By 1960 Jaguar had won the world’s most prestigious motor race, the Le Mans 24-Hours, no fewer than five times; twice with its original competition-tailored C-Type and three times with the tail-finned D-Type. At that juncture, company head Sir William Lyons had decreed that it was time for this phenomenal sporting pedigree to benefit production with an all-new semi-monocoque chassised design which was to emerge in 1961 as the now legendary Jaguar E-Type.
One prototype for this model – the ‘missing link’ between D-Type and E-Type – emerged as ‘E2A’, a powerful fuel-injected 3-liter sports-racing two-seater that was to be raced by famous American sportsman Briggs Cunningham’s experienced team at Le Mans in 1960.
The new ‘E2A’ was to test several features of the forthcoming E-Type production model, not least its independent rear suspension system in place of the live-axle featured in both the C-Type and D-Type designs. Visually the new car’s contemporarily tail-finned rear bodywork recalled the charismatic D-Type, while its handsomely proportioned one-piece forward bodywork presaged the lovely lines of the forthcoming E-Type.
The Jaguar experimental department at Brown’s Lane, Coventry, completed the car in February 1960, powered by an aluminum-block fuel-injected 3-liter 6-cylinder engine. It was subsequently finished for the Cunningham team in their famous American racing colors, white overall with two parallel centerline stripes in dark blue.
In the 1960 Le Mans 24-Hours, that June, Cunningham entrusted this unique beauty to the incredibly strong driver pairing of the contemporary BRM Formula 1 team’s ex-Ferrari star Dan Gurney and veteran multiple SCCA Champion Walt Hansgen. Dan Gurney – today revered as one of the most charismatic of all America’s great racing drivers and as the creator of the enduring All-American Racers Eagle operation – recalled of E2A:
“The drive-in that Jaguar was a big pearl for me. And it was a privilege to be sharing it with Walt Hansgen, one of my heroes. But we’d had some difficulty with the car’s handling. It was new, this was its first race, and the Jaguar engineers running it regarded Le Mans as their specialty.
“But at first, that car had been difficult to drive just down the straightaway. The least disturbance would send it into a series of tank slappers. My co-driver Walter Hansgen was such a faithful Jaguar man he didn’t criticize, but I guess I was only interested in trying to win. I felt that if we left the car the way it was and it rained, we’d be in real trouble.
“So I made myself unpopular by tenaciously asking, ‘Can’t we find why it is doing this?’ with Walter standing quietly like it didn’t bother him. Through my constant questioning, we finally found that they’d set up the car at the MIRA test ground with a fair amount of toe-out on the rear wheels. If the car leaned just a little, one way or the other, it was leaning on a wheel which would direct the tail in a different direction. We got them to change it, and it became a normal, good handling car…”.
Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen got along well and as recorded in the wonderful biography Walt Hansgen, by Michael Argetsinger (David Bull Publishing, 2007) Walt himself noted: “After talking it over with Mr Heynes and Tom Jones” – Bill Heynes being Jaguar’s chief engineer and Tom Jones one of ‘E2A’s creators – “…it was decided to try…⅛-inch toe-in and 2° negative camber…at 12.30 Friday night the car was tried down the Mulsanne Straight. The handling was completely transformed and I was able to go down the road with one hand on the wheel, yet completely relaxed… As a matter of fact once the car was broken (away) or committed into a turn the road holding was excellent. In practice I crossed the car up on purpose going through the Indianapolis turn and was very pleased with the recovery…”
With the car handling so much better, both American stars were very quick and the car was said to be the fastest along Mulsanne. But Jaguar had never had much luck with its XK 6-cylinder engines in 3-liter form – as the FIA’s Sports Car World Championship regulations had demanded since 1958 – and now the jinx afflicted even ‘E2A’s very special 3-liter aluminum-block unit with its Lucas fuel injection.
Walt Hansgen had taken the start, blasting away from the pit apron perhaps twelfth, yet blaring back across the timing line to complete the opening lap third amongst the works Ferrari 250 Testa Rossas and Camoradi team ‘Birdcage’ Maseratis “…and going like gangbusters!”. But almost immediately, he found ‘E2A’s engine flat above 6,000rpm. Ending lap 3, he hustled into the pits. A split injector pipe was replaced but ‘E2A’s engine had lost its edge, a piston perhaps compromised by running too lean. Walt and Dan pressed on into the dusk with both car and weather deteriorating, but after six hours ‘E2A’ had to be withdrawn due to a failed head seal and burned piston.
Today Dan Gurney recalls of Hansgen: “I had enormous respect for Walter – and he’d earned it. He was certainly among the best American drivers in his time. He sort of made a statement with his foot more than most. He wasn’t a braggart – he had everyone’s respect”.
