Tech Tips: Jaguar E-Type

Story By Michael Marter • Photos Courtesy Jaguar

There’s no modern parallel for the fervor created when Jaguar introduced the E-Type at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. A sophisticated, achingly beautiful two-seater with Ferrari-like performance at an affordable price, the E-Type soon became an A-list fashion accessory the world over. Journalist Henry N. Manny III declared it “the greatest crumpet catcher known to man,” and he wasn’t talking about griddle cakes.

An E-Type is orders of magnitude more complex than “lesser” British contemporaries, and commensurately more difficult and expensive to repair and maintain. Buying the right car and avoiding the wrong one can save tens of thousands in unpleasant surprises. Hundreds of E-Types have passed through our XKS Motorsport service and restoration facility; some were gems, but many had suffered at the hands of incompetent restorers or simply the ravages of time.

Virtually no E-Type has avoided accident damage or at least some rust, no matter what the seller might insist. (Funny how a 40-year-old who’s owned a 50-year-old car for two years can know its complete history!) Purchase prices now fully justify a pre-purchase inspection by an expert.

Body condition is, by far, the most important consideration when buying an E-Type, as it’s the most difficult and expensive aspect to properly repair. Inspect a potential purchase as you would any 43 to 55 year old car, looking for poor panel fit, filler, overspray or rust bubbles as tip-offs on deeper problems.

With the car on a hoist, thoroughly inspect the complete underside, paying particular attention to the rear trailing arm mounts. If they are rusted through (many are), new floors are in your future. While bolt-on items, the front subframes are susceptible to rust and accident damage. Wrinkles around the control arm pickup points indicate a past front end shunt. If possible, remove the spare wheel and poke around the boot floor; water can collect here with predictable results.

Finally, run your fingers along the vinyl covering the inner sills where they meet the door latch pillar. Wrinkles here indicate a hard rear end hit.

Few shops in the U.S. have the experience, knowledge or special jigs required to make major repairs to an E-Type body shell, which is a complex assembly of small panels. As a monocoque structure, it’s strong as a unit but weakened when elements are removed. If not properly supported during repairs, the shell can easily fall out of alignment. (We once made remedial repairs to a roadster with newly replaced sills. Because jigs weren’t used to maintain alignment, the car “folded” and the doors wouldn’t close.) If you’re contemplating a car in need of rust repair, definitely have your intended restoration shop inspect the car prior to purchase.

The shop you choose to work with should only be one with years of E-Type experience. Do not pay someone to learn on your car. Shameless plug: XKS Motorsport is one of those few shops fully versed in and equipped for E-Type body repair–and every other facet of E-Type repair and restoration, for that matter.

Mechanical Needs


Mechanically, E-Types have few chronic vices, but again, the complexity can be daunting and they don’t tolerate inexperienced or heavy-handed technicians. Many cylinder heads are nearing the end of their service life and are often assembled incorrectly. Again, experience comes into play here. Luckily, overall parts availability is excellent, and new and better parts (many of them made by XKs Unlimited) hit the market frequently.

If you’re not concerned with absolute originality, there’s a host of quality upgrade parts available to enhance performance, reliability and comfort. Cooling systems are barely up to American driving conditions, so once the basics are sorted, an alloy radiator with a modern cooling fan (or fans, in the case of the V12s) can work wonders.

High-quality tune-up parts are finally available again, but electronic ignition conversions (or entirely new distributors) are popular upgrades. So are alternators that look like a generator for the 3.8-liter cars and our single-wire GM alternator upgrade for Series I 4.2 E-Types. To round out the electrical changes, we’ve sold thousands of LED dash bulbs for those who actually want to see their gauges at night.

Beyond bearings and seals, few major parts are available for either E-Type manual gearbox; five-speed transmission conversions eliminate that problem and enhance high-speed driving. It’s a rather laborious installation but entirely “bolt-in”- no cutting or welding required.

XKs Unlimited offers an assortment of suspension upgrades, from our adjustable torsion bar reaction plate to larger anti-sway bars, stiffer torsion bars and modern shock absorbers-er, dampers. Brakes can be upgraded to Wilwood alloy calipers and vented rear rotors.

E-Type owners are perhaps a bit older than they used to be, so a/c kits are popular sellers, and we now offer electronic power steering conversions.

But before contemplating any upgrades, make sure your E-Type is well exercised. And there’s only one way to do that: Get behind the wheel and get lost on your favorite canyon road. Happy motoring. 

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frenchyd HalfDork
10/25/17 3:47 p.m.

In reply to The Staff of Motorsport Marketing :with the cost of a Jaguar XKE out of the reach of your average subscriber , I think you should look for affordable alternatives.  

For example I have a few fiberglass molds for a XKE roadster.  It wouldn't be that hard to come up with bits and pieces to make it work like one.  Maybe not a street car with all the whistles and bells  but a vintage looking race car.  

Either use a six cylinder 4 liter Jaguar engine. Or the GM derivative the 4.2 

the hard part would be the suspension  since it's so narrow.  


NOHOME UltimaDork
10/27/17 12:37 p.m.

That was a nice canoe ride.laugh

volvoclearinghouse UltraDork
11/4/17 11:59 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

An XKE might be out of most of our price ranges, but decent MkII and 3.4 or 3.8S are more affordable and provide plenty of Jag style and performance.

frenchyd HalfDork
11/4/17 2:32 p.m.

In reply to volvoclearinghouse :

You are absolutely correct but why stop there?  XJ6 or 12,  XJS are also in that modest price range.    While offering grace, space, and pace.  

Ok  I stole that from a Jaguar advertisement

1/12/20 10:36 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

I have been building a lightweight XKE track car and am looking for glass fibre panels to lighten up the shell , fit wider competition wire wheels, and keep on budget.  Rebuilding and reinforcing the rusty shell has been so time consuming. ( I literally think I now have a solid tube frame reinforced structure that will accept a glass fibre monocoque skin) Would you be willing to share what panels or molds you have ?  Maybe there would be others interested in creating any missing molds to try and engage more participation at Jaguar club events. 

frenchyd PowerDork
1/13/20 3:52 p.m.

In reply to JohnJag :

I had everything except the rear half from the doors back , ( including the trunk lid) if I have a ratty old pattern I can make anything. And someone gets their ratty pattern slicked up with a coat of paint and 4 coats of wax back. 
To be fair, just the surface is smooth. Underneath the dents are roughed out and coated with bondo.  Any holes  are covered in cardboard, Bondo'd  and smoothed over.     To make a splash mold for a couple parts isn't hard.  Production molds where more than a few parts is a whole other kettle of fish.  But you can make the parts out of chopper gun( fast and heavy) hand layup of cloth  (not a whole lot more expensive)  or hand layup of carbon fiber.  Starts to get a little expensive. It's  not the lightest/ strongest  because I don't use prepeg and autoclave. 

I might,   if it's semi decent to start with, include a part out of the mold.  
Custom work to say widen the fenders in order to use wider tires probably includes some work on your part or some such trade.  

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