The Story of the E1A

The Experimental Car That Preceded The E-Type

Norman Dewis on the steering pan at MIRA with the E1A on a very early outing.

Though the Jaguar D-type was very successful on the motor sport scene, by 1956, after just two years in competition, it was in need of replacement.  Other manufacturers had developed their designs to rival the D-type.  William Heynes, Jaguar Chief Engineer, gave Malcolm Sayer the task of producing a replacement, but it had to be a model that could fulfil the racing requirements and one that could also take-over the XK 140 mantle as Jaguar’s road-going sports car.  E1A is an important element in Jaguar’s racing programme and then evolved into what would lead to the E-Type.

Bob Blake, a key member of the Experimental Department with an expertise in hand-crafting body panels, left a note dated 30 January 1956 from a meeting with Heynes and the rest of the department.  Item nine on the Agenda was the discussion of a ‘2½ litre engine in a ‘D’ type car.  The engine to give 200 hp at 7,500 rpm and a top speed of 180 mph.’  Blake annotated that it would have an ‘aluminium block [engine] with lighter brakes and wheels and a new body to be 6” lower.’

Philip (Phil) Weaver, Workshop Superintendent, but like others at Jaguar he had several titles, also noted the car in an earlier memo under the title: ‘Models for Le Mans’.   One of which was the 3½ Litre Production ‘D’ Type and the other a 2½ Litre Prototype.  He wrote about the latter: ‘Two courses are open to us on this car – one is to design a prototype as small and light as is practically possible and run it purely for one season as a prototype only.’ He went on to add that, ‘…it is likely that next year [1956] we shall be faced with a proposition which permits only cars of 2½ litre capacity in all categories.  This would mean we could possibly run the 2½ litre car as a prototype.  It might be advisable to consider making the prototype car in such a manner that it would have at least a limited demand [as a production model] in a better equipped version for purposes other than racing.  In this case the closed type body would seem to be the most satisfactory answer.’

Following the January 1956 meeting Heynes gave Tom Jones, who had worked on the C- and D-types and was one of Jaguar’s key engineers, the task of producing a worthy successor to the victorious D-type.  Tom Jones remembered that Heynes wanted the car – given the suffix E – ready for Le Mans in 1956, which gave Jones and his team a scant six months to design, build and test the new model.  We must note at this point that when the letter ‘C’ was used for the C-type, it stood for ‘XK 120 Competition’.  Naturally, when the C-type took on such a high profile its successor was given the prefix ‘D’.  There is nothing to suggest that Jaguar was now going to work its way through the alphabet to identify models, even though ‘F-Type’ has since been used in two incarnations.

In 1956, ‘E’ was a letter used as a natural follow-on to ‘D’ but it also represented ‘Experimental‘ in which department the new model would take shape.  Confusion in the past has taken this ‘E’ to stand for ‘E-Type’ and anything with an ‘E’ prefix has been crowded onto the ‘E-Type Programme’ regardless of the circumstances.  Work proceeded with Malcolm Sayer providing the body shape.  He was an aerodynamicist – he disliked being called a ‘stylist’ – and his calculations were developed by Heynes who produced the necessary technical drawings for the car to be hand-built.  All the chassis and other engineering aspects were left to Jones, Blake and the department.  The late Norman Dewis told me about this stage.  “What was being produced was a sort of hybrid of the D-type.  It was because the ‘old man’ [Lyons] wanted a very fast sports car that had to fit in with Jaguar’s image.  This model was a low-key prototype following on the D-type.”

Unfortunately, no photographs were taken of this all-aluminium Experimental prototype.  Norman recalled that it was fitted with a 2.4 litre engine and carried an early version of the independent rear suspension designed by Robert (Bob) Knight.  Norman also remembered that this prototype was running and was tested but it was not really a finished vehicle.  “Tom and the boys had not been given enough time to get a proper Le Mans car made in a few months.  That was why we ran the D-types for 1956.”   The use of a small engine was dictated by the Le Mans authorities’ decision to limit capacity to 3.0 litres.  Meanwhile, after some testing this prototype was broken up.

Jaguar Bows out of Motor Racing

At the end of 1956 Jaguar decided to withdraw from motor racing, even though they had some remarkable wins at Le Mans and elsewhere with the C- and D-types and looked unbeatable.  However, motor racing is expensive and ties up the resources of a company, not only financially but also in terms of engineering workforce time.  Between 1945 and 1955 Jaguar had grown considerably in the motoring market with the success of the XK 120 and the six-cylinder XK engine which had guaranteed the marque a new audience.  Building on this William Lyons had introduced the Mark VII saloon further enhancing the brand.

