The Story of the E2A

E for Exciting Experiment

Conceived as a one-off competition car, the Jaguar E2A was an interesting concept from Browns Lane’s Experimental Department.

Jaguar may have pulled out of racing in 1956 but William Lyons and William Heynes never forgot the value that competition-winning brought to the sales of production cars.  Jaguar was busy with the small saloon, the Mark VIII and XK150, but there were sketches of a prototype two-seater sports car in existence by the end of 1956.  Early the following year the body was being constructed in the Experimental Department.  This unit was led by William Heynes and  included, Bob Blake, Tom Jones, Bob Knight and stylist Malcolm Sayer, with Phil Weaver managing the building of the car.

Starting with the basics of the D-type body shape, though the wheelbase was a few inches longer, the hand-crafted aluminium body enclosed a 2.4-litre short-stroke XK engine equipped with twin 2-inch SU carburettors.  No headlamps were fitted so the airflow over the bonnet was quite smooth and efficient.  Like the D-type, small locking handles were fitted to either side of the engine cover which opened from the scuttle.  No door handles were fitted, this to keep the body simple and to maintain a smooth airflow.  The general construction followed that of the D type with a combination of a tubular frame and monococque body.  However, unlike the D-type, the car was fitted with independent rear suspension, designed by Bob Knight.  He would refine the system over the following years when it would become standard in Jaguar production cars from 1961.

The small unpainted two-seater, with chassis number XK 101, was made ready for testing.  It was not given a name but was referred to by its body number of E1A within the Company.  This close relative of the D-type made its initial run on 15 May 1957 at Browns Lane; two days later Heynes and Lyons both drove the car around the roads near the factory.  Norman Dewis and Ted Brookes took E1A on its first proper test runs at the MIRA facility at Lindley.  It would appear that the car was still unpainted at this stage and did not receive its Pastel Green colour scheme until the end of May.  Testing of the E1A, which was sometimes referred to as ‘E’ Type No 1, continued throughout 1957 and well into the following year.  Something that did emerge during the trials was the need to spread the distribution of loads into the body by mounting the final drive, complete with lower wishbone attachments, on a separate sub-frame which would be secured to the body. This solved many problems, especially noise, and would be further refined. Various improvements to the handling were made and trials continued before the car was broken up at Browns Lane early in 1959.

The unpainted E2A at Le Mans for practice in April 1960, the numberplate was inherited from the E1A.
The tall figure standing in the centre is Lofty England

Meanwhile, work on a second model was in progress by the Experimental Department.  Building commenced on 1 January 1960 on a one-off competition car, although at the time there was no clear indication that Jaguar would re-enter the race scene.  This car was very much like the D-type with a slightly longer nose and the rear monococque adapted to take the independent rear suspension unit.  The body had an open cockpit with two doors, unlike the D-type, and there were air intakes in the body above the rear wheels for cooling the brakes.  It was fitted with a 3-litre fuel-injected XK engine developing nearly 300 bhp and driving an aluminium-cased five-speed gearbox. 

Ted Brookes, who was in charge of the building of the car, now listed as ‘E2A’, noted that the car was ready for road testing on Saturday 27 February 1960.  The next day it was driven around the factory site and later that same day William Heynes drove it out of the factory gates, along Browns Lane and up to the by-pass and back.  He appeared satisfied and the E2A was taken to the MIRA track early on the Monday morning.  Norman Dewis was not that impressed with the first drives at MIRA and had a long list of suggestions on how the E2A could be improved.  At this stage, Briggs Cunningham entered the picture.

This former US racing driver and car builder had no racing team in 1960, but he had brought his lead driver, Walter Hansgen and his exceptional mechanic Alfred Momo to England.  Dewis met the trio that Monday and they discussed various racing matters.  In the past, Jaguar had supplied or loaned Cunningham D-types which had all been carefully prepared by the factory.  Cunningham wanted to compete at Le Mans in 1960 but had no suitable car, he asked Lyons if he could help out and in turn Lyons asked Heynes to see what he could do.  The upshot was that it was decided to loan Cunningham the E2A, which would now be prepared for the notoriously taxing 24-hours race.  With a definite goal for this private venture car – which was never intended for serious competition  –  testing shifted into high gear and every problem encountered was dealt with.