After Le Mans, ‘E2A’ was returned to Jaguar, where it was fitted with a 3.8-liter engine that the Cunningham team could run in American SCCA racing. The all-independently-suspended prototype car was then dispatched to New York in August and Briggs Cunningham immediately entered it for a minor event at Bridgehampton, Long Island.
Walt Hansgen preferred narrow-section Firestone tires there to Dunlop’s finest and drove ‘E2A’ to a dominant race win, from Cunningham team-mates Bob Grossman (Lister-Jaguar) and Bill Kimberly (Maserati ‘Birdcage’).
The team then prepared this unique Jaguar for the challenging Road America ‘500’ on the fabulous Elkhart Lake road circuit in Wisconsin. As recounted in Mike Argetsinger’s superb book Walt Hansgen, the American hero recorded that race like this: “A spare gas tank had been installed in the rear boot area behind the spare wheel… We carried 46 gallons and planned to use one fuel stop….transfer of fuel from the auxiliary to the main tank was to be switched on after 22 laps. The leading Maserati had lapped me by the time I switched over to the spare tank…the Maserati couldn’t endure this type of performance for 500 miles” (nor did it!). “Dick Thompson, driving the General Motors Sting Ray, lapped me on the 30th only to spin…he (then) overworked the car; the brakes failed and he was out. I thus found myself second…with the 3-liter Ferrari driven by Augie Pabst leading.
“Before refueling, the Jag had been circulating at 2:58 and 2:59. Mr Momo” (Alfred Momo, Briggs Cunningham’s chief engineer and team manager) “… then realized that the leading Maserati was to stop only once for fuel and gave me the ‘speed up’ sign. My times were then bettered to 2:54 and 2:57… By 100 laps” (of 125) “…we were over one minute behind, but the sky was darkening fast with threatening rain clouds. This provided me with a flicker of hope and I planned to make the most of it…
“The increasing rain resulted in numerous accidents. The second car went off the road… I was able to gain several seconds a lap in the rain, nevertheless found myself 21 seconds behind at the finish. Instrument readings were oil pressure 45 to 50lbs, water temperature 80°C, oil temperature 110°C, axle oil temperature 110°C to 120. When the rain started it went down to 80 so I turned the pump off. There were six remaining gallons of fuel in the tank at race end.
“The engine performed better as the race progressed. My lap times improved even though the brakes became less efficient and I became more tired….I was a bit vigorous with the gearbox. The only change I noticed in its performance was that it freed up some. Had we had a brake booster, I feel that I could have lapped…2:47 to 2:52 which would have been ample to have won the race…”.
Mike Argetsinger records out that at the end Walt Hansgen was charging hard through the rain with ‘E2A’s lights blazing, only for a small off on the final lap to leave narrow victory to Dave Causey/Luke Stear in their lightweight Maserati ‘Birdcage’, with the Ferrari TR/59 of Augie Pabst/Bill Wuesthoff second (just). As driven by Walt Hansgen, Jaguar’s unique ‘E2A’ had given Maserati and Ferrari’s contemporary finest quite a fright.
The major West Coast professional road races followed, the big-money Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside and the Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Neither circuit was ideal for the tailor-made Le Mans ‘E2A’, which amongst the latest stripped, lightweight rear-engined sports-racing cars from Lotus, Cooper, and Scarab was very much a thoroughbred racehorse amongst greyhounds. But Times GP promoter Glenn Davis had invested $5,000 in newly crowned double-World Champion Jack Brabham’s presence, and he was seeking a high-profile car for him.
Briggs Cunningham recalled: “The Jaguar factory board heard about this, and they got very eager to have Jack drive a Jag because it was a great chance to publicize the (forthcoming) new E-Type. We had (‘E2A’) in New York, but it belonged to the factory, so Alfred (Momo) talked to them, and we shipped it to California”.
Amongst such a specialized sports-racing car field, Jack Brabham initially failed to qualify for the GP until a special consolation race was run to get him in. Significantly the only Cunningham team car which lapped faster than ‘E2A’ was Hansgen’s 2-liter Maserati Tipo 60 ‘Birdcage’. Walt reported: “Jack’s gear ratio was changed from 3.54 to 3.31…better performance down the straight but hampered some through the twisty parts. Jack’s Jaguar used 600x15 in the front and 700x15 in the rear (Dunlop D9). Jack finished second” (in the preliminary). He then did well to bring ‘E2A’ home 10th in the Times GP itself.
Sir Jack recalls: “That Cunningham Jaguar was good looking – but Riverside wasn’t the place for it…nonetheless an interesting car…”.
His Formula 1 Cooper team-mate Bruce McLaren then took over ‘E2A’ for Laguna Seca’s Pacific Grand Prix. The grueling race was run in two 53-lap Heats over the tight little 1.9-mile circuit. As Phil Hill would later say of driving his ‘Sharknose’ Ferrari round Monte Carlo in pursuit of Moss’s Lotus 18 “It was like trying to see which is quicker round a living room, a racehorse or a dog!”. Bruce was assailed by all kinds of problems with, but finished 12th in one Heat and 17th in the other.
