The Jaguar F-Type: can it live up to its distinguished forebear?

Ryan Borroff

CARS evolve. They undergo a process of continuous improvement or they die away, superseded by something better and more successful.
Jaguar knows all about automotive evolution. It knows because it hasn’t built a proper two-seater sports car since it launched the E-Type back in 1961. And this hurts, because sports cars are deep within its DNA.
It’s quite possible that no British sports car has ever been as eagerly anticipated as the new F-Type. And nobody had yearned for it as much as the man who designed it, Ian Callum, Jaguar’s chief of design. “I’ve been waiting almost fifty years to do this,” he says.
From anyone else this would be hyperbole but Callum actually means it. He first tried to land a design job at Jaguar Cars when he was just 14-years-old – a story that has now passed into car industry folklore.
When it decided to create the two-seater F-Type roadster, Jaguar had to look forward whilst keeping an eye on the rear view mirror, because the E-Type is a fundamental part of Jaguar’s psyche. By the time the E-Type first hit British streets, the Jaguar marque was synonymous with racing. In the 1950s, Jaguar had made its name building elegant sports cars and saloons, including the XK150, which were then adapted for the racetrack. But the E-Type was developed the other way around, from Jaguar’s racing cars, which meant it was revolutionary even within Jaguar. Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1961, it was an instant hit.
How on earth do you follow the most famous sports car of them all; one that Enzo Ferrari called “the most beautiful car ever made”? And how do you do it when there’s been a 50-year gap in the evolutionary process? To put that into perspective, German rival Porsche has spent almost the same amount of time tweaking and improving its own iconic model, the 911, a car the new F-Type will go head to head with.
Creating a successor to one of the most iconic cars of all time was a daunting task, even for Callum. One of the best designers in the world, he has penned some of the most exciting sports cars ever made, including Aston Martin’s DB7 and DB9. “The E-Type was clearly in the back of my mind,” says Callum. “In fact, it was sitting on my shoulder. I had to spend time really appreciating the value of the E-Type because it is so important to Jaguar.
“It had been developed on the back of Jaguar’s racing pedigree, inspired by the D-Type. But the E-Type took a huge leap in terms of its makeup, its technology and style. Malcolm Sayer [Jaguar’s aerodynamics genius who also shaped the Le Mans-winning C- and D-Type racers] created the E-Type’s body shape, drawing it geometrically. That’s what gives it its beauty. It was that discipline to his art form, aerodynamics, that created the car. If he had been more preoccupied with aesthetics it would have had more lines.”
As for the 50-year stylistic gap, it seems that Callum has already made that leap. “If the car had evolved continuously from the E-Type, I think it would have looked very similar because we’ve built this car from first principles. The F-Type has beautiful lines like the XK150.”
Jaguar has been teasing us with the promise of a proper two-seater for years. But it wasn’t until 2011’s C-X16 concept that the possibility of a successor to the E-type began to look genuinely possible.
Callum says there couldn’t be a better time to bring back the Jaguar two-seater: “The E-Type is hugely relevant because it has been a focal point for so long. It was so iconic, too, because it was a part of that creative, free-living zeitgeist in 1960s British culture. Britain owned the sixties in terms of pop culture, newness and design. For me the question was: ‘How do we get back to that standing, recapture that spirit and that sense of confidence?’”
So were people expecting a new E-Type? “People were expecting a 21st century sports car,” says Callum. “The reference to the E-Type is broadly philosophical. But, of course, there are visual references to the E-Type in the F-Type’s design. The idea of classical lines and the sense of simplicity and purity are utterly present in the F-Type. The rear deck profile, as it drops off at the back, harks back to the E-Type, which also had a very elegant conclusion. The haunches are reminiscent of the E-Type. The sense of having a very technical and mechanical interior is very much an element of Jaguar sports cars from the fifties and sixties. We set out to recapture some of that romanticism. There was a real sense of Boys’ Own about it. We wanted to give the F-Type a mechanical feel when you start it up.”
Emotionally, Callum wanted to capture the spirit and sense of rawness of the F-Type’s predecessor, too. “Fun was the number one goal for this car,” says Callum. “I wanted the same sense of undiluted energy I remember in the E-Type, that same need to focus on what you are doing when you are driving. Like the E-Type, we wanted the F-type to have two purposes. First, to look fantastic while you are in it and second, to move very quickly through the English countryside with the roof down.”
It’s a sports car that’s designed to be quintessentially British, not least because of the authentic, elegant materials used for the interior. “We’ve tried to give it a sense of theatre – the interior vent that pops up and down is pure theatre – very British. But it’s not over-styled in any way – it’s not vulgar. And there is a fine line between being flamboyant and being vulgar.”
With Great Britain PLC on a cultural roll, there is the enchanting possibility that Jaguar will not only take on Stuttgart with an all-new British sports car for the first time in generations, but that the F-Type’s cool British style will win customers from the Germans on their own turf, too.