CC Capsule: 1968 Jaguar E-Type – The Pride Of An Ethos

Countless gearheads contend that the Jaguar E-Type is the most beautiful car ever made, particularly the models produced from 1961-1968, and especially the coupes.  Whether you agree with that assertion is up to you, but for me, the most interesting point about Jaguar styling is not its comparative excellence, but instead that nobody else I can think of maintained a design ethos largely based on their name for so long.  Regardless of whether company boss William Lyons or engineer Malcolm Sayer was wielding the body hammer (by proxy) or the pen, almost all Jaguars had the same feline essence, and this E-Type is perhaps the most obvious representative of it.

I found this 1968 E-Type way back in 2015 at Grattan Raceway in the southwestern quadrant of Michigan’s lower peninsula.  Although I’m far from an expert in Jaguars, having driven only one (a particularly poor example of an ’80s XJ6), the 1968 plates give this one away as a “Series 1.5.”  According to, only 1,565 left-hand-drive Fixed Head Coupes were produced for 1968 before giving way to the almost-as-beautiful Series 2 version.  Exterior differences between the Series 1.5 and the Series 1 E-Types are few, and mostly unnoticeable to the layperson.

Regardless, the E-Type was so successfully styled (this time by Malcolm Sayer) that the basic shape remained in production for almost 15 years.  Jaguar’s consistently sinuous styling across its lineup created an undoubtedly bankable public image, but it also boxed them in, leading them to create variations on the same design concepts for too long.  If “retro” styling has taught us anything, it’s that updating that style is difficult to pull off successfully.

Those conundrums were in the dim future for Jaguar in 1968.  As British Leyland began its, uh, tenure as stewards for Jaguar, the also-beautiful XJ6 was released.  To digress, I will never not find William Lyons fascinating.  It’s fairly common knowledge that he was responsible for the XJ6’s styling; employing various “tinnies,” or panel beaters, he created 3D shapes and slowly refined them, sometimes over the course of several years.  As he neared retirement age in 1968, and with Malcolm Sayer passing away from a heart attack in his 50s in 1970, Jaguar was seemingly left without their innovating inspirations for the future.  It’s possible that those two occurrences set the tone for Jaguar’s styling for the next 50 years, as the basic concept created by cars such as the E-Type are still seen today in cars such as the F-Type.  Even back in 1968, however, the auto business was changing rapidly.

Safety and emissions regulations began to affect the E-Type.  The Series 1.5 used rocker switches on the dashboard instead of the old-fashioned toggle switches that became lethal in the case of an accident.  Under the hood, American E-Types lost a carburetor, being fitted with two Zenith-Strombergs compared to the continental version’s three SUs.  This decision, which dropped horsepower by 20, was a means of reducing emissions on Federal E-Types, but Jaguar revised the rear axle ratio to compensate.  This surely had the deleterious effect of reducing fuel mileage, a conundrum 1970s engineers dealt with regularly: How can we reduce emissions without reducing fuel mileage and performance?  Back then, that was asking a lot.

Those facts are somewhat inconsequential today when a ’68 E-Type comes up for sale and it looks as good as it does.  Although these pictures are almost eight years old, one can only hope that this E-Type is still being used and enjoyed in this condition.  E-Types have appreciated so much that many of them have been “treated” to full restorations, rendering them garage-bound or trotted out for the occasional drive.  This one is nice but not perfect, and it’s clear that the owner was enjoying it as William Lyons, Malcolm Sayer, and the rest intended.

Seeing an early E-Type out in public is an event.  More inexpensive than its contemporaries and therefore almost attainable by the average man of 1968, its spectacular styling makes almost anything else on the road disappear.  To think that the chairman of the company was largely responsible for making that happen is so fantastically odd that I can’t think of a parallel to it.  That the same chairman was responsible for the type of styling continuity that few, if any, other marques can boast of (for better or for worse), is one of a kind.