What is it and where is it going? Those are easy questions to answer in this particular case. It’s a Jaguar F-Type coupé with a stonking great V8 and I’m driving it to the Jabbeke highway, a stretch of motorway in western Belgium with which Jaguar – and this magazine – has some history.
But for Jaguar generally, maybe ‘where is it going?’ is harder to answer, particularly for the F-Type. There’s the Jaguar range as it exists now, and we know there’s a new XJ due, all-electric, expensive, luxurious and stylish. But beyond that, what will be for Jaguar or its sports car? Who knows? Not me. Not you?
Does Jaguar? Once, it had a very clear direction. In 1961, at the Geneva motor show, it revealed the E-Type and, well, I wasn’t there, but I hear it went down quite well. And in the same month, testers from The Autocar came here to Flanders, where a straight stretch of dual carriageway between the town of Jabbeke and the coastal city of Ostend was flat and had routinely shown itself to be quiet enough for obtaining high-speed road test figures.
In its Autocar road test, published on 24 March, just a week after the car was unveiled to the public in Geneva, the E-Type hit 150mph in our hands – and with a slightly hooky engine – on this very road. The car from the show, a coupé with the registration 9600HP, was the car we had tested.
Another variant, a green roadster, registration 77RW (the road test car for The Motor and still owned by Jaguar today), was driven down to Switzerland overnight during the show itself by Jaguar test engineer and racer Norman Dewis when rampant demand for test drives looked like overwhelming Jaguar’s capacity to handle them.
Excluding the Channel crossing but including a drive through central London and before motorway networks were as widespread as today, Dewis still managed to average 68mph between Jaguar’s base in Coventry and the show.
He was also no stranger to Jabbeke. Today, the town has a plaque dedicated to him and Jaguar’s high-speed testing exploits on the highway in the early 1950s.
So, on the approach to the E-Type’s 60th anniversary, it seems like as good a place as any to come to assess Jaguar’s position today as… what, a sports car maker? Maybe. The F-Type is, as its name would suggest, the true sports car follow-up to that original two-seater, which was launched when British motoring was leading the world but stayed on sale until 1974, when it really wasn’t.
With our industry lower on confidence in the ’70s, the E-Type was replaced, of a fashion, by the XJ-S in 1975, which was in turn replaced by the XK8 and then the XK. It wasn’t until 2012 that Jaguar felt bold enough to revive the name’s lineage and call its new model the F-Type, with production starting in 2013. It will be a proper sports car again, they said back then.
And it was. Cleverly, Jaguar launched the roadster first, so we got to know that as a genuine sports car, with the coupé – which was only ever going to be better to drive – following about a year afterwards.