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Jaguar XKE History


Jaguar E2A XKE Prototype
Alas, that timetable would eventually be put back two-and-a-half years. Happily, most of the rest of his predictions came true. Around the time Jaguar was playing with the E1A, it also built the E2A.

The Jaguar E2A protoype being readied for test runs at LeMans in 1960.
The final step from the XK-SS to the production
XKE was the Jaguar E2A, shown here being
readied for test runs at LeMans in 1960.

Though similar to the E1A in both looks and rear suspension concept, it resembled even more the eventual XKE. It even had the longer, 96-inch wheelbase of the forthcoming road car, although in the interest of high straightaway speed it had a narrower track than the D-Type.

Actually, E2A was conceived more as a racer than road car. Many in the company still hoped Jaguar would return to formal competition, and this other "XKE" was really a follow-on to the D-Type.

And after some years of clandestine development, the E2A finally did get to race, being taken to LeMans in the spring of 1960 as an official entry. In fact, it was an official entry of the Briggs Cunningham team along with a trio of Chevrolet Corvettes (one of which would finish eighth overall and first in the Grand Touring class).

Word was given out that this spectacular new Jaguar had been "specially commissioned" by the marque's American stalwart, but the truth was the aging hack had already been pushed to one side when Cunningham was asked to take it racing.

For a pre-race test session at LeMans in April, it ran sans paint, its bare aluminum bodywork bearing only a British registration number. By race week, though, it was in American racing livery of white with blue stripes. But nobody could have doubted its real origin and original intent.

Made mostly of aluminum like the D-Type, the E2A "XKE" ran at LeMans with a special aluminum-block XK engine featuring dry-sump oiling and fuel injection. Nearly square bore and stroke dimensions of 85x88 mm meant displacement of 2,997 cc, just 3 cc below the contemporary 3.0-liter limit in the prototype class where the E2A qualified.

With big valves, hot cams and a high 10.0:1 compression ratio, horsepower was a tingling 293 at a whizzing 6,750 rpm. Indicating the peaky nature of this engine's power delivery was the high 6,000-rpm speed for peak torque, which was 230 pounds/feet.

This "XKE" proved quite fast in test sessions and in the race itself. Driven by American aces Walt Hansgen and Dan Gurney, it even set the best practice time. At the end of the first 8.36-mile lap, the E2A came by the pits in third place behind a Maserati and a Ferrari, and well ahead of the other Jaguar entered, a D-Type, that grand old model having its last LeMans hurrah.

Then a broken fuel line set up a series of long pit stops to correct engine troubles. E2A made it past the ninth hour, but eventually quit. Autosport thought the Jaguar had been strong enough to win outright, and expressed regret that there hadn't been a team of three.

Cunningham then took the car back to the States, where he raced it several times with a normal 3.8-liter, Weber-carbureted engine crammed under a "power bulge" in the hood. In this form, Hansgen won with it at Bridgehampton, Long Island, beating a Jaguar-powered Lister.

But the mid-engine revolution was at hand. At least the E2A would find safe haven in the hands of a collector. The E1A? Unsentimentally, Jaguar cut it up as scrap -- though perhaps only because the company had long since turned its full attention to preparing a roadgoing XKE for production.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

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  • 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.