Jeremy Clarkson reviews the Eagle Lightweight GT for the Sunday Times

JULY 2020

Eagle Lightweight GT: a car that stops the world

Yes, I’m writing about cars again. There were a few months when I couldn’t get hold of any press demonstrators, and even if I could have done, there was nowhere I could go in them without being branded a “Covidiot”. But all that suddenly changed the other day when a man from Volkswagen arrived with a T-Roc cabriolet. Which looked awful.

It had been a while, though, since I’d gone for a drive, so I leapt aboard and put my foot down. And a mile later — a mile — I still hadn’t reached the national speed limit. Yes, I know that I was going uphill and that I was in sixth, but the car’s stubborn refusal to accelerate meant that I turned round, went home and did farming instead. Then an all-electric Porsche Taycan Turbo arrived.

I have no idea why it’s called a Turbo because, obviously, it isn’t. It is, however, everything else. You get two electric motors: one to the fore that drives the front wheels through a one-speed gearbox and one in the back that powers the rear wheels via a two-speed unit. In between is a raft of lithium-ion batteries and all the wiring needed to make such a complex machine work. The net result is that this car weighs about the same as a medium-sized bungalow.

Bloody hell, it’s fast, though. The first car I drove that was too powerful for its own good was the Ferrari F12berlinetta. This Porsche is another. It may have only 617 horsepowers in normal running — at least a hundred fewer than the Ferrari — but the way those horsepowers arrive is extremely sudden and very alarming.

I can imagine that a lot of Taycans will be crashed moments after the driver has turned to his passenger and said, with a big, idiotic grin on his face: “Right. Watch this.”

It got to the point, after a couple of days, that I didn’t dare overtake slower-moving traffic because being on the wrong side of the road, with trees to my right and a lorry to the left, in a car that was behaving like a horse that had just had a mustard-covered hot dog shoved up its backside, didn’t seem a place I wanted to be.

I want an E-type Eagle Lightweight GT. I want one so much that it keeps me awake at night. 

Jeremy Clarkson / THE SUNDAY TIMES / JuLY 2020

There’s another issue too. In most electric cars, when you lift off the throttle energy from the motor is harnessed and fed back into the battery, so it’s like you’re braking. But when you lift off in the Taycan, it keeps right on going. It’s so aerodynamically efficient that not even the air will slow you down.

You do get a button on the steering wheel that brings some regenerative braking to proceedings, and I found myself pushing that even before I did up my seatbelt. And it really does raise a question. Do electric cars really have to be this powerful and this complicated?

When my kids were younger, they had a battery-powered yellow Jeep that they could use in the garden. It had plastic tyres and one-wheel drive and no brakes because it was never going fast enough for them to be necessary. And I wonder: is that not what people want from an electric car? Rather than massive complexity, terror and an immense price tag?

There are juicy tax breaks and government subsidies available to anyone who buys an electric car, but despite this, and the public relations onslaught, the figures tell us they’re not really catching on. Put bluntly, for every hundred cars sold in the UK last year, fewer than two were powered by batteries.

I don’t believe the figures, however. Both my colleagues from the television, Richard Hammond and James May, now have Teslas. Paul McGuinness, the former manager of U2, came for lunch recently, and he had one, as did two people at dinner the previous evening. The bloody things are now so prolific in my world that to offset the effect they’re having and bring some carbon neutrality to the table, I’ve had to order a V8-powered Bentley Flying Spur, to go with my V8 Range Rovers.

And it’s why I’m moving on now to the meat of this morning’s missive. The extraordinary Jaguar E-type-based Eagle Lightweight GT that’s just been made by a small engineering company in East Sussex. Eagle is best known for mild E-type tweaks, but occasionally it makes a car that stops the world. Remember the Speedster? The most beautiful thing made in all human history? That was one of Eagle’s. And now it’s done it again.

I’m not going to beat about the bush here. It costs close to a million pounds, and that’s a lot for a car that’s nearly 60 years old. But the truth is, it sort of isn’t. It’s actually about 60 minutes old. If you look carefully, you’ll note that the sills are lower, the indicators are flush, the doors are frameless and the windscreen is more raked than it was on the original 1963 E-type Lightweight.

Under the bonnet it’s a straight-six, as you’d expect, but it’s a 4.7l unit, made by Eagle, from aluminium, with big valves and three Weber carburettors spoon- feeding the go juice. The result is 380 horsepowers, and it seems to me, having been half scared to death by the Taycan, that this is a more sensible amount. Especially as very little is wasted in lugging around unnecessary weight. In the Eagle Lightweight GT everything that can be made from magnesium is, and almost everything that can’t is titanium or aluminium. The result is a dry weight of 1,017kg — less than me, then.

The interior is a labour of love. It is a thing of beauty. Getting in is a bit of a faff, and getting out is harder, but that’s OK because I didn’t want to get out. I just wanted to sit in there, for ever, touching stuff.

Jeremy Clarkson / THE SUNDAY TIMES / JuLY 2020

You’d imagine that it feels like a stripped-out racer, but no. It’s called the GT because it’s a grand tourer, a leather-lined, air-conditioned long-distance cruiser. It’s nothing like the original racers and nothing like the “continuation” cars that Jaguar has made recently. It’s civilised, even by modern standards.

The interior is a labour of love. It is a thing of beauty. Getting in is a bit of a faff, and getting out is harder, but that’s OK because I didn’t want to get out. I just wanted to sit in there, for ever, touching stuff.

Or driving it. The twin-choke Webers are a bit hard to coax into life, but once they’ve cleared their throats, you get just the right amount of performance and just the right amount of grip, and you also get just the right amount of Tom Jones noises. God almighty, this thing sounds good.

Hammond argued recently that we car journalists will have to start thinking up new ways of describing the sounds an electric car makes, and I wish him all the best with that plan. Porsche has tried to tune the noises the Taycan makes but it still sounds like a milk float. They all do.

That’s why I’ll never buy an electric car. You can drone on as much as you like about how yours does a million miles between charges and how nothing but baby hedgehogs come out of its rear end, but when you put your foot down in a carb-fed straight-six, and that long bonnet rears up slightly, you know what’s missing from your motorised vacuum cleaner. The soundtrack. And when you lift your foot up again and you get all those little crackles and pops — ooh, it does things to your hair.

The only way you could achieve something similar with your Tesla or your Taycan is if you put your tongue on the battery terminal.

But, really and truly, this debate comes down to something simpler. I want an E-type Eagle Lightweight GT. I want one so much that it keeps me awake at night. I do not want a Porsche Taycan Turbo.

Original article at the Sunday Times