Its long hood and beautiful lines made the Jaguar E-Type into an instant classic and one of the greatest sports cars of all time.
Our relationships with our cars can be, at the best of times, a bit complicated. There can be no denying that we have an emotional connection to the automobile, but with some cars, this connection is more visceral than with others. We’ve covered some of these cars already, such as the Countach which was named after an exclamation upon seeing a beautiful woman, and the DS was called the "goddess". But perhaps the most sexualized car ever was the Jaguar E-Type.
Even without the appealing design of the body, the E-Type would most likely have been a hit no matter what. The car was fast with performance that could rival the Italian exotics that cost two or even three times as much. This is because the E-Type was the product of a very different era in the history of Jaguar. In 1949, the Jaguar XK120 was the world’s fastest production vehicle, and a racing version of this car would get Jaguar its first Le Mans victory in 1951. Four more victories at Le Sarthe would come during the Fifties, with the D-Type winning three consecutive years.
Jaguar’s last Le Mans win came in 1957, after which rule changes essentially rendered the XK uncompetitive. Jaguar would then start thinking about developing a road-going use for the D-Type. Several different prototypes of road cars derived from the D-Type were built, from the XKSS, essentially just a converted D-Type, the E2A in 1960. This final prototype still used the inline-6 engine from the XK120 and the D-Type, but was a distinctly different car. So, being rooted so strongly in the Fifties racing model, when the new road car debuted in 1961, Jaguar simply progressed one letter further in the alphabet to get the name.
The car debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, and was famously driven from Jaguar’s Coventry factory to Geneva overnight by Norman Dewis, only just in time for the show. The car created an immediate stir, and it’s not difficult to see why. The XK engine was now up to 3.8 liters and produced 265 horsepower, allowing for a sub-7-second 0-60 time and a top speed of 150 mph - both impressive figures for its time. By contrast, the fastest car in the world at the time, the Aston Martin DB4 GT, had a top speed of 152 mph. But the Jag was cheaper. Much cheaper.
The 1961 price was $5,595 in the US (for the first few months of production, the car was only made for export) which is only about $42,000 today. That’s a pretty reasonable price for what was very nearly the fastest car in the world, and the same was true in 1961. The competing Ferrari and Aston Martin models would cost at least double that. The very simple and clean design, which was tapered at both ends, was called "the most beautiful car in the world" by none other than Enzo Ferrari. The Daily Telegraph named it one of the 100 most beautiful cars of all time and Sports Car International named it the number one sports car of the Sixties.
But when it comes to sexualizing the car, there is an interesting difference of opinion. Enthusiasts often claim to see the lithe and aerodynamic body shape as distinctly feminine, while others claim it is definitely phallic in nature. What’s interesting is that everyone seems to agree that the cars is overtly sexual, even if their ideas about how so are complete opposites. Of course, a long hood is how you get a straight six under it, and a tapered front end is aerodynamic, but some people will look for penises in everything. As much as automotive enthusiasts love cars, there are other people who hate them for a variety of reasons.
Making snide penis remarks about something you hate might be intellectually lazy, but it is sadly an effective technique. Despite all this, the E-Type’s legacy as one of the greatest sports cars of all time is secure. It sold well all the way up until it was discontinued in 1974. It first received an enlarged XK I6 in 1964, and a V12 was introduced in 1971. But when the energy crisis started in 1974, the E-Type’s days were clearly over. Though it would become the unfortunate victim of history, we’re lucky simply to live in a world where the E-Type ever existed at all.