Resplendent in Briggs Cunningham’s race colours and with the fin attached, the E2A is seen just inside the Jaguar factory with the Browns Lane entrance visible behind.

Intensive testing at MIRA was carried out during February and March and gradually the hand-built E2A was fettled.  The five-speed gearbox, which was troublesome, was changed for a four-speed all-synchromesh D-type unit and the original engine, which had been prone to misfire at 5,000 rpm was replaced.  Tyres, suspension, anti-roll bars and a myriad of smaller items all came under scrutiny and were all tested to the limit.  With the Le Mans practice scheduled for the weekend of 8 April, the E2A was not as race-prepared as it should have been but it was made ready and taken over to France in its unpainted state.  By this time the raised headrest had been given a D-type fin, which was taken off for some of the practice straight line runs for comparison purposes.  Once the practice weekend was over the E2A was returned to Browns Lane and painted in Briggs Cunningham’s US racing colours of white and blue.

At Le Mans practice, Hansgen achieved a lap time of 4 min 8.4 secs in E2A, this against Phil Hill’s Ferrari at 3 min 58.5 secs.  Initially, Ed Crawford had been teamed up with Walt Hansgen for Le Mans, but he was replaced by Formula 1 BRM driver Dan Gurney for the race.  Norman Dewis was put down as a reserve driver. 

Dan Gurney recalled E2A:  “The drive in that Jaguar was a big pearl for me,  and it was a privilege to be sharing it with Walt Hansgen, one of my heroes.  But we had had some difficulty with the car’s handling.  It was new, this was its first race, and the Jaguar engineers running it regarded Le Mans as their specialty.

Hangsen or Gurney on the Mulsanne 1960 (Tony Brown)

“But at first that car had been difficult to drive just down the straightaway. The least disturbance would send it into a series of tank slappers.  My co-driver Walter Hansgen was such a faithful Jaguar man he didn’t criticise, but I guess I was only interested in trying to win.  I felt that if we left the car the way it was and it rained, we’d be in real trouble.  So I made myself unpopular by tenaciously asking ‘Can’t we find why it is doing this?’ with Walter standing quietly like it didn’t bother him.  Through my constant questioning we finally found that they’d set up the car at the MIRA test ground with a fair amount of toe-out on the rear wheels.  If the car leaned just a little, one way or the other, it was leaning on a wheel which would direct the tail in a different direction.  We got them to change it, and it became a normal, good handling car.”

A rare colour photograph of E2A taken at Bridgehampton where Walt Hansgen took first place to give the car its only race win.

Initially, Hansgen took the Jaguar into third place but it had to make a pit stop after the third lap and could not get back with the race leaders.  After 89 laps the E2A retired with a head gasket failure and a burnt piston.  Following the showing at Le Mans the E2A was shipped back to Browns Lane and, though he was disappointed not to have won in France, Cunningham liked the car and asked Heynes if he could borrow it for a race in the USA. 

Jaguar fitted it with a 3.8-litre XK engine and in August it was dispatched to New York,  where Cunningham immediately entered it for a minor event at Bridgehampton,  Long Island, which Hansgen won in the E2A.

The Cunningham team then prepared the Jaguar for the challenging Road America ‘500’ on the Elkhart Lake road circuit in Wisconsin.  A spare fuel tank was installed in the rear boot area behind the spare wheel to give a total of 46 gallons; the plan was to make one fuel stop and transfer fuel from the auxiliary to main tank after 22 laps.  Walt Hansgen was soon in second place behind a Ferrari driven by Augie Pabst.  Sadly, the E2A dropped to third place and at the end of the race there were just six gallons of fuel remaining in the tank.

The major West Coast professional road races followed, the big-money Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside, and the Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.  Neither circuit was at all ideal for the E2A, but Times GP promoter Glenn Davis had invested $5,000 in newly crowned double-World Champion Jack Brabham’s presence, and he was seeking a high-profile car for him.  Briggs Cunningham recalled: “The Jaguar factory board heard about this and they got very eager to have Jack drive a Jaguar because it was a great chance to publicise the (forthcoming) new E-Type.  We had E2A in New York, but it belonged to the factory, so Alfred Momo talked to them and we shipped it to California”.

