wife and three small children into his. Try doing that with any degree of dignity in a flat-floor roadster!

Turn the key and there’s no agricultural churning of the starter, no popping or spitting as the big oversquare V12 winds lazily into life. This is no Latin drama queen, and there’s no impression of the individual pistons firing, no perceptible power pulses, just a seamless subdued hush. The refinement leads you to expect all the lag of a turbofan spooling up, but not a bit of it. Blip the throttle and the rev-counter needle flicks eagerly towards the 6500rpm redline (1500rpm higher than in the S2), falling back just as quickly. There’s no need for a heavy flywheel on this sweetly balanced powerplant that John Bolster described as ‘a devil for revs’.

Slot the stubby lever into first, then ease out onto winding Kent lanes. The clutch pedal needs a firm push – as does reverse – but swapping gears is a satisfyingly co-operative process. The Jaguar feels as though it’s on your side, not conspiring against you. As you thread the roadster between the hedgerows, it takes a while to realise that, although the S3 is long, it’s quite narrow. It’s a mere 1½in wider than the first generation MX-5, in fact, but 2ft 4in longer.

As you trickle along, the motor tricks you into thinking that it’s spinning faster than it actually is. You find yourself changing up earlier than might otherwise be the case, but the immense torque – 304lb ft at 3500rpm – means that you can almost treat it as an automatic. It will seemingly pull from any speed in any gear, which encourages you to be lazy. But then a short straight looms and you plant the throttle a little more decisively. The Jaguar surges forward with such gratifying ease that you back off and repeat the exercise, a demonic grin lighting up your face. I like this old E-type a lot and, the more I stretch its legs, the greater is its draw. With vast reserves of power and torque combined with the feather-light steering and sublime refinement, it leaves me thinking of the Bentley Turbo R, which is far from a bad thing in my book.

Like the massive Bentley, though, it’s a luxury cruiser, not a proper sports car, right? Well, maybe the S3 lacks the sporting edge of the six-cylinder variants, but it grips and stops far better than they ever did in standard form.

‘With the new suspension and tyres, it would probably out-corner the previous E-type,’ said Bolster in ’1971, ‘and would certainly out-brake it.’ I’m not prepared to put such claims to the test in somebody else’s beautifully preserved car, but at sensible speeds the Series 3 does all that you ask of it with commendable ease. It seems a strange paradox, then, that today people are happy to plough huge sums into upgrading earlier cars when Jaguar has already done just that for them. Could it be prejudice against the V12’s prodigious thirst and complexity that puts them off?

“When I bought mine,” says Hames, “I knew that the fuel consumption would not be as good as my Series 2, but with that car averaging only 19-20mpg, I was more than prepared for a lesser figure. As for the complexity of the V12, this was not a worry because it was only an engine, albeit with 12 rather than six cylinders, and four carburettors in place of three. As a daily driver, the S3 made for reliable transport, although it did turn out to be more expensive than expected, with fuel consumption in stop-start driving dropping as low as 9mpg. That said, on a recent 700-mile run to Edinburgh, the 44-year-old Jaguar returned its best-ever figure of 18.25mpg. Fortunately, during the fuel crisis of 1973-’1974, I was deemed to be an essential car user so I could get coupons, but being limited to only five gallons at a time meant that you had to visit one garage after another, sitting in a 50-yard queue each time.”

The fuel crisis, of course, did the E-type no favours. In 1973, shortly before the OPEC embargo sent prices spiralling, Autocar had observed that the S3’s 18-gallon fuel tank could be emptied after less than three hours’ driving… and that replenishing it would cost a heady £7!

Almost overnight, however, that figure doubled. From S3s being much in demand and in some cases changing hands for over list price, finding homes for unsold cars suddenly became a whole new challenge. “In 1971-’1972, it wasn’t perceived as being a particularly thirsty car,” says Trevor Wooding of Hurst Park Automobiles, which specialised in low-mileage Jaguars at the time. “When you think of what an Austin 3-litre or Vauxhall Viscount would have given you, it wasn’t all that bad, and people really wanted them because it was vastly improved compared to the six-cylinder models. But then from ’1973-’1974, fuel consumption suddenly became an issue.

Like all big cars, they became very hard to sell.” Tellingly, Wooding’s keeper is a lovely silver S3. Today, a tank of fuel will cost closer to £85, but, unless you’re planning to rack up a huge annual mileage, does it really matter? The unassailable punch of this most magnificent of engines surely makes up for it. And unless racing car dynamics are your thing, I doubt that you’ll ever find a decent S3 disappointing on the road.

“It was a good car,” says Dewis. “We didn’t have a very big budget – Lyons always kept a tight hold on spending – but nor was it a very difficult project. We modified the subframe and had to concentrate on damper settings, ride height, front wheel camber and suchlike, although it worked very well from the outset. It was more sophisticated and more comfortable than the earlier versions of the E-type. It was the right car for our market at that time.”

In today’s investor-fuelled environment, it’s a sentiment that resonates strongly with me. Much as I love the V12’s six-cylinder forebears, would I pay vastly more than an S3 to own one? I enjoy this car’s slightly louche, left-field appeal.

It’s a less obvious choice, and a far better car than most people would have you believe. It’s also a comparative bargain. “I would never return to a Series 1 or 2,” concludes Hames, “and would recommend only the Series 3 to a potential purchaser. There is no other car that matches the charisma of the V12 and I would never sell mine, whatever the offer!”

