Not satisfied with the world's most beautiful car? Get one of these.
“It’s not exactly what you’d call ‘computer-aided design,’ ” says Paul Brace, technical director of Eagle E-Types, a Jag restoration shop in southern England. Brace had an idea for a speedster-bodied E-type rattling around in his head. A while back he sent some sketches to an American client who wanted something very special. The client loved it.
“But I had a moment of tension,” Brace says. “What if it looked crap?” He cut up an old roadster shell with an angle grinder, hand-rolled the new panels, made a plastic windshield, threw it all together, and stood back and squinted. It glowered back.
Brace was brave to attempt to improve on the looks of the Jaguar E-type, a car that has earned a spot in the design collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a car this magazine described in 1965 as the “purest automotive erotica,” and a car in whose long shadow Jaguar’s designers have been laboring since 1961.
But with his hammer and power tools, Brace seems to have managed it. The Eagle Speedster, as it became known, does not “look crap.” Everyone who sees it seems to be seduced. Its wider track and deeper valance and sills fill out aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer’s original shape and exaggerate the tapering rear end. The cut-down, raked-back speedster windshield makes the power bulge and torpedo front fenders swell in comparison. It is a glorious and pure low lozenge of a car, whose windshield rises a mere 39 inches off the ground.
The Eagle’s body is hand-formed aluminum, just like the dozen original factory Lightweight E-type racers. It is then fitted with the “enhanced” components with which this British E-type specialist has been modifying perfectly restored, standard-bodied E-types for about 20 years.
You get AP Racing brakes, an aluminum-cased five-speed gearbox to replace the four-speed, Ohlins dampers with revised suspension geometry, and accessories that actually work. Oh, and Eagle installs its enlarged 4.7-liter version of Jaguar’s inline-six, now available with an aluminum block and fuel injection.
What does it cost? It’s fortunate that the Speedster looks like a million dollars, because that’s essentially the base price. Buying one would be a Sultan of Brunei–type of automotive indulgence. Only six will be made. Order a car like this and you’re a patron, not a mere buyer: Your car will be assembled from scratch, by hand, exactly the way you want it, over at least 6000 hours by Eagle’s 15-member staff at its hobbity cluster of former farm buildings near Uckfield in rural East Sussex on England’s south coast.
All six cars are spoken for, but one yet unbuilt may still be available, and there will be an equally limited run of tin-tops inspired by the one-off factory Low Drag Coupe competition car of 1963. Basically, anything is possible. One customer wanted the Jaguar “growler” emblem at the center of the Speedster’s horn button to look a little bit fiercer, and Eagle was happy to oblige.
But does the Speedster still drive like an E-type? Its engine makes 310 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 340 pound-feet at 3600 rpm. Not huge numbers, but the Speedster is meant to be a drivable road car. Divide that power into its claimed 2218-pound weight, which is 436 pounds less than a standard roadster, and you get a better power-to-weight ratio than that of the new Jaguar F-type V-8 S.
Eagle’s claimed 5.0-second zero-to-60-mph time sounds conservative. The Speedster generates chest-tightening thrust when you sink the throttle, accompanied by a deeper, louder, richer remix of the E-type’s hallmark trombone exhaust note.
The five-speed gearbox changes cogs with a weight and throw similar to the E-type’s later synchromesh four-speeders, but it’s quicker and sweeter, though the emphasis on torque means you can often dispatch slower-moving modern cars without a downshift. The ride isn’t as fluid as a standard E’s, but you trade that for a greater connectedness with the road through your backside and fingertips.
There’s more grip, yet still the same throttle-adjustable drift that ought to mark a ’60s sports car, and you’re more inclined to stretch the Speedster, knowing that you have functioning brakes when you need to restrain it.
This radically oversexed droptop drives almost as well as it looks, which is quite the compliment.
But should Eagle be “enhancing” one of history’s great cars? Henry Pearman, Eagle’s founder and a historic racer and collector, is unapologetic. His business also deals in and restores E-types to zero-mile, show-winning condition, but he sees no conflict in improving on the cars he loves, which he cheerfully admits were often badly made. Why put up with the original’s defects, asks Pearman, when you can have perfection for a mere million dollars? “You wouldn’t live in a beautiful Georgian house and still chuck your sewage out of the window.”