Thereafter, Cunningham shipped ‘E2A’ back to the British factory, where she was adapted to test the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking system, or WSP – ‘Wheel Slide Protector’. This was the system featured on the 4WD Ferguson P99 Formula 1 and InterContinental single-seater, the last front-engined car ever to win a contemporary Formula 1 race, and of course the first 4WD car ever to do so. In achieving that success the ‘Fergie’ was driven by none other than Sir Stirling Moss. Today ‘E2A’ still retains a dash button marked ‘SHOT FIRING – PULL’ to chalk-mark the road during Maxaret testing.
The great car then slumbered in storage until 1966-67 – about the time poor Walt Hansgen was killed in a Ford GT Mark II at the Le Mans Test Weekend - when Jaguar’s 4-cam V12 mid-engined prototype – the XJ-13 – began testing. To deflect press attention, old ‘E2A’ was dusted down, its headrest fin removed and in XJ-13-matching British Racing Green paintwork it ground round and round the MIRA test track at Lindley to bore any nosy press men into not paying the XJ-13 any attention whenever it might emerge.
Now enter veteran racing photographer-cum-wheeler dealer-cum Brooklands habitué Guy Griffiths. He and his daughter Penny had accumulated a splendid array of important Jaguars at their contemporary Camden Car Collection in the English Cotswolds. When they first acquired a ‘Lightweight’ E-Type they couldn’t persuade it to run properly so Penny had taken it to the factory, where she met her future husband, Roger Woodley who looked after customers’ competition cars. Penny recalls: “Roger just loved ‘E2A’ – he always said it’s just like a fighter plane, it’s so beautifully built. But one day he came home horrified, saying ‘They’ve decided to scrap it, they’re going to saw up ‘E2A’ – we’ve just got to save it’.
“There would have been nothing unusual in ‘E2A’ as a redundant prototype being scrapped. That was standard industry practice. But we really had to save it if we could. Roger went straight to ‘Lofty’ England – then CEO of Jaguar Cars Ltd - and persuaded him that ‘E2A’ should also join the Collection on public display rather than be cut up. ‘Lofty’ eventually agreed to sell us the car on the strict understanding it was not to be used competitively. He agreed to have all its storage bumps and knocks made good, and to respray it in original Cunningham white and blue. It initially came to us without an engine, ‘Lofty’ thought that was the best way a deal could be reached, but later we got a wide-angle head 3.8-liter engine for it. Lofty must also have supplied the chassis plate as that engine’s number - E5028-10 - is stamped on the plate. We asked about an original 3-liter aluminum engine – as at Le Mans – and one day ‘Lofty’ said discreetly ‘There is one you could have. It’s Mr Heynes’s at the moment…but he will be retiring soon’! And finally that aluminum-block engine arrived, complete with its Lucas fuel-injection system (no. EE1309-10). Amongst the other bits accumulated, we’ve even got the original buck for the tail-fin. The car still retains its factory respray paintwork, and the only mod we’ve made has been to fit a small aluminum fuel tank because we wouldn’t trust the original bag tank after this length of time”.
And so this remarkable non-missing link has been preserved to this day in a really loving home. Poor Penny lost Roger Woodley to cancer, since happily marrying yet another Jaguar man, Jim Graham. And so this only prototype sports-racing Jaguar ever to escape the factory has spent the past 40 years in one family ownership. Another nice touch was Penny managing to obtain for the car the UK registration number VKV 752, as this was the factory’s trade plate number applied to the car in the period. In 1970 Penny drove the great Swiss Formula 1 star driver Jo Siffert around Brands Hatch in it during the driver parade preceding that year’s British Grand Prix. She took the car to Le Mans in 1996, and its uniquely beautiful allure has shone – as it always does – at both the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Revival Meeting.
Describing ‘E2A’ our much-missed friend, the Jaguar marque historian Andrew Whyte declared: “As one-off engineering exercises of the kind at which Jaguar excelled, ‘E2A’ is a classic. The build quality achieved by Bob Blake and his colleagues was exceptional indeed”.
Jaguar ‘E2A’ survives today as absolutely one of the most charismatic and significant prototypes ever produced by the mainstream motor industry. It is neither a cobbled-together rough-cut nor a merely vapid show car. And what other prototype of such a significant production model has ever had a racing history to match this one? As the only surviving taproot of the iconic E-Type Jaguar series, ‘E2A’ towers in stature for that alone.
But add its racing history of the Le Mans 24-Hours, the win at Bridgehampton, the superb showing in the Road America 500-Miles. And superimpose its finger-printing by four such all-time greats as Sir Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney and the SCCA’s revered Walt Hansgen – and ‘E2A’s charisma just grows with every thought.
Images: OldConceptCars; Bonhams