On March 1961, British car maker unveiled its iconic XKE series to the automotive world. The rest, as they say, is history. Featuring a 265hp engine and selling for half the price of comparable sports cars, the Jaguar XKE steamrolled the competition and remained top dog for well over a decade. For many Jaguar fans the 60s are considered as the Golden Age of the XKE Series.
The Jaguar XKE is, to this day, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful examples of top notch automotive design. More than just a pretty face, the XKE could reach an impressive 240 km/h without breaking a sweat. The Jaguar XKE had something other sports cars of that era lacked – it was the perfect combination of brawn and beauty.
The origin of the XKE lies with Jaguar’s C-Type and D-Type race cars. After the successes of the C-Types and D-Types at the race-track, the team at Jaguar decided to bring the high performance engineering of their race-cars to production line vehicles. Early XKE designs involved completely overhauling the XK 150 design while keeping the engine. The resulting XKE line was a formidable combination of cutting edge (for the time) technology and raw power. While primarily designed as a road legal vehicle, the XKE blew away the competition in GT competitions in Europe, America and Australia.
Initially appearing in 1961 at the Geneva Motor Show, the first XKE models came with a beefy six cylinder 3.8 liter engine with dual overhead camshafts capable of churning out 265hp. Early XKE models were available as a convertible or a two seat coupe, with other variations coming out later. The first major changes to the line were introduced a few years later with the inclusion of a larger 4.2 liter engine, triple SU carburetors, an all-synchromesh gearbox, improved brakes and improved seats.
Jaguar wasn’t done with tinkering with their beloved XKE line – 1966 saw the debut of a new Jaguar XKE 2+2 model, with added stability to the wheelbase and more roomy interiors. Other minor refinements included the removal of headlamp covers and black ribbed camshaft covers replacing the rounded polished ones.
During the latter half of the 1960s Jaguar had a hard time keeping their XKE line up to spec with strict new safety and emissions regulations in the US. The XKE design had to be completely retooled to meet these new road safety and emissions standards. The result of this was an XKE with altered headlamps, extra bumpers that wrapped around the chassis and bigger taillights. The engine’s power was also cut down and a larger motor intake with twin electric fans was for better engine cooling. The entire braking mechanism had a major overhaul and the dashboard’s toggle switches were replaced by rocker switches – all in the name of safety.
These alterations were universally reviled by fans of the Jaguar XKE, but company management had no choice in the matter. Jaguar’s bottom line depended on the continued sales of their vehicles in America, making such changes necessary. Unfortunately many fans saw this as the emasculation of Jaguar’s once powerful XKE line.
In 1971 the company launched the Jaguar XKE Series 3. In an effort to overcome criticism over the muzzling of its once powerful XKE line, the XKE Series 3 included a beefy 5.3 liter V12 engine. Other refinements included a larger wheelbase, chrome grill on the intake mouth, power steering and wider wheel arches.