Eagle E-type – perfecting a flawed icon

It's the E-type's 50th birthday this March. Take a look at how Eagle bring the iconic British sports car into the 21st century.

By Tim Kendall | 6th February 2011

Pictures: James Lipman

Eagle E-type magazine feature

If you put Enzo Ferrari, Michael Flatley and Martin Brundle in a room together, what would they have in common? For the avoidance of confusion, this is not a continental variation on the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman scenario. No, they would all be talking about E-type Jaguars, believe it or not. Mr. Riverdance and the former F1 driver-cum-pundit, are customers of Sussex based E-type specialists Eagle, and ardent enthusiasts of a modern take on the original icon. Meanwhile, the late Ferrari founder proclaimed the original E-type to be the most beautiful car in the world in 1961, some accolade considering the sculptures which have left Maranello’s hallowed gates.

The Eagle E-type roadster

Eagle E-type roadster – indistinguishable externally from the original

Fast forward fifty years and the E-Type remains an unutterably beautiful, iconic shape. If English Heritage could preserve cars like they do listed buildings, it would be unlikely that anyone could do anything more adventurous than wipe an oily rag over an E-type. Yet whilst it may have been and still is, a jaw-dropping sight, it is not by modern standards a great drive. This is where the expertise of E-type gurus, Eagle comes in.

Eagle walks on dangerous ground, as not only does it restore, but it modifies the original 60’s sports car. As is the way in the classic car world, originality is a treasured commodity and restoration is normally just that – painstakingly bringing a car back to how it was when it rolled off the production line, staying faithful to every nut, bolt and foible. And there is the operative word, foible.

A baulking, noisy Moss gearbox and brakes which worked when they felt like it, as opposed to when you wanted to slow down, were two of the idiosyncrasies of the original E-type driving experience. Headlights which struggled to illuminate anything beyond the end of the bonnet, let alone light the road ahead, were another. Why not improve on it then? Technology has moved on a bit in 50 years, which is why the Eagle approach is such an appealing one – taking an icon, retaining the character but making it safer, more powerful, more reliable, and crucially, more usable.

Eagle E-type

Power upgrades along with totally re-engineered handling and ride make for a modern driving E-type

Proprietor Henry Pearman believes the Eagle USP comes from being able to offer fully restored cars whilst ‘dialling out the worry’ for those that would love to own a classic, but are petrified of owning an old car. They have been working exclusively on E-Types for nearly 30 years, meaning they should know a thing or two about them. So, how does Eagle improve on a flawed icon?

In pretty much every way apart from the looks, is the answer. Bespoke is the nature of the Eagle approach, meaning there are endless permutations of specs and upgrades available, limited only by the size of your wallet. What is common to all Eagle E-types is a breathtakingly thorough approach to the rebuild. A full commission can take up to 4,200 man hours or 18 months, bringing new meaning to the ‘nut and bolt’ restoration cliché.

And if you commission an Eagle, it will upgrade the nuts and bolts to stainless steel items should you so wish. Starting with the body and chassis structure, Eagle addresses the corrosion-prone original areas with wax cavity injections to prevent future corrosion, and fits new braced and reinforced chassis frames. The result is the production of what is essentially a ‘new’ monocoque structure with considerably more torsional rigidity. Subtle modifications can also be made, such as reshaping the lower front valance to reduce ‘nose lift’ at speed. However, Eagle is keen to stress that none of the modifications carried out ever dilute the unique spirit of the original, and even to the trained eye an Eagle is virtually identical to the standard E-type.

This faithfulness to the original car means that, should you want to install a modern Jaguar V8 unit, you will be politely told it is not on the cards. But whilst they work within their own strict parameters, there is still enormous scope to refine the original concept. Eagle can re-engineer the XK engine to 4.7 litres, by taking an original 4.2 block, and adding a bespoke billet crankshaft and reworked head with special cylinder liners to increase capacity. They quote a ‘useful’ power increase to around 300bhp, but the increase in pulling power to well over 300lb.ft of torque is what would grab your attention in real world conditions. Compare this to the original 1964 S1 4.2 E-type which mustered 265bhp and 283lb.ft, and you begin to understand there is less likelihood of being embarrassed by a modern hot hatch. These are approximate figures though – given the various options available no two engines will produce identical figures. Exact power output depends on variable criteria such as porting, valve size, induction system, sequential fuel injection/ carburettors, and ECU spec. You can also choose an aluminium engine block to save weight.

Eagle E-type in build

Eagle commissions can take up to 4,200 man hours to build, dependent on spec

As much for the sake of design purity as to satisfy the classic car beards out there, all the options result in a visually identical engine. Although, if you opt for the ram-air intake system and carbon fibre plenum, you are likely to spot the difference if you glance under the mile-long bonnet. It’d be hard not to take a peek now and then – the shiny XK straight-six is almost as good looking as the car itself.