Thanks to John Marton; Alan Hames; Norman Dewis; Trevor Wooding:; E-type UK: 01732 852762;






Sold/number built 1971-’1974/7990

Construction steel monocoque

Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 5343cc 60º V12, four Zenith Stromberg carburettors, Lucas Opus electronic ignition

Max power 272bhp @ 5750rpm / DIN

Max torque 304lb ft @ 3500rpm / DIN

Transmission four-speed manual or Borg Warner three-speed auto, driving rear wheels

Suspension independent all round, at front by double wishbones, torsion bars rear fixedlength driveshafts, lower transverse links, radius arms; coil springs (twin coilovers at rear), telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Brakes discs all round, ventilated at front, solid inboard at rear, with servo

Length 15ft 4 ½ in (4685mm)

Width 5ft 6in (1679mm)

Height 4ft (1219mm)

Wheelbase 8ft 9in (2667mm)

Weight 3316lb (1505kg)

0-60mph 6.3 secs

Top speed 143mph

Mpg 15

Price new £3743 (1974)

Price now £65-155,000 (2017)

{module Jaguar E-Type}

Jaguar E-type V12 interior
Jaguar E-type V12 interior. Clockwise: 2+2 wheelbase obvious in profile; bonnet catch; open road beckons; family transport – Hames, wife Angela and daughters Holly, Gabrielle and Ashley in ’1984; period 8-Track player. Clockwise: cockpit offers improved space compared to earlier incarnations; smaller, leather-trimmed wheel benefits from power assistance; chromed door catch and window winder.

Jaguar E-type V12 engine
Jaguar E-type V12 engine Clockwise: Jaguar toyed with injection, but carbs were used in the end – shields protect V12 from water entering via louvres; familiar S2 dash layout; signature quad tailpipes.

Jaguar E-type V12 styling
Jaguar E-type V12 styling. Clockwise: updated styling has more muscular stance than earlier cars, mainly thanks to flared arches; famous emblem on XJ6-inspired grille; badging confirms engine’s pedigree.

From far left: exposed headlights on shapely nose; V12 grips and rides well – despite softer setup than earlier cars, it’s a pleasing machine to pilot on fast, sweeping A-roads.



Now is the time

“The market for the S3 is on the up,” says Marcus Holland of E-type UK, which is selling the featured car. “They provide a lovely driving experience and, with flat-floor S1s going for £300k, the price can be very attractive. Manual roadsters are the most sought-after, but the auto is not bad; it’s the only E-type in which we think it works. You’d be looking at £90-135k for a nice roadster, with average cars c£60-80,000 and projects £25-40k. Fixed-heads are £15-25k for a project, £30-50k average, and £60-95k for the best. A full rebuild is about £100,000.

“V12s tend to be bought by enthusiasts who understand the greater usability. Upgrading to the latest ignition systems is popular, as are an electronic fuel pump and injection (using XJS hardware, plus a modern ECU and coil packs). The result is improved economy (20mpg) and far cleaner running, plus the elimination of hot starting issues.

“The most important aspect is the condition of the monocoque, and an engine inspection is always a good idea. Cylinder heads and cooling systems can be a problem on infrequently used or poorly maintained cars, but they are reliable once rectified. £1000 per year should cover a full service and sorting the inevitable niggles. An S3 will drive terribly if the suspension bushes are shot, but it’s a relatively cheap fix.”


The rivals


If the V12 E-type was conceived primarily for the US market, the ’Vette was its most obvious home-grown American rival – and the only one that came close on price. Loud and brash compared to the Jaguar, the futuristic styling of its glassfibre shell made the E-type look dated. The bigblock 7.4-litre V8 could match the Coventry car’s performance, but not its refinement.

1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray L46 350/350 HP Convertible

1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray L46 350/350 HP Convertible


‘Affordable’ Daytona sibling had a quad-cam 4390cc V12 that produced 340bhp and 312lb ft of torque. It was good for 0-60mph in 6.5 secs and a 163mph top speed, but the engine needed plenty of revs before delivering the goods. Understated and underrated, it cost three times as much as the E-type when new – and now.

1971 Ferrari 365 GTC/4 North America

1971 Ferrari 365 GTC/4 North America


A remarkably capable machine, providing a decent compromise between sports car fun and GT refinement, coupled with a supple ride. The 3.9-litre V12 produced a whopping 365bhp at a heady 7500rpm and 300lb ft of torque at 5500rpm, yet was more flexible than the figures suggest. Built in minuscule numbers (just 327 in all), and fiercely expensive, they’re now super rare.

1972 Lamborghini Jarama 400 GTS

1972 Lamborghini Jarama 400 GTS


Unveiled at Turin in 1966, the Ghibli featured an all-alloy, quad-cam, dry-sump 4.7 V8 boasting 306bhp (335bhp in the 4.9 SS) and stonking pace. But this mightiest of Maseratis made do with a seemingly archaic live rear axle and had an eye-watering price tag. A Spider was offered from 1969, while greater practicality was provided by its 2+2 sibling, the Indy.


Maserati Ghibli Spyder (AM115S) '1969

Maserati Ghibli Spyder (AM115S) ‘1969

MERCEDES-BENZ 450SL & SLC / R107 / C107

Mass-produced sophisticate came in open and long-wheelbase closed guises. Better made and more practical than the Jag, but lacking the sex appeal. They turn few heads in this company, plus they are a tad dull to drive, but utterly dependable. Unburstable V8 engines offered the least performance here, but 136mph was far from shabby.

Mercedes-Benz SL R107
Mercedes-Benz SL R107


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