At the Monterey auctions this year, roadster-bodied Series I Jaguar E-types that were brilliantly restored were selling for $75,000 to $100,000. Yet at the same auction, a Series I E-type coupe in similar condition sold for less than $30,000. For the motoring enthusiast, as opposed to the investor, this anomaly is one of the great bargains in the marketplace.
In 1961, when Sir William Lyons introduced the replacement for the long-in-the-tooth XK 150, the E-type coupe was the car on the display stand. It was an instant sensation, recognized by the automotive press as an exceptionally pure form of automotive design.
In addition to the graceful body style, the E-type coupe offered a comfortable, leather-trimmed interior, adequate luggage space accessible through a convenient rear hatch, and the ability to cruise all day on the new divided highways at speeds above 100 mph. The roadster was introduced later, with its drop-top coming at the expense of all-weather comfort and luggage space.
The coupes, like the roadsters, offered four-wheel independent suspension under the monocoque body. The engine was easy to work on because the entire nose of the car tilted forward. The rear suspension was assembled in a single unit that could be removed to service the inboard disc brakes and other components.
Most Jaguar aficionados believe that the Series I E-types are the quintessential version of this sleek sports car. Between 1961 and 1967, a number of improvements were made to the car without changing the elegant styling. In 1964 the original 3.8-liter engine was upgraded to 4.2 liters and the engine was modified to improve cooling. The flat floor and minimalist seats were changed to provide better interior comfort. The dash trim, originally pebbled aluminum that rapidly lost its new look, was replaced with vinyl. Sadly, in 1968 the covered headlamps and triple SU carbs were lost to zealous US regulators when the Series II E-type was introduced.
So why today does the coupe sell at such a discount to the convertible? The answer is that most of us buy our hobby cars for sunny weekends, show fields, and short cruises. Our collector cars are rarely driven in bad weather, and seldom on long trips. Because of this, the driving enthusiast who really wants to use his car can come out on top. The coupe is really a better car in every way than the roadster, except that you'll have to use a blow dryer to muss your hair, and go to a tanning booth to singe your skin. The coupe's chassis is more taut, resulting in better handling, and no roadster soft top, no matter how well fit, will ever equal the weathertightness of a closed car.
Because of the low market value relative to the roadster, the E-type buyer should be especially careful to buy the very best example that can be found, with particular attention paid to body condition. The hood is especially vulnerable to damage, and expensive to get right if it needs repair. Mechanical problems are less critical, but if the clutch has to be replaced, the entire drivetrain has to be dropped to get to it. Overall, if you don't need a top that goes down, this coupe may be the best bargain in the sports car market.