Beyond the engine, a number of key dynamic changes pull the E-type into the 21st century to make it a credible alternative for those on the horns of that Ferrari/ Lamborghini/ Aston Martin dilemma. Not least of which are the brakes. Tweaking a 50 year-old design to well over 300bhp would be somewhat cavalier if they didn’t uprate the stopping power. The Kelsey Hayes vacuum servo and Dunlop discs of the original E-type were not the sharpest tools, slowing down from low speeds being a hit-and-miss affair. So, to prevent you creasing six-figures worth of classic Jag, Eagle can equip your ‘E’ with 4-pot AP Racing calipers, drilled and vented discs, high-power brake servos and braided steel hoses to provide more effective stopping power.

Steering and suspension too, can be enhanced in stages. Revised springs, dampers, torsion and anti-roll bars are available to make the car more sure-footed through corners. You can go even further to refine the handling, with rose-jointed suspension arms and polyurethane bushes both on the options menu. In conjunction with the suspension upgrades, modifications such as speed sensitive power steering (mapped to the ECU), and a high ratio steering pinion make the E-type a much sharper tool than when it rolled out of Browns Lane. Likewise the gearbox, which can be upgraded to Eagle’s all-synchromesh five-speed unit, coupled to an AP clutch. Surely a good choice if you aren’t keen on spoiling the ambience by crunching the noisy old four-speed ‘box.

Eagle showrooms

The Eagle showrooms, based in Sussex

Driving a classic car is often about compromise, and putting shortcomings down to that old chestnut – ‘character’. Nowhere does a classic car manifest itself as a compromise more obviously than on a hot summer’s day. Having to prise exposed flesh off hot leather seats may give you the authentic period experience, but it’s best left in the 60’s. As you might expect, Eagle can engineer an air conditioning system into the E-type to get around this little gripe. Other ‘comfort’ options include custom reclining sports seats, high output halogen headlamps and bespoke audio systems complete with retro-look CD player, iPod connectivity, and component speakers installed behind the original grilles.

If you are beginning to marvel at the thought of an E-type that can rival much more modern and predictable machinery, you may want to know what they cost. Unless you subscribe to the ‘if you have to ask you can’t afford it’ school of thought, you might be disappointed. Eagle are discreet about prices, citing a loyal client base and the completely bespoke nature of each build as the primary reasons for not publishing them. The other salient point is that you cannot turn up in your own car and ask for the Eagle upgrades to be applied to it. To gain access to the various enhancements, the starting point has to be an original E-type from Eagle stock. Should you decide to turn it into an Eagle E-type, there are four upgrade stages to choose from – Classic, GT, Sport and SuperSport – all with varying degrees of engine and handling enhancements. Pearman quotes the Classic and GT packages at around £10,000 + VAT in addition to the cost of an E-type from stock. To give you an idea of the whole picture, a 1970 Series 2 4.2 Roadster, upgraded to ‘Sport’ specification, comes in at £145,000. But, you can go much, much further than that and a quick glance at Eagle’s website reveals a Series 1 Roadster up for sale at £295,000. But, what price exclusivity?

When you are well into six figure territory, the burning question is why not a Zonda or an Aston? Amongst other compelling reasons, Pearman cites the character and the driving experience, along with the friendly response from other road users. And it’s true, you can’t imagine white van man flicking the ‘V’ sign to one of these, it would be an insult to a national treasure, and about as tasteful as ringing up Andrew Sachs and questioning the virtue of his grand-daughter.

Just picture that hackneyed, archetypal British summertime scene; you roll up to a pub in a sports car, plenty of spectators outside chewing the cud. Now imagine making your entrance in another piece of exotica you can buy for around £150k, let’s say a Ferrari 599 GTB. You can almost hear the resentful whispers – ‘flash git’, they murmer. Then imagine the same entrance, this time in an exquisitely restored classic British sports car, with looks that would melt the most hardened car-hater into submission. Which one would you rather arrive in?

Nevermind the palpable sense of cool this car has, it could also make more financial sense to choose the old-timer, Eagle claiming that depreciation can be far less savage than modern exotica. But really, it’s the hand-built nature of the thing that draws you in. Moreover, the craftsmanship that goes into the 4,200 hour build puts it on a different plain to contemporary ‘rivals’. To quote a certain celtic dance legend whose feet move as if possessed of independent thought, “this is not from some production line – this is a truly hand built car; it’s the real deal”.

Thanks to: Henry Pearman & Paul Brace of Eagle GB, (01825) 830966.

Photos by James Lipman (may not be reproduced without the express permission of James Lipman and Eagle)

By Tim Kendall
6th February 2011

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