9600 HP - Press Hack

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

That British institution Pathé News dubbed 1961 'A year to remember' and it seems like a fair title. The year's news and events included the inauguration of Kennedy, the building of the Berlin Wall and the first American in space. France was said to be on the brink of civil war, with troubles in Algeria and de Gaulle being defied by his armed forces. A Channel Tunnel was being advocated and estimated to cost £130m with completion in about five years. Mini-cabs hit London, an early version of the hovercraft was being put through its trials, Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar, Christine Trueman and Angela Mortimer contested an all-British ladies final at Wimbledon, and Cliff Richard was 21.

Prior to launch, 9600 HP was given the title 'Press Car' and this was the role that the car was to play for the next year or so. Barely able to regain her breath after returning from the triumph of Geneva and the hard work being thrashed around the test circuit for the duration of the show, the old girl was now lent to a never-ending succession of publications from around the globe.

Bob Berry, who had driven the car back from Geneva on about 27 March, recalls the pressure his department was under from the national and international press.

'The clamour to borrow the car was enormous. Absolutely. Once we had taken it to Geneva, the roof fell in in terms of people wanting to borrow the car to test it and that sort of thing. We were anxious to give it as wide a publicity as possible and therefore we lent it to Quattroruote in Italy and Auto Motor und Sport in Germany, and Auto Journal in France, and all the major influences throughout Europe.'

Meanwhile, in the UK the first monthly motoring magazines were appearing. Bill Boddy, Editor of Motor Sport was one of those to whom 9600 HP had been entrusted before launch. Clearly he was pretty peeved that others had had the car for more than a few hours and he had some harsh things to say about road works on the M1 (has anything changed?) and the then-Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, but was lavish with his praise for the car. He even stated that he and Michael Tee had cruised at 155 mph!

'What Sir William Lyons has done is to use all that was best in the race-bred and inspired C and D-type Jaguars, learn some useful lessons from the 3-litre Cunningham Jaguar built for the last Le Mans race, evolve stylish new bodywork and combine all these ingredients in a new British Grand Touring Jaguar that is about as fast as they come, immensely accelerative, endowed with extremely good roadholding, handling and braking characteristics, able to be driven by grandma at 15 mph or less in top gear, of returning some 20 mpg of fuel under fast-travel conditions and which sells in GT coupé form, even after the Chancellor has had his levy of well over £618, for a mere £2,196 19s 2d. Sir William Lyons has bred another winner!

'Just over a week before the announcement date of the new Jaguar I was allowed to sample it for a few hours on the roads near Coventry. I was aware that other motoring journalists had been permitted to venture as far afield as Italy in E-types but after many years' experience of the motor industry I have learnt to be thankful for small miracles, and thus I gratefully headed a coupé towards M1 - a road, Mr Marples, that was reduced to single-line traffic in several places while men toiled to plough up and re-lay its so-called hard shoulders!

'What followed was quite fantastic - remembering that an honoured British name and not one hailing from Modena, Maranello or Stuttgart graced our motor car. Getting the feel of the E-type and then encountering those aforementioned single-lane sections of the great Marples Motor Road, we nevertheless found ourselves as far away as St Albans within an hour of accelerating out of the gates of the Jaguar factory. Put the E-type in top gear and it just goes faster and faster, until it is cruising along M1 at 6,100 rpm, which we calculated to be a pretty genuine 155mph. At this speed it is possible for driver to converse with passenger in normal tones, wind-noise being low and little noise coming from transmission or final-drive - a fantastic experience!

'The E-type felt as if it would have been happy to go the length of M1 at this speed - equal to a sustained 6,100 rpm - had not vehicles crawling along the outside lane at 90/100 mph occasionally impeded its progress! After dropping to 4,000 rpm or approximately 102 mph, it was possible to accelerate to 5,000 rpm (127mph) in a mere eight seconds.

'In my brief two-hour run in this remarkable car (it used three-quarters of a tank of fuel and covered something like 155 miles, by no means all of them on M1, including several stops for photography and others in rush-hour Coventry traffic!) I was not able to access it fully but I learnt enough to know that Jaguar have produced a GT car which fully deserves the honoured Gran Turismo designation. The E-type is a staggering motor car on all counts; safety, acceleration, speed, equipment, appearance - all are there, for a basic price of only £1,480. Staggering! I extend to Sir William Lyons, his design team, technicians and workers my humble congratulations.' WB

Extract taken from 'The Most Famous Car in the World - the Story of the First E-type Jaguar', by Philip Porter (pp105 - 106)

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