The Jaguar E-Type -- or XK-E as it was also known in America -- has only just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its introduction at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1961. So it comes as no surprise that those of us who read the enthusiast press regularly can now recite the story of its first public showing -- one of the most fondly remembered car launches of all-time -- line for line. It has been incanted so many, many times, involving as it does a Jaguar development driver stoically and heroically driving a pre-production E-Type from the factory in Coventry, catching the ferry over an inhospitable channel, then dashing across Europe as fast as humanly possible in trying weather, testing the lovely coupé’s purported 150-mph top speed while traversing dangerous mountain passes, narrow tunnels and falling Alpine snow with skill and nerves of steel.
Passing horse carts, bicyclists and two-cylinder bubble cars on cobbled roads, the story continues; the E-Type finally arrived in Switzerland just in time for a quick hose-down and the Geneva show’s opening, whereupon this new and exciting Jaguar sports car proceeded to blow the world’s mind by being -- in a reckoning still generally accepted more than half a century later -- the prettiest mass-production automobile ever built.
Jaguar likes to remember the E-Type launch as much as anyone, but its presumed awesomeness (few journalists still around today were actually there back when) works perversely as a set of golden handcuffs for most every other launch the company undertakes, because what can top the launch of the prettiest car ever made? And it’s worse than that, because, really, can any car ever come close to achieving the E-Type’s impact? It's a design notoriety that no carmaker has attained since, and the odds seem more hopeless now – not just for Jaguar, but, for anyone. Because nowadays society tends to lavish this sort of out-sized product esteem only on hand-held electronic devices. And making things harder, decades of regulation have constrained designers, frankly rendering the art of building the really low, swoopy and dangerous cars people like, impossible.
The E-Type was the best of many fine things Jaguar did for itself when it was building its good name in the 1950s and 1960s. Fast, beautiful and comparatively cheap, with the performance of a Ferrari, and better looks, all for half the price, there was nothing obscure about this object of automotive desire or its desirability. It is sobering to recall that the date of E-Type’s launch falls less than half way between the Henry Ford’s Model T and modern c.2012 cars and yet it seems so much closer to the present moment, albeit arresting in a way no modern car can ever be. It was also a bargain in its day, at a price roughly equivalent to today’s $50,000. BMW 3-Series money.
It was against this backdrop that it came time for Jaguar to launch its newest model the other week at the Paris auto show, a car that is, auspiciously enough, both for lack of a better term and because it is true, the first real successor to the E-Type. Now while part of Jaguar might not want to make this comparison – an E-Type successor is some awfully big shoes to fill – another part of the company obviously did want to do so. Presumably someone had to decide to call it the F-Type. And it is true there’s been no Jaguar so small and focused as it since the E-Type. The F-Type is a pure two-seater where XJSs and XK8s and XKs -- in other words every sports coupe Jaguar has built between 1975 and the present -- have had chairs for four. So F-type it is.
At 3,500 pounds, it’s no lightweight, despite extensive use of aluminum. But at least, compared to some German cars we might name, it’s heading in the right direction, weight-wise. And it is, unlike the lighter Porsche Boxster, for instance, a very luxurious car. It will cost within a hair of $70,000, however, even in basic 340-horsepower V6 form, while the price of a 495-horsepower V8 model will start somewhere north of $92,000. So not cheap, not near the bargain the E-Type was.
But what it is, a handsome, rather wide and sure to be sporty Jaguar two-seater, ain’t bad at all. We haven’t driven it, but feel safe promising that it will ride and handle brilliantly; like all Jaguars, it will be fast as all get out, ditto, and, being English, it’s unlikely to have a class-leading infotainment interface.
Finally, or I might have said firstly, it’s not beautiful like an E-Type. We knew that, and Jaguar knew that, and you knew that. How could it be otherwise? But it's still pretty cool.
Those F-Type Launch Details In Full
It won’t surprise you to learn that in today’s day and age there simply isn’t a narrative about getting a car to an auto show for its debut that anybody would care about. There’s no exciting back story in the F-Type’s delivery to Paris, and there’s been little anticipation-building secrecy; in fact, Jaguar leaked its own photos ahead of the event.
So for excitement, it is my own pathetic tale of travel to Paris on American Airlines that will have to do. Except it is, on further reflection, too boring to recount, except to say that there is no doubt that America’s airline has earned the undying contempt of its own employees by pre-emptively declaring bankruptcy so as to abrogate its labor agreements. It was a bold move by American and staff were only too happy to grumble. Not that you could blame them. The airline business is a dirty one I don’t pretend to understand, but I do know that if I walk out on my home mortgage because I am upside down, even though it would make business-financial sense, I am sure to be viewed as not only fit for suing but a moral reprobate fit for flogging in the town square. Whereas, in the current climate, if senior executives unnecessarily pilot an airline into the protective cocoon of federal bankruptcy court, they are considered shrewd managers of risk. The stock goes up.
Once its throngs of invited motoring journalists assembled in Paris, Jaguar brought us one night to the Musée Rodin, along with some F-Types, and the curious pop phenomenon Lana Del Ray. She graced us with two breathless songs, the latter, “Burning Desire,” an emotional number which we were amazed (actually, not) to learn was written on assignment for Jaguar, whose UK brass were said to be smitten by her talent:
The lyrical leitmotif -- about speeding around Hollywood and Santa Monica, to “ride for you, baby,” was thought-provoking but slightly mystifying, as any speed over 25 mph is an invitation to arrest in Santa Monica. One PR man in attendance swore the song was not literal, but rather about masturbation.
Just the same as the 1961 launch. Only more so.