After the awful Le Mans disaster of 1955, the organising ACO applied a 2½-liter limit to prototype cars for 1956. However, Jaguars existing D-Type was regarded by the French club as a standard production car, qualifying without restriction on engine size. Jaguar fully intended to build more than the 100 similar cars required to qualify as standard production, but in reality there were not 100 similar customers willing to buy. So Jaguar saw two courses open. One was to produce a small, light sports car to be run for one year only as a 2½-liter prototype, but the possibility should also be considered that the 2½-liter ceiling might be extended to standard production cars as well. In that case, as competition department superintendent Phil Weaver wrote to Chief Engineer William Heynes: I feel we would not want to put through another 100 cars, with such limited use as the present D-type to make the car valid for the production car race, in which case it might be advisable to consider making the prototype car in such a manner that it would have at least limited demand in a better equipped version. Such as the Porsche, for purposes other than racing .
He penned those words in December 1955, with much D-Type glory still ahead. But the train of thought vital to replacing the D-Type so tailored for Le Mans alone had been set in motion.
Phil Weaver recalled that after company head Bill Lyons decided to cease works racing after 1956, his competition department became the prototype shop and it was there that the first E-Type prototypes would be built. The first emerged as E1A, compact, light and powered by a 2.4-liter XK engine. It appears that Malcolm Sayer first used the words E-type Prototype on paper, while Phil Weaver dubbed the svelte little prototype E1A A for aluminum, in deference to its aluminum-skinned monocoque hull.
While William Heynes was responsible overall for Jaguars engineering, Malcolm Sayer created the shape, and Bob Blake built the structure. The new car first ran on May 15, 1957. Heynes was more keen on a return to racing than his boss, Lyons, floating the notion of 3.8-liter engined versions of the E-Type with independent rear suspension for 1958. It didnt happen. Then in June 58 Heynes formally proposed a batch of 10-12 E-Types, three to be campaigned as works cars, the others to be supplied to Ecurie Ecosse and to Briggs Cunninghams American team for 1959. Contemporary FIA regulations limited engine size to just 3-liters. Heynes proposed it should be fuel-injected, driving via a five-speed gearbox and limited-slip diff. Expected horsepower was 280. He also mentioned a mid-engined concept G-Type as a Le Mans works car.
But in reality Jaguar was just a medium-sized, sparsely-resourced company with more front than Wal Mart. Lyons vetoed racing to concentrate precious resources upon domestic programs, including development of a new production sports car, while his ace players continued to explore future competition possibilities whenever time allowed.
For 1960, Sayer wind-tunnel tested models of both the rear-engined competition 2str and the competition E-type, and with contemporary low screens and a notional 300bhp predicted top speeds of 208mph for the G-Type and 203mph for the E-Type. In the summer of 1959, these were heady projections indeed.
There was an impetus building towards a return to International competition, if funding could be found. By that time at least three production E-Type prototypes had been built, apart from E1A. Pre-production effort was going into more easily-worked and repaired steel instead of aluminum for the body structure, but Lyons approving construction of one prototype competition car his caveat being for test purposes only for 1960.
This unique pioneer the iconic link between three-times Le Mans-winning D-Type and the definitive E-Type to come was christened E2A. Its assembly began in the Competition/Prototype shop on New Years Day, 1960 and barely eight weeks later - it was complete and running by February 27. Bill Heynes drove it up the by-pass next day, and it began testing at Lindley (MIRA) on February 29.
While E2A was being built, Jaguars long-faithful multi-millionaire American customer Briggs Cunningham visited the works accompanied by his technical director Alfred Momo (famous for first enlarging the XK engine to 3.8 liters) and their SCCA double-Champion driver Walt Hansgen. They saw the car freshly completed and Briggs persuaded Sir William to let him run it at Le Mans. He was keen to field two such cars, but the works capacity prevented that. Factory test driver Norman Dewis logged the car as E.R. for E-type Racing and he suddenly found himself helping develop E2A from being a prototype test vehicle into a serious quasi-works Le Mans prospect.
He was instrumental in getting Heyness experimental five-speed gearbox replaced by the trusty D-Type four-speed, and reached 161mph on the MIRA timing straight. After only seven days of testing E2A was then taken, still in bare unpainted aluminum, trade-plated VKV 752, to the Le Mans test weekend on Saturday, April 9, 1960.
The circuit was open from 9am to 5pm, and at 9:15 Dewis went out for E2As first six laps of public running. He then handed over to Walt Hansgen who clocked a best of 4mins 8.4sec, before handing over to his Cunningham Lister-Jaguar team-mate Ed Crawford. Hapless Ed soon clattered to a halt, No 1 con-rod had snapped. Back home, straightline stability was improved by adding one degree negative camber to the rear wheels, and a tail fin was tried. Briggs had replaced Ed Crawford with BRMs ex-Ferrari Formula 1 driver Dan Gurney for Le Mans. On June 10 a three-hour endurance run was conducted at MIRA, alternating ten laps of the outer circuit with ten of the No 2 circuit.
For Le Mans E2A was finished in American Cunningham colors of white with twin blue stripes, a tall tailfin on its headrest. Dan Gurney recalls: Knowing a fair amount about Jaguar's great history in long distance racing, I was both honoured and thrilled to have been asked to share the driving responsibilities with Walt Hansgen. Walt and I genuinely felt that we were going to be hard to beat .
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.
Before refueling, the Jag had been circulating at 2:58 and 2:59. Mr Momo (Alfred Momo, Briggs Cunninghams 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 Mike Argetsinger records out that at the end Walt Hansgen was charging hard through the rain with E2As 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, Jaguars unique E2A had given Maserati and Ferraris 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 at all 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 race horse amongst greyhounds. But Times GP promoter Glenn Davis had invested $5,000 in newly crowned double-World Champion Jack Brabhams presence, and he was seeking a high-profile car for him. 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 Hansgens 2-liter Maserati Tipo 60 Birdcage. Walt reported: Jacks gear ratio was changed from 3.54 to 3.31 better performance down the straight but hampered some through the twisty parts. Jacks 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. 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 couldnt 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 its just like a fighter plane, its so beautifully built. But one day he came home horrified, saying Theyve decided to scrap it, theyre going to saw up E2A weve just got to save it.