The Jaguar E-type is very probably the greatest sports car ever made by the British motor industry. Even Enzo Ferrari — who knew a thing
or two about high-speed sports cars — described it as the most beautiful car ever. It was low slung, long of bonnet, and so sleek and aerodynamic that, when publicly unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in the spring of 1961, it must have looked like a space rocket suddenly landing on a post-war airfield. Contemporary cars were upright
and boxy, low-speed Morris Minors and Austin A40s and Ford Prefects, cars of arthritic performance and roly-poly handling.
The E-type wasn't just eyecatching and head turning. It was fast — 150mph fast — at a time when most road cars struggled to maintain 60mph for any length of time. It was also good value: well under half the price of same-performance Ferraris and Aston Martins.
The E-type continued in production until 1974 and
then disappeared from the showroom, if not from
fond memory. And Jaguar has been talking about replacing it ever since. Various proposals have been drawn up. One — the 'F-type concept' from 2000 —
was confirmed for production but was subsequently canned by Jaguar's then owner (Ford), which decided to invest in the ill-fated X-type small saloon and diesel engines instead. But now, almost 52 years after the E-type wowed Geneva show goers, the new F-type — spiritual successor to the E, and recently unveiled at autumn's Paris Motor Show — is set to relight Jaguar's sporting flame.
Like the E, it will come in hardtop coupé and convertible guises, although only the roadster (convertible) was shown at Paris. America will be the biggest market, followed by Britain. China, the saviour of the global premium
car industry, is unlikely to play a significant role: the Chinese are not enthusiastic buyers of sports cars. Global sales won't be big: probably between 7,000-10,000 annually, according to Jaguar's global brand director, Adrian Hallmark. Hallmark says the F-type
will be profitable, but the main reason for launching
it is to "boost Jaguar's sporting credentials". The two-seat F-type, in other words, will help sell other Jaguars.
It is Jaguar's new 'halo' model.
Prices will start at "just under £60,000" for the convertible and deliveries to customers begin in April next year (a hardtop coupé comes in a few years).
That pits the Jaguar above the Porsche Cayman in price but below a Porsche 911. There's a choice of V6 or V8 supercharged motors, with maximum power ranging from 340 to 495bhp. Top speed, of the top 5.0-litre supercharged V8, is 186mph. As with its bigger brother — the Grand Tourer two-door Jaguar XK, which continues in production — the F-type uses an advanced lightweight aluminium chassis.
The F-type enters the top-end sports car market at a difficult time. According to Hallmark, overall sales in the sector slumped when the global economic crisis hit four years ago. "The sports car market is very dependent on economic health," he says. So he'll be hoping that the economy picks up by the time the first F-type hits the showrooms next year.
Gavin Green is a motoring journalist and consultant.
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