It was left in a corner to be junked, but Guy Griffiths, the father of vintage racing everywhere, talked the factory into selling it to him
|Vehicle:||1960 Jaguar E2A Le Mans|
|Original List Price:||N/A|
|SCM Valuation:||$5 million at least|
|Chassis Number Location:||Unknown|
|Engine Number Location:||On head between cams|
|Club Info:||Jaguar Drivers Club 18 Stuart St. Luton, Bedfordshire, LU1 2SL England|
This 1960 Jaguar E2A Le Mans Sports Racer sold for $4,957,000 at the Bonhams & Butterfields auction at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, California, on August 15, 2008.
I’m going to open with my thesis, then go back and explain how I got there. It is this: Jaguar’s E2A is an enormously significant car in terms of Jaguar’s racing heritage, but it is not a great one. As a one-off and not particularly successful prototype, it is neither the legendary D that came before nor the iconic lightweight E that was to follow. It’s more a footnote to Jaguar’s history than a glorious part of it.
As such, it had serious appeal and value at the auction, but to a limited number of potential purchasers, all of whom knew exactly why they wanted it and what they were willing to pay. So it was worth every penny of whatever the bid may have been when the last competing bidder dropped out-in this case just under $5 million. This was a classic example of an efficient market valuing an automobile that really has no comparables against which to weigh it, but not necessarily optimizing that value.
The story of E2A and the subsequent E-type begins in 1955, when the tragedy at Le Mans caused the organizers to reduce engine size for prototypes to 2.5 liters, beginning the following year. Though this didn’t affect the rest of the racing schedule, success at Le Mans was huge in Jaguar’s self image at the time, so thoughts of the eventual successor to the D-type turned to a 2.5-liter car. By early 1956, work was under way for a smaller, lighter car with a full monocoque chassis aft of the firewall (the D-type uses a tubular structure in the transmission tunnel to augment the resulting semi-monocoque chassis), with independent rear suspension and a 5-speed transmission. Jaguar was having a tough time selling the few D-types it had built, so the concept was to design a racer that could be practically upgraded to sell as a limited-production sports car. In Jaguar’s nomenclature, XK 120 “C” had stood for “competition,” and the D-type had succeeded it, so logically the new project was referred to as “E.”
Through 1956, the D-type remained splendidly competitive (it was determined to be a “production” car for Le Mans, taking 1st, 4th, and 6th at the race), so the new project remained mostly theoretical, but at the end of the season the decision was made to suspend factory racing. The Competition Department was renamed the “Prototype Department,” and there was more time to work on developing something to replace the D.
Marketing felt the car had to have a larger engine
The first prototype, E1A (“E” and “1” are obvious, the “A” stood for aluminum chassis), which has been described retrospectively as a “2/3-scale E-type,” first ran in May 1957 and was generally well liked, but with the racing program shut down, it was much more a 2.4-liter sports car than a racer and remained a low-priority project. Through 1958 and into 1959, an internal debate raged as to whether to return to racing, and if so with what sized car, but the consensus moved back to a larger car with 3- or 3.8-liter power. Racing engine size had stabilized at 3 liters, and the project was increasingly driven by the need for a viable production sports car, which the marketing people felt had to have a larger engine.
By the end of 1959, several steel-chassis production prototype cars had been built, and Jaguar decided to construct an aluminum competition version for testing purposes, designated E2A. It was completed and test-driven at the end of February 1960, with an experimental aluminum-block 3-liter engine (effectively a short-stroke 3.4) and a 4-speed D-type transmission. The real purpose of the car was to serve as a test bed for the new independent rear suspension in racing conditions, but Briggs Cunningham happened by the factory and liked what he saw. He convinced Lyons to allow him to enter it at Le Mans, first at the test weekend in April and then the race itself in June.
The E2A Le Mans was not a success. It had virtually no development time when it showed up, and while the chassis worked well after some adjustments, the engine didn’t work as an injected 3-liter. It made excellent horsepower but was very fragile, and the Lucas fuel injection was undependable. The car retired with engine failure inside an hour on the test weekend and at less than a third of the race distance.
After Le Mans, Jaguar took the car back and replaced the engine with the well-proven carbureted 3.8, then shipped it to the U.S. for Cunningham to run in the fall races. Though it didn’t break, it was not competitive and was sent back to England after failing to qualify at Laguna Seca. It was used as a test bed for a while before being left in a corner to be junked. Guy Griffiths, arguably the originator and godfather of vintage racing everywhere, talked the factory into selling it to him, and he kept it until now.
It’s not a car anyone will use very much
So here we are. Though unquestionably important, it never approached greatness in its time; at best it was a step in the path. Even with a mechanical restoration, it’s not a car anyone will use very much (as opposed to Cs and Ds that you could drive daily if you wanted). Rather, it’s more something to finish the set-the jack of spades to complete a royal flush of Jaguar collecting-than something to own by itself.
This creates an interesting situation. The reality of auctions is that the final price is not set by the seller or the successful buyer, but by the last competitor to drop out. There is a bit of an urban legend around our hobby, that of two (or more) swaggering checkslingers facing off at an auction for some unattainable heartthrob to see who will remain standing as the price skyrockets and the weak are dragged away.
Though that undoubtedly happens and will happen again, it won’t be for a car like this. This E2A Le Mans Sports Racer was purchased carefully by a person who had good reason to own it. We have no idea how the winning bidder may have valued the car or what the price may have gone to, we only know that the underbidder wouldn’t go past $5 million to own it.
Weeks before the auction, my sources told me that it should sell for about halfway between current market for a good D-type and a great D-type, which these days is right about $5 million. That’s where the bidding stalled, even though the expectation was that it should go for much more. Could it or should it have gone higher? We can never know. I suggest that in this circumstance the auction process served the buyer better than the seller by bringing a thoughtful price rather than an emotional one. I’d say very well bought.