With the Mark VII and XK 120 (soon to be replaced by the XK 140), Jaguar could not give motor sport the close attention it required.  Besides, Lyons was already steering the brand to a new market with the ‘Utah’ project for a small unitary saloon which was taking up a great deal of his time.  Naturally, the engineering department, under Heynes, was also closely involved with the Utah programme.  The 2.4 litre XK engined Jaguar saloon was unveiled in 1955 and went into production the following year; it was a success and moved Jaguar further away from running their own racing team.  Any thoughts by some at Jaguar who thought they could keep an in-house team going were probably dismissed when a serious fire at Browns Lane in February 1957 took its toll.  The destruction included the proposed run of XK-SS two-seaters and held up production, for a short time, of the XK 140, new 3.4-litre unitary saloon and Mark VIII saloon.  Undaunted, Jaguar forged ahead and resumed full production within a few weeks.  Any racing of Jaguar cars was left to private entrants, many of whom were given engineering support by the Company.

However, if Jaguar was out of motor sport was there a need for a purpose-built sports-racing car?  How many would they sell and would it be profitable?  Lyons was a businessman, he knew the value of keeping the name Jaguar in the public eye but he also knew the real costs of maintaining a stable of racing cars.  He had seen other small manufacturers come to grief following the lure of motor sport and was firm in keeping the Company out of racing.

Second Version

With the pressure of getting a Le Mans car ready out of the way, Malcolm Sayer revised the design, Heynes got on with the drawings and Tom Jones, Phil Weaver, Bob Blake, Derrick White and the team worked on the chassis and other mechanical aspects.  An insight into Sayer’s method of working may be gauged from something Tom Jones recalled: “I gave Mr Sayer the wheelbase length, chassis details and engine height.  That allowed him to work on how to design the body around the established mechanicals.”

It was in December 1956 that Malcolm Sayer started work on the body design of a small two-seat car that followed the style of the D-type.  However, Sayer further refined the aerodynamics of the D-type with more emphasis paid to the air flow over the bonnet, wheel arches and cockpit area.  There are elements of the XP/11 C-D one-off car from 1953 in the new design, which had been completed on paper by the end of 1956.  Sayer had arrived at a body style that had potential and one that he would continue to develop through to the actual E-type prototypes.  Along with Sayer, Heynes, Knight and Jones continued their work on the engineering aspects of the car with Phil Weaver supervising the overall build.

Norman Dewis on the steering pan at MIRA with the E1A on a very early outing. The car has trade plates and no lights fitted. The smooth front-hinged bonnet is seen to advantage.

Early in 1957 Bob Blake was given the task of constructing the body on chassis XK 101 – an out of sequence number allocated to the Experimental department.  There was no designation given to this model and it was generally referred to in-house as ‘E1A(E for Experimental Type 1 A for Aluminium or Alloy); the name stuck and was shortened to ‘E-type’ by the workers and thus it has been spuriously credited as the ‘Prototype E-Type’. 

By this time Lyons had already developed the XK 150 as the latest incarnation of the XK 120, using much of the existing tooling, and it was about to be released. 

Overall the E1A measured 14 ft 2 in (five inches longer than the D-type) with a wheelbase of 7 ft 11½ in and followed the under-body structure of its predecessor.  That is it had a central monocoque tub with a non-detachable alloy framework like the D-type.  The frame did not penetrate the body but was bolted on to the front bulkhead.  On the earliest D-types the tub and tubing were welded together; the front frame being of light alloy.  This proven build method for the chassis worked and there was no reason to alter it.

This new car was also narrower (5 ft 3 ins) with a front track of 4 ft, and lower than the D-types; under the forward-opening (like the D-type) bonnet was a 120 bhp short-block 2.4 litre XK engine with two SU HD8 2 in carburettors.  The engine had been in use in a 2.4 litre saloon car operated by the Experimental Department, and most likely was the same engine that had been used in the earlier aluminium prototype.  Being smaller, (not as tall as a 3.4 litre unit) this engine did not require the bonnet bulge that had been evident on the D-types. 

The basic cockpit with bare metal and rivets in evidence.
The E1A was an experimental test car and there was no room for luxury. Steering wheel and instruments are standard items that would have been found in the workshops.

So far everything used in the E1A was standard Jaguar with parts sourced as required from the parts store.  For example it had rear lamps taken from the D-type; instruments and steering wheel from existing stock.  No headlamps were fitted and the rudimentary front screen wrapped around with low side panels attached to the top of the doors and a small low panel on the rear body aft of the door.  It was very much in the style of the D-type and could well have been adapted from a stock screen from the Competition Department. 

