Driven // Does the E-Type stack up in the modern day?
Some days you’re the hammer, and others you’re the nail. I was most definitely the hammer the other day, sitting behind the wheel of a Series 1.5 E-Type on a bright winter’s morning, cruising along the North Circular to leave London behind.
It was an idea that had got a little out of hand, but for whatever reason, I’d ended up with some quality seat time in an E-Type and I no longer cared if it made perfect sense. It wasn’t just for a day out – it was a Monday, I had a schedule to keep to and things to do, but when you finally hit that open road and build some speed, everything seems fine with the world.
In hindsight, there was a lot that could have gone wrong. And this was in the back of my mind, initially at least. Classics are great fun but the novelty often wears thin when you have meetings to keep and you can’t just take your time. I wasn’t convinced that using it as an actual car for actual purposes was such a great idea, but come on. You never, ever, turn down an E-Type!
I collected it in Shoreditch, with the first task being the refuelling of car and driver in the form of Shell 98 and an espresso. First lesson: everybody loves an E-Type in morning traffic. Usually jaded hipsters turn their heads, people take photos. And sitting behind that comically thin-rimmed wood wheel with the growler glaring back at you and that bonnet arcing off into the distance, looking around and seeing how you are brightening these people’s day, you feel good. Maybe you don’t quite know where you are because there’s nowhere to properly rest your phone with Google Maps and it’s slipped under the passenger seat, and the notion of any old car in London peak hour is disconcerting. But if this isn’t the best damn start to a day, I don’t know what is.
Once you find somewhere to rest your phone where you can see the direction map, the E-Type makes a good traffic car. The thing is so tall-geared that first is good for 20, even 30 miles an hour, so you rarely change gear. And people actually give you space! We attempt a right-turn out of the Shell on Holloway road, usually an impossible task, but cars in both directions stop to clear us a path and let us in with a smile. Remarkable.
The real revelation comes out on the motorway, though. The biggest downside to classic ownership in London is that you need to use the motorway to get anywhere nice, and most classics just can’t keep up with the 75-85 mph flow of traffic. This relegates you to buzzing loudly in the left lane at 55, which simply isn’t much fun. The E-Type, however, keeps up with and easily exceeds the flow of modern traffic.
Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Series 1 wowed the world with its 150mph top speed on its 1961 launch, which must have been truly blistering pace in the context of 1960s traffic. Today, the E-Type feels quick enough and the fact that it will cruise at 85 for hours on end is the single biggest factor increasing the enjoyment. You’re not so keenly focussed on what’s catching you, and you can easily buzz it up to 100 or more to fit into a gap or pass a truck. What’s more, you never look uncouth doing it. A silver E-Type making good time through traffic looks cool.
Even though it has modern speed, the E-Type certainly doesn’t feel modern. You’re very well aware that you are driving this car, I mean, really driving it. The cabin somehow achieves the dual feelings of both airiness and claustrophobia, and between the sound of that twin-cam straight six singing its lungs out, the wind noise filtering its way past the door seals and the intimate expression of the exact road surface that the tyres are rolling across, you need to raise your voice to converse with your passenger at anything over 80, despite literally rubbing shoulders.
Is this an issue? Hell no! I mean, it would have been good to mentally prepare for our first meeting on the drive up, but the E-Type makes you feel like a Spitfire pilot, heading out on an important mission. One eye on the road, arms spread wide guiding that svelte nose around potholes and plotting a route past trucks. The other split between watching the navigation, and monitoring the array of gauges spread in front and out to the left. Right foot operating that long-travel and ball-bearing smooth throttle pedal, left keeping the clutch in check, and both working the brake when the situation dictates. You can’t help but heel-toe from fourth to third and then second, not only does it ensure smoothness and noticeably isolate drivetrain shock, but it just feels like the right thing to do.
Of course, there are some snags. It’ll do 100 like a modern but it won’t stop from 100 like a modern, so you need to look a long, long way ahead. And when changing down from third to second, it’s easy to clip reverse, so you need to drive with plenty of mechanical feel and take your time. And then, there’s all the usual old-car foibles.
Would you want to do this every day? Of course not – your luck would run out. But it sets a tone for the day, and arriving feeling like the hammer isn’t to be underestimated. And in the modern age of dull semi-autonomy, that’s gotta count for something.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles