Cars are unique as consumer goods. The speed at which the industry moves, combined with its need to blend mass-market appeal with niche specialization, means that they can embody an era and a style unlike any other consumer product. They become characterized by their owners and heritage. But with certain rare models, they take on an almost indefinable quality. The 1966 Jaguar E-Type is an excellent example of a car that seems to defy categorization. Despite permeating pop culture since its inception, it has always had a vague definition of what it was for.
With a 14-year production run and popular praise lavished upon it, the E-Type was widely beloved, of course. But what exactly is it? Is it a sports car? Is it rolling art? Is it a boulevard cruiser? I’ve never found a satisfactory answer. So when I had the chance to drive one, I was determined to find out for myself.
1966 Jaguar E-Type 4.2: By the Numbers
- Powertrain: 4.2-liter naturally aspirated inline-six | 4-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
- Price (when new): $5,620
- Horsepower: 261 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 283 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
- 0-60: 7.0 seconds
- Top speed: 150 mph
- Quick take: The E-Type is a stunning work of art that also happens to be one of the best driving classics at any price.
Jaguar’s Extraordinary E
The E-Type is legendarily pretty. Calling it rolling art might be a bit of an understatement. Enzo Ferrari famously said it was “the most beautiful car in the world,” and the influence of the E-Type in later Ferrari two-seaters is plain to see, with its taut, teardrop cabin looking out over a vast expanse of bulging hood in a way that’s more graceful than menacing. The Jaguar universally appealed to those with style that sought to make an entrance in the way only a stunning sports coupe could: Frank Sinatra, Brigette Bardot, Tony Curtis, and Steve McQueen all drove E-Types in the ’60s. Despite the car not being quite the ostentatious statement of wealth that many modern celebrities cruising the boulevard flock towards—a 1961 E-Type started at $5,620, roughly equivalent to $50,000 today—it was so sleek and forward-looking that it had no parallels priced above or below it.
And this specific example, a 1966 4.2-liter straight-six hardtop, is the spec to own. The E-Type went through several variations. The first, from the car’s inception in 1961 to 1967, is known as the Series 1. In 1965, the infamously long-lived Jaguar XK straight-six (which debuted in 1949 and was not retired until 1992) got a bump in displacement, increasing it from 3.8-liters to 4.2-liters, and raised horsepower and torque at the same time. Additionally, it received synchromeshes for each gear (earlier 3.8-liter cars had an unsynchronized first gear), more comfortable seats, an upgraded electrical system, and a more reliable brake package.
Shortly after, in 1968, the Series 2 E-Type debuted, where the pure vision of the Jaguar design was changed in concessions to new NHTSA safety regulations. The unrestrained power of the inline-six was held back with new EPA constraints that saw it lose a carb and gain a more restrictive exhaust. So it was only for the 1966 and 1967 model years, then, that Jaguar offered the most powerful and purest vision of what the E-Type could be. This is one of those few cars.