New Lightweight E-Types - A Dubious Journey

Guest contributor, highly respected American journalist and author Wallace Wyss writes for CarOpinion on:

A DUBIOUS JOURNEY: Wherein Jaguar fires up their time machine, goes back into history and extracts six more cars that never were.

I wish I could be happy about Jaguar recently announcing they plan to build six brand new 'Lightweight' E-types – the 'missing' six Lightweights that were never built from the intended 18-car series.

In 2015 Jaguar announced their first ever 're-creation' project, the all-aluminum cars to be assigned six remaining chassis numbers originally allocated in 1963. Jaguar claims that all six vehicles will be built as perfect reproductions and to the exact specifications of the original 12 cars first produced in 1963. Only 12 of the aluminium bodied Lightweight E-types were eventually built, the last in 1964, the remaining six designated chassis numbers having lain dormant until now, until some bright-eyed PR man sensed a golden opportunity to generate publicity.

Derek Weale, Director, JLR Heritage Business, was quoted in a Jaguar press release saying: “This is an incredibly exciting project for Jaguar. The E-type is an iconic car, and the Lightweight E-type is the most desirable model of all. To be able to complete the intended production run of 18, some 50 years after the last Lightweight was completed, is an opportunity we couldn't miss. “

Jaguar says the new cars "will be hand-built in-house by Jaguar's finest craftsmen. Each car will be constructed to the exact specifications of their original 1960s forebears – including the 3.8-litre straight-six engine. Customers will also be able to make bespoke requests for interior and exterior trim levels, paint and livery and further technical specification. "

The Lightweight carried approximately 114kg (250lb) less weight than a standard E-type, thanks to its all-aluminium body and engine block, a lack of interior trim and exterior chrome work and a host of further weight-saving features including lightweight, hand-operated side windows.

By the way Ferrari instigated the building of the Ferrari 250GTO because he was worried the lightweight E-type would hurt Ferrari. He need not have bothered, the GTOs held their own against the Jags.

Above: Bob Jane was the only Australian to buy an original E-Type Lightweight - it took him to an Australian Sports Car Championship win.

Now here is my problem. It has to do with history. In my book SHELBY The Man, the Cars, the Legend, I castigated the ol' chicken-plucker for wanting to do much the same thing—decades after he had built the last 427 Cobra, he announced he was going to build out some 427 Cobras in the CSX3000 range that he had numbers designated for way back in '65. And Shelby actually did, with the help of Mike McCluskey of McCluskey Ltd., build and sell nine such cars in the vicinity of $500,000 each.

Now I said in my book that the frames did not actually exist lying about in storage, that they were newly made. I based that on the recollections of Del Molinari, a fellow member of the Bel Air Country Club, a club which Shelby was in, who was asked to bid on building the frames. He declined, sensing something illegal.

So I felt I was justified in that criticism. But now Jaguar has gobsmacked me (great English word, gobsmacked) by doing precisely what Shelby wanted to do, and getting away with it. I ask you, is it fair to the owners of the real lightweight Jags or the cars that compete against them at Goodwood, Monterey and other vintage races, that they will be racing against brand new 2015-built cars?

And does anyone really believe they can build them without using Cad-Cam, 3D printing and other modern methods? I think not. Many of these fabricators, unless they hired the old ones (and how many, do you think, are left standing, after fifty years?) don't know how to do things the old-fashioned way.

I cite the example of Rolls Royce. Approximately 30 years after the last Silver Cloud drophead coupe was built, along comes the irrepressible Prince Jefri of Brunei with an order for one. “But we don't make that car anymore,” they said in effect. But money was flung at them in copious amounts, so they went out and bought an old low mileage Cloud four door sedan, hired back the surviving craftsmen, and cut that down into a two door drophead. But they couldn't help but update the braking system and some other features and the Prince didn't like it. It didn't feel like his previous Silver Clouds. So the car is now for sale in Las Vegas. OK, it's a real Silver Cloud drophead but built out of time sequence. Way out of time sequence.

I say Jaguar's messin' with history. I know, I know, others have done it, like Victor Gauntlett ordering three more Aston Martin GTZ Zagato-bodied DB4GTs but at least those were at least built on real chassis built in-period as DB4GT cars.

It's the numbers that make this repugnant as well. With only twelve built originally, here's Jaguar introducing enough "new/old" ones into the classic car community to seriously throw off the values of the originals.

If Jaguar pulls this off, I can Mercedes jumping in with some new/old 300SLRs and even GM maybe making the Corvette SS again, this time without rubber bushings. It could never end.

Not to mention how it will play hob with the auction market. What chance would a restored Lightweight E-type have against a 1963-titled Lightweight E-type actually built in 2015? (Oh, while you're at it, Jaguar, back there in 1963, buy me some new Andy Warhol prints.)

Some of my esteemed historian colleagues, like Colin Comer, author of The Complete Book of Shelby Automobiles: Cobras, Mustangs and Super Snakes seem to think the Shelby scheme was a minor issue—a mere matter of old Serial Numbers being recognized. I think Jaguar's move is far more egregious, they're messin' with history big-time and if they get away with it, vintage racing and vintage car auctions will be changed forevermore.

Automakers should not be allowed to work that time machine thing for their own promotional motivations—if they succeed, it flat flies in the face of all the hard work restorers have done on the real cars built in-period. Owners of the originals have to worry about metal fatigue. The buyers of the reborn ones won't.

Maybe it will all be settled by the DMV, if anyone wants to register one for the street. At a million dollars plus each, maybe they will just be used on the track, where the DMV has no jurisdiction.

But, if the owners want to put them on the street, say so they can take one on a prestige tour like the Colorado Grand, each State's DMV will decide what year the car was made…and some of the States have a well-honed sense of history. In fact, when the California DMV questioned the model year of these newly hatched CSX3000 series cars created by Shelby's venture, he moved operations to Nevada and gradually went back to making cars more realistically called “replicas” or "continuation cars" or somesuch with newly created CSX numerical sequences.

Jaguar may succeed, but in doing so, change the collector car world in a way we might not want to see...