Walt Hansgen later recalled: “Jack’s gear ratio was changed from 3.54 to 3.31…better performance down the straight but hampered some through the twisty parts.  Jack’s Jaguar used 600 x 15 in the front and 700 x 15 in the rear (Dunlop D9).  Jack finished second” (in the preliminary).  He then did well to bring E2A home 10th in the Times GP itself.  Looking back after some years, Brabham said: “That Cunningham Jaguar was good looking – but Riverside wasn’t the place for it…nonetheless it was an interesting car.”

Bruce McLaren then took over E2A for Laguna Seca’s Pacific Grand Prix; the race was run in two 53 lap Heats over the tight 1.9-mile circuit.  McLaren encountered problems with the car but finished 12th in one Heat and 17th in the other.

The cockpit of the E2A – note the painted instructions for the Girling Maxaret trials.

Briggs Cunningham wanted to buy the car but Jaguar would not sell and it was shipped back to Britain,  where it was adapted to test the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking system, or WSP – ‘Wheel Slide Protector’. Norman Dewis recalls: “The Maxaret had small sensors for detecting wheel lock-up, they were mounted on the hub housing and driven by a little belt.  We did the testing at the Girling test track at Honiley.”  E2A still retains a dash button marked ‘SHOT FIRING – PULL’ to chalk-mark the road during Maxaret testing.

After these trials were completed the car was placed in storage until 1966 when, to deflect press attention, it was cleaned, its headrest fin removed and in XJ13-matching British Racing Green paintwork it was driven round the MIRA test track to “bore any nosey press men into not paying the XJ-13 any attention whenever it might emerge.”

Following this the E2A was taken back to Browns Lane and, as a redundant prototype, was due to be scrapped.  Roger Woodley, who looked after customer’s competition cars at Jaguar, was determined to save it.  He and his wife Penny, were determined to save it, so Roger went straight to ‘Lofty’ England – then CEO of Jaguar Cars Ltd – and persuaded him that E2A should also join Guy Griffith’ s (Penny’s father) Camden Car Collection on public display rather than be cut up. 

E2A Chassis Plate (Tony Brown)

Penny recalled: “Lofty eventually agreed to sell us the car on the strict understanding it was not to be used competitively.  He agreed to have all its storage bumps and knocks made good, and to respray it in original Cunningham white and blue.  It initially came to us without an engine, Lofty thought that was the best way a deal could be reached, but later we got a wide-angle head 3.8-litre engine for it.  Lofty must also have supplied the chassis plate as that engine’s number – E5028-10 – is stamped on the plate.  We asked about an original 3-litre aluminum engine – as at Le Mans – and one day ‘Lofty’ said discreetly ‘There is one you could have.  It’s Mr Heynes’s at the moment…but he will be retiring soon’!  And finally that aluminium-block engine arrived, complete with its Lucas fuel-injection system (no. EE1309-10).  Amongst the other bits accumulated, we’ve even got the original buck for the tail-fin.  The car still retains its factory respray paintwork, and the only mod we’ve made has been to fit a small aluminium fuel tank because we wouldn’t trust the original bag tank after this length of time.”

This view shows the pure D type rear end of the E2A and the pleasing proportions of another Sayer design.

During Penny’s ownership, she showed the car at various events, including  the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Revival Meeting and was always generous in sharing this amazing survivor, which she has now sold but the new owner is just as keen to show  E2A as Roger and Penny were, so the car continues to be enjoyed by many. 

Andrew Whyte described E2A:  ‘As one-off engineering exercise of the kind at which Jaguar excelled, E2A is a classic. The build quality achieved by Bob Blake and his colleagues was exceptional indeed.’

E2A has since  been sold on and the current owner lives in Switzerland but it is maintained by CKL, in the U.K. and has been raced at the Goodwood Revival meetings by various well known drivers.

Author: François Prins

© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust  – Except (where named)