Sir William Lyons’ leadership allowed Jaguar to flourish. He had appointed the gifted engineer, pilot and racing technical wizard Frank RW “Lofty” England to lead the company’s racing department. Applying his experience working with Tim Birkin’s team and the Blower Bentley cars, as well as Prince Bira’s White Mouse Stable, in preparing his ERA race cars, Lofty’s management of the Jaguar Works team is worthy of careful study to this day. He ran the team with hard-nosed authority and discipline, and demanded strict adherence to his orders from his staff and drivers.
Upon the release of the E-type in 1961, which was the runaway hit of the Geneva Motor Show that year, Jaguar found itself in the spotlight of the world’s automotive stage. By this time, with his racing days behind him, Lofty was Jaguar’s assistant managing director under Sir Lyons. Seizing the importance of the model’s launch, Lofty handpicked the first fortunate owners of the E-type, including high-profile race drivers and well-known celebrities.
The first two numbered cars were prototypes, solely used for internal testing; chassis 850003, registered 77 RW, was famously dispatched to the Geneva Motor Show and, following an all-night drive, provided rides to reporters who were beguiled by the E-type. Lofty allocated himself the next right-hand-drive roadster, chassis 850004, the car offered here. Famously registered as 1600 RW, it was the very first production E-type to be sold.
Lofty drove 850004 as his personal car and loaned it on several occasions for press coverage and publicity events, and it appeared in numerous print articles in 1961. It became a familiar sight in various racing paddocks, and racer Graham Hill was photographed with it, wearing the day’s laurels of a victory in another E-type. Lofty later sold the roadster to his friend Thomas EB “Tommy” Sopwith, founder of Equipe Endeavour, the British Saloon Car Championship team. Sopwith drove the Jaguar for several years before selling it to noted race driver Michael Parkes. By 1971, 1600 RW was in need of reconditioning and was taken to KS Mather Engineering in St. Helens, U.K., for extensive work. Mr. Mather later assumed ownership in 1975, and it was to remain in his shop in a disassembled and deteriorated state until it was sold to the current owner in 2002. Soon thereafter, 1600 RW was entrusted to the renowned Classic Motor Cars Ltd. in Shropshire, U.K., for a painstaking multi-year, concours-level restoration in its as-delivered colors. Today, this immensely important Jaguar appears as it did when the public first laid eyes on it. As the first E-type ever sold, the significance of 1600 RW to collectors and enthusiasts of the Jaguar marque is beyond measure.
|Vehicle:||1961 Jaguar E-Type 3.8 Convertible|
|Years Produced:||1961 (outside-latch, welded-louver cars)|
|Number Produced:||200 convertibles, 24 coupes (approximate)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$300|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate in right side bonnet shut, and stamped in chassis near right front shock top mount|
|Engine Number Location:||Chassis plate, and stamped in rear face of cam-chain tower on cylinder head|
|Club Info:||Jaguar Clubs of North America, Jaguar E-type Club|
|Alternatives:||1953–63 AC Ace/Aceca, 1957–64 Maserati 3500GT/Spyder, 1963–67 Chevrolet Corvette|
This car, Lot 22, sold for $1,155,229 (£911,250), including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s London, U.K., auction on September 1, 2023.
This seven-figure Jaguar E-type sale is all about the early provenance conferred by very low chassis numbers. And at the sharp end of the scale — in the first 10, 20 or even 50 E-types produced — it’s about the very low numbers themselves. Series 1 E-type convertibles with the steering wheel on the right side, where it was intended, start with 85 (to 850943) and our car is 850004. Right-hand-drive coupes run from 86 (to 861799), left-drive convertibles 87 (to 881887) and left-drive coupes 885001 to 890873.
Though the soon-superseded features of outside-bonnet latches, flat floors and welded-in bonnet louvers make the first E-types uglier and less user-friendly than later cars, they mark out their hosts as being among the earliest examples built. Only 500 outside-latch cars were made before the latches were moved inside into the door shuts; these include 476 convertibles (properly, Open Two-Seaters in Jaguar-speak) of which 385 were left-hand drive and 91 right-handed, plus 24 fixed-head coupes, of which only four were right-handers. Dropped floorpans were adopted to provide more room for feet — a race-inspired mod — after customers complained. The welded-in louvered sections in the front clamshell, which provide engine cooling, were a pain to manufacture. They were no less so to replicate, as you must take a perfectly good bonnet and chop holes in it. Such is the perversity of the market that these are the cars that are most desirable to collectors, and therefore command the highest prices. Generally, the smaller the number on the chassis, the bigger the number in the price.
This one more so, as it was used in-house by Jaguar before being the first E-type sold to a customer, even if that customer was one of the “friends and inner circle.” Following many years disassembled and out of sight, it eventually re-emerged in 2021 following a lengthy and exhaustive restoration, bright as a new pin.
Fresh from that restoration, both this and the 1961 fixed-head coupe “1 VHP” (which has the chassis number 860001 and was the first right-hand-drive coupe to be built) were offered in the same sale. The coupe (immediately preceding this lot and consigned from the same vendor) and convertible took part in a birthday run to celebrate 60 years since the E-type was unveiled to the public at the opening of the 31st Geneva Motor Show on March 17, 1961. The run was organized by the cars’ restorer, Classic Motor Cars of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, which had also masterfully unravelled the wreckage of the same owner’s “Lindner/Nocker” Lightweight racer.
Estimated at £900k–£1.2m, our E-type convertible hammered for a world-record £810,000 ($1,155,229). This was slightly more than the unsold high bid for the coupe, for which the owner paid just £1, pre-restoration in 2000. That car has a better-documented history than this one’s, which was “lost” for many years, but it did not sell at a lower £800k high bid against an estimate of £1m–£1.4m.
Dollars over pounds
Why did our car sell lower than estimate and the other, arguably rarer artifact, not at all? A million quid for any E-type — a car that looked to have remarkable value when new yet was always buoyed along by its gorgeous shape — is always going to be a big ask. Twin overhead cams aside, an E-type is not as exotic as a V12 Ferrari, and regular examples sell for roughly a quarter of the price of an Aston DB5 in similar condition. I suggest that the estimates at this sale were ambitious, and that on this occasion the buyers simply weren’t there. Some of the other big hitters at Hampton Court, such as the DB5 convertible and DB2/4 Indiana Spider, the Fiat 8V berlinetta and the two Porsche 356 GS Carreras, failed to sell too.
Perhaps one of the Monterey sales would have been the place to find the big money, but maybe California-based Gooding & Company liked the idea of selling the cars in their home country? As it stands, the market has now priced one of them. The no-sale may be a difficult yoke to shake off. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)