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    Mike Hailwood’s E-type Quentin Willson drives the motorbike and car racing legend’s 1961 Jaguar roadster.

    MIKE HAILWOOD’S E-TYPE ‘IF ONLY THIS CAR COULD TALK’

    Motorcycle racer Mike Hailwood was among a special group of names privileged to be allowed a new E-type in 1961. Quentin Willson relives the experience Photography Tim Andrew.

    No matter who you were, back in 1961, you faced a long wait for an E-type. Browns Lane had massively underestimated demand, planning to build just 250 Es, but were besieged with orders. Within weeks of the launch Sir William Lyons promised to increase production to 1000 units but the waiting list was out of control. Dealers were forbidden from selling demonstrators for three months, hopeful buyers placed orders at several dealers and if you were one of the lucky ones you could sell your new Jag for 25 per cent over list. But few did – because this was the car everybody wanted.


    Sixties Pop singer Adam Faith told me he rang Lofty England ten times begging for a roadster, and eventually had to settle on Lofty’s factory demonstrator. Canny Sir William Lyons knew he had a huge supply problem so made sure the earliest cars went to influential motor sport teams and drivers in what’s now regarded as one of the British motor industry’s most brilliant examples of product placement. Tommy Sopwith got the fifth right-hand drive roadster 850005 (ECD 400), John Coombs 850006 (BUY1) and 850007 (9VPD), privateer racer Sir Gawaine Baillie took 850008 (GB 8488) Peter Lumsden had 850009 (898 BYR), Bruce McLaren raced 850010 (3 BXV), Robin Sturgess campaigned 850012 (2 BBC – which went on to be used in The Italian Job, Briggs Cunningham had 850014 (4BXV) and Jack Lambert raced 850016 (RL 26).

    These first hand-built cars with handpicked owners were raced through the summer of 1961, battling with Aston Martin DB4GTs and Ferrari 250 GTOs in front of huge cheering crowds. The press printed rousing stories about the ‘sensational new 150mph Jaguar’ but only a tiny dribble of RHD roadsters left Browns Lane – most cars went to the US – and production of home market fixed-head coupés wouldn’t start until August. Each early roadster was placed to guarantee maximum publicity. Sir Hugh Ropner got 850017, the Earl of Warwick took 850021, The Daily Mail bought 850024 as a competition prize, Castrol had 850034 for TV commercials and the Duke of Bedford bagged 850041. For everyone else the wait must have been agonising.


    Particularly for motorcycle champion Mike Hailwood, who at 22 was a rising star for a then little-known team called Honda. In June 1961 Hailwood was the first rider ever to win three Isle of Man TT races in a single week and had become a national celebrity. He too desperately wanted an E-type – he’d learned to drive in his Mother’s XK120 – but like everybody else had to join the queue. In fact his E, 850070, was built on the 14th of July 1961 and was one of the 56 early soft tops famously photographed outside the Coventry factory.

    In July 1961 British Jaguar dealers were given roadsters for customer test-drives and chassis number 70, along with 40 other roadsters, was delivered to Henlys in London. But it wouldn’t be until September 1 when it was released from duty and registered to Hailwood as VJY 237. The fact that this was a used demonstrator and not new shows that seven months after launch supply was still running woefully behind demand. Even someone generating his own sensational national newspaper headlines still had to wait.


    Hailwood and VJY 237 became regular sights at race meetings across the country and it was in the paddock at Brands Hatch in late September 1961 that an aspiring 16-year-old racing driver, Mike Wilds, was introduced to Hailwood and his red roadster for the first time. They got on instantly and a ride in the magical Jag followed – Wilds still remembers that first momentous trip. ‘What surprised me most wasn’t that we were hitting 100mph on country roads but the reaction of other drivers. We stopped for petrol and the forecourt was mobbed with passing cars and crowds of people.


    They didn’t know who Mike Hailwood was but they certainly knew an E-type when they saw it.’ Wilds and Hailwood’s lifelong friendship began with that E-type and he fondly recalls the car’s powerful allure. ‘Mike really had an eye for the ladies and the E-type was like a magnet. Gorgeous girls would line up for trips in the car and he loved all the attention. Everybody knew that anyone driving an E-type was special so women would wave autograph books at him. And some of those girls were really, really pretty.’ Hailwood used 850070 as a daily driver through 1961 and 1962 and Wilds would often come along for the ride. ‘E-types were so rare you felt like you were in a spaceship from another planet. If you parked you’d come back to a crowd, clamouring to know everything about it – all pointing at the 160mph speedometer. We felt like film stars.’ But Hailwood wasn’t impressed with some of the faults on his pre-production roadster. ‘It was absolutely appalling in the rain – just like driving in a swimming pool.’ He can’t have been that unhappy with E-types because he later bought Colonel Ronnie Hoare’s ’61 fixed-head, 9555 DP, that he kept until 1964. But VJY’s ability to hypnotise women was incredible.

    ‘Mike always had a different girl in the passenger seat of that car. That’s what motor racing was like back then – E-type Jags, parties and blondes, lots of blondes. If only this car could talk.’

