Jaguar E1A XKE Prototype

Thus came step two toward the eventual Jaguar XKE. It was taken late that same year, 1957, when Jaguar's engineering department laid down an experimental chassis for a genuine roadgoing sports car, a project designated E1A.

Whether the "E" simply stood for "experimental" or had already been chosen for a new production model is not clear. The meaning of the "1" is clear, of course. The "A" signified "aluminum," or perhaps "alloy," the material of which both body and chassis were made. That implies Jaguar was already envisioning a later version of steel, which was more suitable for volume production.

Outwardly, the E1A prototype bore a strong resemblance both to the D-Type/XK-SS and to the clay-model roadster that Sayer had carved back in 1954. Structurally, it was very much a D-Type derivation, with a similar ovoid-section central monocoque tub and space-frame front structure.

As on the earliest D-Types, tub and tubing were welded together, with the front frame again being light alloy. But there were two departures from D-Type convention. Instead of a 3.4/3.8 engine, E1A carried the short-stroke XK six of Jaguar's then-new 2.4-liter compact sedan.

This was because the prototype was physically small, being shorter, narrower, lower, and probably also lighter than the race cars that came before and the road model that was to come. Also, ElA had an experimental independent rear suspension instead of the D's live rear axle.

It's worth remembering that Jaguar engineers had been working with independent suspension since before World War II, beginning with William Heynes' early investigations. During the war years, the company had built two different prototypes for a lightweight military vehicle, both with independent suspension of all four wheels.

The XK 120 and Mark V sedan emerged in 1948 as the first production Jaguars with separately sprung front wheels. Later, during the D-Type program, some testing had been done with a de Dion rear end, which has some of the advantages of full independence. So the thought had long been in mind to bring Jaguar's road cars, both sports models and sedans, into the modern all-independent world.

Late, 1957 was the time, and E1A was the development vehicle. It was running by early 1958. And run it did, logging many thousands of hard miles on test tracks, race tracks, even public highways.

In fact, on one extraordinary occasion, Sir William Lyons handed the keys of the top-secret prototype over to a member of the automotive press -- the editor of Motor, no less -- who was to take the little light-green roadster along some favored back-country roads in Wales and report back. He returned with words like "astonishing," "sensational," and "world-beater."

The scribe kept faith with Lyons and kept quiet about the car in public, but sent a "secret and confidential" memorandum to his boss in May 1958. Published many years later by Paul Skilleter in Jaguar Sports Cars, the note revealed this editor's understanding that the production sports car to come would be a 3.0-liter with an amazing output of 286 horsepower and a projected top speed "not very far short of 150 mph, which is going to make us think."

Jaguar was thinking of making 100 per week, he added, and said that the new model, which people around the factory were already referring to as "the XKE;" was to go on sale in the autumn of 1958.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

  • Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cars.
  • How Sports Cars Work: Get the lowdown on hundreds of fantastic sports cars from the 1940s to today.
  • Classic Cars: Learn about the world's most coveted automobiles in these illustrated profiles.
  • Ferrari: Learn about every significant Ferrari road car and racing car.
  • New Jaguars: Reviews, ratings, prices, and specifications on the current Jaguar lineup from the auto editors of Consumer Guide.
  • Used Jaguars: Reviews, recalls, trouble spots, and more on pre-owned Jaguars starting with the 1990 model year. From the auto editors of Consumer Guide.