Amid today's great surfeit of automotive choice is a cruel irony: Cars are more alike than they've ever been, and our parking lots are melting pots of badge-engineered, generically styled sedan-SUV-sports car-crossover minivans. What happened to the characterful if unpredictable sports cars our dads were always swearing at in the garage? A lot of things, but mostly safety and reliability, features that certainly made cars better but also far, far less interesting.
Safety meant bigger, dumpier bodies. Reliability severed the bonds that tied men to their mechanics – those countless hours of Sisyphean wrench work. But buying investment-grade sports cars from the past can solve all that. They're appreciating assets that recapture the visceral motoring experience. If you're sick of driving roadsters that feel and sound like video games, sick of cars you can turn off and walk away from unaffected by the experience, read on.
Jaguar supposedly derived this car's lissome shape from a chalkboard full of mathematical formulas, and not, as it may appear, from the human Johnson. Whatever inspired its form, this car arrived at exactly the right time, in a just-beginning-to-swing Britain. No less than Austin Powers, an authority on intergender relations, chose one as his personal steed, which says just about everything you need to know about the typical buyer's priorities.
But the car became an icon, and no mere fad, because it was so good to drive. State-of-the-art items included a fast-acting double overhead-cam engine, sharp-handling fully independent rear suspension, and racing-derived inboard disc brakes. Most stunning, though, was the price: just $5,500, which seriously undercut the Astons and Ferraris of the day.
Jag made more than 50,000 E-type coupes and convertibles in three series over the car's 14-year lifespan. Our advice is to focus on the stylistically pure Series I cars, which ran from 1961 to 1968 and had a straight six engine in two displacements: first 3.8 ('61–'64), and then 4.2 liters ('65–'68). Later cars came with a V-12, which was "elaborate" (read: a pain in the ass to work on). Despite their smaller engines, the early Series I cars bring the most money.
What to watch out for: Complicated English cars might be the source of most of the world's divorces, and the E-type epitomizes all that can go wrong. Electrical gremlins are a big problem. The small mouth opening on the early cars failed to provide adequate cooling. Condensation can form inside the covered lights, and the dashboard is hard to maintain.
Resources: Jaguar E-type: The Definitive History, by Philip Porter; restoration advice: mossmotors.com
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