By the time I could drive legally, way back in 1965, the Jaguar XKE was four years old and already a global lust object.
Even Enzo Ferrari, a man not known for his objectivity, supposedly called it the most beautiful car ever made. The E-Type—as the rest of the world knows it—was, and still is, almost pornographically sleek and sexy; had poster printing been 10 years farther along, it would have been the Jag and not the Lamborghini Countach that first graced every boy’s bedroom wall.
The good news: The E-Type remained the company’s high-water mark for 50 years. The bad news: Same thing. It isn’t that Jaguar hasn’t built any other fast drop-tops since the E-Type, it’s just that none of them were worth remembering. All those Xs, Js, Ks, and Rs in the model names got confusing too.
Until now, that is. After “E” comes “F,” and with it a completely new Jaguar—a compact, intense two-seater with an engine in the front sending power to the back. The F-Type has the classic long-nose/short-butt profile of its ancestor, but under its aluminum skin it is completely modern.
The F-Type was created to be topless, so there was no need for extra chassis bracing when the roof got whacked off. Then Jaguar installed a gold-medal suspension—with adaptive electronic dampers on some models—on this bar-stock-rigid structure, and pushed the wheels out to the corners. The steering is said to be the quickest ever in a road-going Jaguar.
Three motors are available, all supercharged. The F-Type has a 3.0-liter 340HP V-6; the F-Type S comes with an up-tuned version of that engine good for 380 horsepower; and the F-Type V8 S is armed with a 5.0-liter V-8 rated at 495 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. All engines drive through an 8-speed Quickshift automatic transmission with a manual gear selector on the center console and finger paddles on the steering wheel.
Hammer the gas and the transmission provides direct, sharp response and the exhaust system opens to let out a hair-raising bellow. Tread lightly, however, and gear changes are almost unnoticeable and the exhaust pipes burble musically.
As today’s luxury roadsters go, the F-Type is a featherweight, topping out at about 3,700 pounds.
Some of the weight reduction comes from the aluminum body panels and suspension parts, and the rest from the insulated fabric top; it’s much lighter than a folding steel roof, and it also helps keep the center of gravity low. (A hardtop coupe arrives next spring.)
The cabin is fitted neatly around its lucky occupants, but it’s neither claustrophobic nor hard to get in and out of. It is a lovely place to sit and admire materials, design and workmanship, but it’s an even better place from which to operate this snarling beast.
The F-Type is new but old-fashioned, a brutally beautiful, sophisticated bare-knuckle thrasher. It has tremendous capabilities, made safe for us modern-day ham-footed idiots—and kept under wraps till wanted—by electronic genius. The F-Type is easier to live with and much more reliable and useful than any classic sports car (which, by the way, it would leave for dead on the racetrack too).
It is also as well-rounded and accomplished right out of the box as cars that have been with us forever. Then again, we could say that it’s taken Jaguar 50 years to get this one right.
But not all the news is so good. When the E-Type was born, it sold for $5,700. That was a steal even in 1961. (A year later, and inspired by the Jag, the Ferrari 250 GTO cost $18,500.) Today, the E-Type’s original sticker, adjusted for the march of time, would be $44,500. Oh, if only.
The starting price of an F-Type V8 S is $92,895. Let the dealer have his way with you on fancier wheels, brakes and stereo, add the performance pack and a wind deflector, and you’re into six figures.
If this fits your Christmas stocking, I can enthusiastically recommend the Jaguar, especially if all the other early retirees in your golf community are still making do with Porsches. And if you’re cutting back this year, the base 6-cylinder F-Type starts at just $69,895.