The various external panels gave the E1A a smooth finish but evidence of the many rivets holding it all together was quite evident in the interior.  There was no trim, apart from the seats which Norman remembered as: “…probably from a C or a D and there were no carpets.  The transmission tunnel was uncovered and got hot, later we covered that with some trim.  The exhaust was routed like the C and D, it was short and exited below the nearside door.”  All-in-all the two-seater must be regarded as an experimental test model to be used in developing some of the various engineering projects then being considered.

One of these was the revised independent rear suspension system from Bob Knight, but now with the wheel hubs carried by twin swinging links, while the differential was mounted directly to a steel reinforced section.  In trials this arrangement transmitted noise and vibration to the rest of the car and rubber mounts, similar to those used in the engine bay, were introduced in an attempt to cure the problems.  Knight had joined Jaguar in 1944 as a technical assistant in the drawing office and had worked on all the mainstream models as well as those from the Experimental and Competitions departments.  Jaguar had already experimented with independent suspension on all four wheels during the Second World War with two Wally Hassan designed utility vehicles but they were not developed further than the initial prototype stage.  After the war both the Mark V and XK 120 had independent front suspension but it was only after the arrival of Knight that a fully-independent rear suspension (IRS) became a reality.

By 15 May 1957 the E1A was running at Browns Lane, the engine had been bench-tested and two days later William Heynes took the E1A out, with trade plate 164 WK, around the local area and on to the nearby by-pass to record 25 miles.  In the evening William Lyons drove the car out of the factory gates into Browns Lane and tried it out on the roads leading to and from the area, he logged nine miles.  On his return he handed the car back to Ted Brookes who had been given the responsibility of looking after the E1A on a day-today basis.  Brookes took the car on an extended run of 55 miles on 22 May before it was back to be checked over and made ready to be taken to the MIRA test track near Nuneaton.  On 23 May Brookes signed the E1A as ‘complete’ and on the following day Norman Dewis drove E1A, still unpainted, through a series of tests at MIRA before the car was taken back to Browns Lane to be painted Pastel Green, a standard Jaguar colour. It was also registered VKV 752 and to comply with lighting regulations was given two small sidelights, probably from a C- or D-type, which were mounted on either side of the cockpit by the windscreen.

Trials continued at MIRA and in 13 June Jaguar’s in-house photographer, Bill Large, was in attendance.  He took a series of black-and-white still photographs but it would appear that no prints or negatives have survived. Attempts to locate these images have been made over the years but without success.  Following the trials at MIRA the car was back at Browns Lane on 16 June to have the front and rear suspension units revised.  The following day Dewis and Weaver took E1A back to MIRA for more testing.  Malcolm Sayer was also among those present for some of the tests.  Norman drove E1A at an average speed of 110 mph on the banked track and attained a top speed of 130 mph.  These trials were mostly to check brakes and tyres with Dunlop engineers also in attendance.  One major problem thrown up from these tests was the IRS system.  It was quite clear that while it worked it was not ideal being fixed directly to the body of the car as it caused vibration and noise that made driving difficult.  The decision to make the E1A into a road-going Jaguar sports car dates from around this time but the IRS had to be sorted out.  The only solution was to isolate the IRS and Heynes and Knight set about designing a cage to contain the suspension, the differential and the inboard-located rear wheel brakes.  The cage was then to be fixed to the body by four angled rubber backed mountings, two on each side. 

Other Drivers

Though well-known it is worth reproducing this picture of E1A taken by Christopher Jennings. He was trusted by Sir William Lyons and given the (rare) opportunity to test a secret experimental model by someone not employed by Jaguar Cars.

Apart from Norman Dewis others also drove the new Jaguar and on 4 July 1957 racing drivers Archie Scott-Brown and Ivor Bueb tested the E1A at the MIRA track.  Their report to Heynes was favourable but they commented on the overall handling of the car as needing work.  On 19 July Norman was back at MIRA with the car for brake and tyre tests; Sayer was in attendance and some key personnel from Dunlop were also present. 

After this outing the trail of the E1A goes cold and we next hear about it from the Editor of ‘The Motor’ magazine, Christopher Jennings MBE.  By which time it had been given a 3.0 litre XK engine and further tweaks to the suspension.  

Another picture taken by Christopher Jennings of ‘The Motor’ magazine when he drove E1A from Browns Lane to his farm in Wales, where this photograph was taken.