    Those days with VJY may have been the catalyst for Hailwood’s life-long obsession with fast road cars. After the two E-types he went through three #Jaguar MkII 3.8 saloons, a BMW 2500, Ferrari 330GT (not his favourite as the gear lever came off in his hand more than once) no less than three Iso Grifos – one he crashed spectacularly hitting a cow – and a Citroën SM that he adored.


    After Hailwood’s ownership VJY was sold into the trade and became just another tired old Jag. Used car dealers Spencer Harris Ltd in Cirencester and West End Motors in Swansea appear in the buff logbook in the Sixties followed by a handful of private owners. VJY then fell off the radar for decades and only reappeared in June 2005, when I wrote about it in the Sunday Mirror having spotted it on eBay with a derisory (even back then) high bid of just £17,500. The Cardiff-based private seller had bought it in 1983 and performed a two-year restoration, run it for ten years and then put it on the auction site (wrongly describing it as the 30th convertible built), where it didn’t reach its reserve. That’s when we think car-crazy dentist Dr James Hull snapped it up for his £100 million collection of classics. Hull kept the car in one of his string of large Hertfordshire warehouses and then sold the 500-car collection to the Jaguar and Daimler Heritage Trust in 2014 – which brings 850070’s story up to date. VJY’s future is now secure as a permanent part of Jaguar’s Heritage Driving Experience collection.


    As an older restoration, #VJY-237 is now nicely patinated – looking gently worn and faded. Sure, its been repaired and refreshed over the years and a few of the unique early parts have disappeared but it still carries the original Moss gearbox, Kelsey Hayes brake booster, 1961 carburettor linkage, chrome bonnet catches, flat-top dash, early steering wheel and even the factory chassis plate. That it’s one of the few 500 outside-latch E-types built that hasn’t been turned into a trailer queen gives it a powerful charm. And VJY still drives really tightly, with that famous E-type suppleness and smooth ride that amazed road testers in 1961. The synchromesh may have the usual weakness on second but the gruff 3.8 is full of urge, the steering has no float and 100mph was an easy 4000rpm. Round the tighter corners the body control is just as an E-type should be, with very little roll thanks to that brilliantly engineered independent rear suspension and stiff central tub. To meticulously restore 850070 would be sacrilege and all JDHT needs to do is fi t early Cheney hose clamps, Butlers rear number plate lamp lights, paint the headlamp buckets body colour, the cylinder head pumpkin orange and reinstate those all-important welded louvres in the bonnet. But the most wonderful thing about this rare and famous 70th RHD E-type roadster is that enthusiasts can now drive it at Jaguar’s Heritage Driving Experience in Fen End, Warwickshire. For £250 you can chose between 15 minutes at the wheel of VJY and then go on to sample a V12 roadster or try out a new 5.0 F-type convertible.


    Ask nicely, and you might even get Jaguar’s professional heritage driver Mike Wilds in the passenger seat who’ll tell you VJY’s story himself while you experience the tactile magic of a 1961 E-type. And it’s proving one of the most popular rides. Several times during our photo shoot we had to interrupt photography and hand over the keys to excited visitors who had booked drives in 850070 months in advance. Watching them sailing round the track clearly mesmerized by the thrill of being able to drive a 1961 E-type roadster somehow seems an appropriate high point of VJYs fascinating life story. To spend its years sleeping in some millionaire’s heated motor house, hidden from view and only brought out a few times a year would be a tragic waste. As an important survivor of those exciting months in 1961 when an E-type roadster was the most fiercely desired car in the entire world, 850070’s open access to the public will guarantee that that special moment in British automotive and social history is kept alive. I’m sure Mike Hailwood would heartily approve.


    Thanks to: Jaguar Heritage Driving Experience. Jaguar’s best kept secret is their Heritage Driving Experience in Warwickshire where you can take to the wheel of not just Mike Hailwood’s E-type roadster but a D-type, C-type, XK150S, Coombs Mk2, XKSS, V12 E-type plus F-type and XFR. Prices start at £95 for passenger rides in an E, D or 150S going up to £300 for a drive in a genuine D-type. £2000 buys you time in nine classic and modern Jaguars including an XKR-S GT followed by lunch. Details at and bookings can be made on 0333 577 0156.
    ‘VJY still drives really tightly, with that famous E-type suppleness and smooth ride that amazed road testers in 1961’

    TECH DATA #1961 #Jaguar-E-Type
    Engine 3781cc in-line six-cylinder, DOHC, three #SU-HD8 carburettors
    Power and torque 265bhp @ 5500rpm; 260lb ft @ 4000rpm
    Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
    Steering Rack and pinion
    Suspension Front: double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, tubular transverse links, radius arms, twin coil springs over damper units
    Brakes Hydraulic-servo Dunlop discs, 11in front, 10in rear
    Weight 1227kg
    Performance Top speed: 150mph; 0-60mph: 6.9sec
    Fuel consumption 18mpg
    Cost new £2097
    Values now £60,000 to £140,000


    Quentin gets acquainted with Mike Hailwood’s former crumpet catcher 3.8-litre straight-six made it a rocketship in 1961.

    VJY wears its history with pride Mike Wilds tells Quentin an unprintable Hailwood anecdote A distinguished gearknob indeed.

    ‘That’s what motor racing was like back then – E-type Jags, parties and blondes, lots of blondes’

    Hailwood had to wait to get his hands on an E-type – Quentin thinks it was worth it.
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