TIME WARP JAG
Back in 1969, Geoff Clark had owned his brand-new Jaguar E-Type roadster for a mere three months before it was rear-ended by a dozy van driver in the city of Newcastle, in the north of England. He says the van driver had expected him to gun it away from a set of traffic lights and was intent in keeping this iconic sports car in his sights, while Geoff had eased away gently. Amazingly the E-Type suffered minimal damage, while the van was a lights-out case-study.
“I had to return to Nigeria where I was based at the time for business, and didn’t get around to replacing the right rear tail light for a while, as spares were not instantly available. The bumper amazingly survived unscathed. There was a tiny dent, just behind the bumper, and I left it as it was, as nobody seemed to notice it.”
Soon after the van-assault, war broke out in Nigeria and Geoff’s banking company posted him to Durban, South Africa. This was more like it! The weather was fantastic, the roads were first class, and it didn’t take much brain-storming to realise that the Jag would make the perfect car for that climate.
In those days Geoff was still a bachelor and he admits with a smile that he was never short of female companionships, thanks to the added attraction of the E-Type. It was one of only two E-Types in Durban at that time, and his car looked magnificent in its Opalescent Golden Sand colour, with a dark fabric soft top, which spent most of its time folded down.
Fortunately for Geoff, he had a company car at the time, as his job as a bank inspector meant he had to travel all over South Africa visiting branches of the banking group. So, most of the time, the E-Type remained in his garage in Cowie’s Hill in Durban, well out of the rust belt closer to the coast. And as a weekend car, it didn’t log too much in the way of mileage at all.
“Today the mileage is just over 56 000 miles, which brings it close to the 100 000 km mark. And I have to say the car has been fantastically reliable. Apart from normal servicing, replacing brake pads and the like, the only substantial repair was to replace the clutch about two years ago.”
That’s an excellent record, given that the car is nearly 55 years-old. The engine has never been opened and today it starts on the first turn of the key, and idles absolutely smoothly despite being equipped with a triple S.U. carburettor set-up, which were common to all E-Types of that period (apart from the U.S-spec models). Geoff’s car is a Series 2 roadster, which some E-Type purists reckon is not as desirable as the Series 1 and Series 1-and-a-half cars, which had a smaller grille opening, headlights shrouded with Perspex covers and more delicate bumpers and tail lights.
On the other hand, this 1969 example, which runs a 4,2-litre engine (the early E-Types were 3.8’s) was some eight years into the E-Type production cycle, which began in 1961. This meant that all the typical early-production niggles had been well and truly sorted by the factory by 1969. Notably the gearbox, which is a slick-shifting four-speed manual on Geoff’s car and way superior to the clunky Moss gearboxes used on early E-Types.
For a number of years now, Geoff and his wife Helene have enjoyed the E-Type in Gauteng’s car-friendly climes. Cruising around the streets of old Jo’burg in search of suitable photographic locations, the iconic Jaguar behaved like it was almost new, with a notable absence of rattles or temperament. Geoff drives the car extremely gently, making full use of the impressive torque on the large-capacity twin overhead camshaft straight-six engine.
An E-Type’s bonnet hinges forward to give access to the engine, and looking at the engine bay and the exposed suspension components, one can see that this car has absolutely no rust. Also, that its surfaces are all absolutely original, as they left the factory in Coventry over half a century ago.
The unusual paint, which can best be described as a sort of champagne hue, today shows some battle scars mainly, says Geoff, at the hands of jealous vandals who target cars like E-Types in moments of spite. Particularly painful was an incident when someone slashed the fabric top of the car with a sharp knife, and Geoff had to source a genuine replacement, which looks very smart today.
The fact that Geoff has chosen not to restore or repaint the car gives it a unique patina, telling many tales of its life over the past 50-something years. To me it looks wonderful, as the body remains absolutely straight, and rust-free, and the interior is remarkably well-preserved, with all the charm of the car when it was launched at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show.
What makes Geoff’s car so remarkable today is its 100 percent originality. E-Types were never cheap cars, but today their value has risen enormously, considering that back in 1969 he paid just £1 700 for his brand-new Series 2 convertible. That price would have translated to R3 400 or so in South Africa back then, but it should be considered that shipping costs and South African import tax was severe then, so a 1969 price of R6 000 landed here was probably realistic for an E-Type. That would have been at a time when a Ford Cortina GT sold for about R2 000.
Given the somewhat faded appearance of the paint, this rare unrestored E-Type truly looks as if it has stepped out of a time-warp. A sort of living faded Polaroid snapshot of what cars looked like back in the era of Woodstock. As enthusiasts today unearth even the most rust-ravaged E-Types for amazingly costly full restorations, one wonders what price an absolutely un-restored original example would fetch here in South Africa right now.
For me the true value of such a car lies in its absolute originality, as once it has been restored it can never be put back to original. Right now it tells a story of only slightly faded glamour and amazingly intact survival in the hands of one careful owner since 1969. And in that sense, it is probably one of the rarest E-Type Jaguars in the world.
By the way, that dent behind the rear bumper dating back to the time it was three months old is still there. And as Geoff says, even today, hardly anyone seems to notice it!