After 50 years, Jaguar to finish Lightweight E-type production Cars
The 1963 Jaguar Lightweight E-type was Coventry’s response to the dominance of Maserati’s Tipo 151/1 and Ferrari’s 250 GTO in sports car racing. Produced exclusively for privateer teams, just 12 examples were constructed, although 18 chassis numbers were reserved by the factory. Now, 50 years after the last customer Lightweight E-type was delivered, Jaguar has announced that the remaining six cars will roll off the assembly line, with customer deliveries beginning later this year.
The first pre-production Lightweight E-type, built for racer (and Jaguar dealer) John Coombs. Remaining photos courtesy Jaguar Heritage.
The Lightweight E-type incorporated some of the lessons learned from the development of Jaguar’s experimental Low Drag Coupe of 1962, but focused on weight savings over aerodynamic enhancements. All Lightweight E-types utilized an all-aluminum monocoque and an aluminum engine block for weight savings, and most were also bodied with riveted aluminum panels. In Jaguar: The Complete Story, author Heiner Stertkamp reveals that at least one Lightweight had a body made from thin sheet steel, which complicated homologation. To simplify things under FIA Group J regulations, the aluminum-bodied Lightweight cars were considered standard, while the thin-steel bodied cars were considered specials.
The extensive use of aluminum (including an aluminum differential housing on some customer cars), coupled with the elimination of interior and exterior trim and the use of lightweight side windows shaved approximately 250 pounds off the weight of a standard E-type, but improvements didn’t stop there. In addition to the aluminum 3.8-liter XK engine block, Lightweight cars received wide-angle heads with 2-inch intake valves (though some cars were built with larger 2-3/32-inch intake valves), Lucas fuel injection and a dry-sump lubrication system. Output was said to be in the range of 300 horsepower, a gain of 35 horsepower over the standard XK’s rated (but optimistic) 265 horsepower.
The changes should have been enough to make the Lightweight E-types competitive, but the cars never enjoyed much racing success. At the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans, Briggs Cunningham fielded three Lightweights, but the highest placing car (driven by Cunningham and Bob Grossman) managed just a ninth place finish after losing ground to repair crash damage caused by brake failure at the end of the Mulsanne Straight. The other Cunningham team cars failed to finish the race, with Paul Richards and Roy Salvadori recording 40 laps before a horrific crash destroyed the car (and ejected Salvadori out the rear window), while the car driven by Walt Hansgen and Augie Pabst posted just eight laps (all by Hansgen) before transmission failure ended its day. The following year saw two Lightweights entered, by Peter Lindner and P.J. Sargent: Lindner’s team finished 30th overall, while Sargent’s team finished in 39th place.
Despite the Lightweight’s lack of racing success, its scarcity makes it highly prized among Jaguar collectors. Of the 12 cars built, 11 are known to survive, meaning that demand among collectors far outstrips the potential supply. When production was booked in 1963, Jaguar set aside sequential chassis numbers 850658-850675, but the final car built in 1963 (and delivered in 1964) carried chassis 850669. In Jaguar’s records, chassis 850670-850675 have remained booked but unconstructed for five decades, leading to a business opportunity for the automaker’s Heritage business group, which specializes in supplying parts for classic Jaguar models.
Jaguar Heritage will construct the remaining six lightweights, which will be assembled to the exact same specifications as the 1963 cars. The endeavor is the first continuation car project for Jaguar, and its occurrence on the 50th anniversary of the final Lightweight’s delivery is, in the words of Jaguar’s PR manager Matt Skelton, just “a happy coincidence.” Demand for the very limited production will surely outpace supply regardless of the asking price, so Jaguar will give preference to “established Jaguar collectors,” especially those with demonstrated “historic race cars interests.” As with the original cars, customers lucky enough to receive confirmed orders will have the ability to specify both color and level of trim, though all will likely be purpose-built for vintage racing to avoid the complications of global licensing. Jaguar has not announced when the continuation Lightweight E-types will be revealed, but a likely venue is September’s vintage-themed Goodwood Revival, held annually at Lord March’s estate near Chichester, West Sussex, England.