Jennings had spoken to Sir William Lyons (he had been knighted in 1956) about a test route he used between Brecon and Carmarthen in Wales where he lived.  He informed Lyons that he had made the fastest run with an Aston Martin; this could not get past Sir William and, as Jennings later recalled: “Sir William said he had a proposition to make.  It was that he would lend my wife and myself a prototype of an entirely new model [and] we should then make the run with a view to comparing it with the Aston Martin and other fast vehicles driven on that route.”  In May 1958 Jennings collected the two-seater from the factory, and drove it home to Kidwelly. “On Sunday morning soon after 7 am in perfect conditions we made a 20 mile warm-up run and then ‘had a go’.  The result was almost fantastic.”  They averaged just over 70 mph from Carmarthen to Llandovery and over the 48.5 mile route in those balmy days they averaged 67.7 mph beating the Aston’s time.  “At no time did we exceed 120 mph.” 

Margaret Jennings, who had driven for SS Cars before World War Two, is seen seated in the E1A on the way from Coventry to Wales. The small lights installed below the windscreen are clearly visible. The wraparound screen is also worthy of note.

Mrs Jennings (née Allen) had driven for SS Cars before the war and had kept in touch with the Company, which is probably why they were trusted with this experimental car.  Jennings reported his findings in a confidential memo, dated 14 May 1958, to his managing director at Temple Press, R. E. Dangerfield.  The entire memo makes interesting reading but is too long to reproduce here.  Interestingly, by this time the first ‘proper’ E-Type prototype, which was shown to Jennings, had been running for two months and the E1A was being regarded as part of the on-going test programme for the new Jaguar. Jennings concluded that the car he tested was a “…potential world beater.”

With the isolated rear suspension the rear bodywork was subjected to a redesign, there now appeared two air intakes aft of the cockpit which directed cooling air to the inboard-mounted brakes and was joined with an underbody air scoop for rear axle cooling, there were exit ducts added on the lower bodywork below the boot.  Norman drove this version of the E1A at Silverstone where Bob Large made a short 16 mm colour film.  The film clearly shows the air intakes as noted above.  The registration VKV 752 does not appear and in its place the trade plate 070 DU was carried.  As the car was now being primed as the prototype for a road-going model Jaguar needed more feedback.  They already had Mr Jennings’s report but a different driver was required, to this end England called on his old friend Mike Hawthorn.

Hawthorn sampled the E1A and sent his report to England; on 10 July 1958 England sent a memo to Sir William, William Heynes and Phil Weaver.  By the time Hawthorn had the car it was fitted with a 3.0 litre alloy engine.  He noted that he only used ‘3 – 4 gears, engine performance good; handling in corners lacking, due to initial understeer changing to over-steer, car weaving under heavy braking, severe wheel spin out of corners under power, steering lacks feel.’  He goes on to add that he completed six laps at an average time of 1.49 per lap and for a return of nine miles to the gallon. ‘To improve lap times suspension must be stiffened and the roll-stiffener sorted out to overcome the change from under-steer to over-steer.’  Hawthorn thought the steering should be improved and the column raised to give more space for a tall driver.  ‘Clearance between wheel rim and wind-screen on right-hand side is inadequate; gearbox cowling against driver’s leg needs heat insulation.’  The caster angles were increased and the front wheels and tyres were changed, which improved steering and handling.  ‘The brakes are not ideal for racing and a five-speed gearbox would be advantageous and in reality a necessity.’

This report, which is too long to be reproduced here, was circulated by England and many of Hawthorn’s comments were acted upon.  However, by this time the first E-Type prototype was on test, so the E1A was used for other trials, for example a 4HU drive with ZF differential replaced the 3HU unit and the rear end strengthened which appears as a hump on the rear decking in some later film (shot by Large) of Dewis driving at MIRA. 

This is a very late (and poor) image of the E1A probably en route to Silverstone.
The rear air intakes and the hump to strengthen the rear body may be seen.

In November 1958 the ‘…engine removed to investigate a loss of oil pressure – crankcase fractured on four main bearing webs.’  It would appear that the car was back at MIRA for trials after this but the last note about the E1A, dated 3 December 1958, reads: ‘Tests abandoned because of bad weather.’  Soon afterwards William Heynes ordered the E1A to be broken up and the various panels sold off to Jaguar’s main scrap dealer in Kenilworth.  That was the end of the trail for this interesting car which started life as a potential Le Mans entry and then showed the way for Jaguar to change their conception of what a sports car should be like. 

Christopher Jennings was quite right when he wrote that the E1A had the ‘potential to be a world beater’. 

Author: François Prins

© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (except where stated)