Updated: Apr 23, 2021
A shared history, by Jeff Ruggles
On the face of it, the classic Mini and the Jaguar E-type would seem to be completely at odds with each other; one’s a tiny wheel-at-each-corner city dweller, while the other is a sleek, powerful sports car with an engine up to six times the size. Delve a little deeper though, and it becomes much clearer as to why the Mini will be the perfect complement to the celebrations when E-type 60 takes place at Shelsley Walsh later this year.
As well as constantly challenging each other for top spot as the nation’s favourite 1960s icon, both cars represented huge milestones when they were launched. Just as the E-type can justifiably claim to be the sports car that changed the world, the Mini did likewise for small cars with its revolutionary transverse engine layout and front-wheel-drive. Both cars took tried and tested mechanical parts, and repackaged them in such a way that new icons of British motoring were born.
Of course, it was the go-faster Mini Cooper that really propelled Alec Issigonis’ marvel of packaging to international stardom, and it just so happens to share the E-type’s birth year. Bringing two British sporting icons together when we’ve all spent so long apart seems like the perfect way to pay tribute to a shared 60th anniversary.
But there’s more to it than just 1961, as the pair went on to be a symbol of a utopian decade. They were beloved by the rich and famous – George Harrison of The Beatles drove an E-type, but he also drove a coachbuilt Mini. Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland were likewise spotted in both. Enzo Ferrari, meanwhile, owned as many as three modified Mini Coopers and is famously quoted as saying that he thought the E-type was the most beautiful car in the world. High praise indeed.
In 1966, the relationship between the two cars became even closer, as parent companies BMC and Jaguar merged under the British Motor Holdings umbrella. BMH was subsequently merged with Leyland to form a new parent company, and though Jaguar would be part of a different division to Austin and Morris, they both had British Leyland as their parent company. But never mind that; the real news of 1968 was the filming of scenes for a film that would unite the cars in silver screen folklore.
Released in 1969, The Italian Job cemented a relationship that continues to be celebrated more than five decades on. The patriotic red, white and blue Mini Cooper S trio was at the heart of the film, but as E-type owners will testify, they weren’t the only cars to star in the cult Michael Caine Caper.
As well as the Minis, the film famously featured “three fast cars” – an Aston Martin DB4 Convertible and a pair of E-Types. One of these was a blue fixed-head example, 619 DXX, while the other was a red 1961 roadster registered 848 CRY, which will be no doubt be familiar to E-type Club members having been owned by co-founder and Jaguar historian Philip Porter since 1977.
Sadly, the Mini and the E-type went their separate ways in the mid-1970s in the wake of the fuel crisis; the Mini’s sub one-litre engines rather more frugal than the big V12 unit fitted to the contemporary Series 3. However, both quickly became established classics, and in recent years they’ve successfully joined forces all over again. In October 2019, 848 CRY led a convoy of Minis and E-types to Turin as part of the club’s Ultimate Italian Job Tour, marking the film’s golden anniversary in style.
From a personal point of view, seeing the Mini I’ve owned for over 15 years share the famous Lingotto roof-top test track with a fine selection of E-types was something of a surreal moment, and yet it felt entirely appropriate. The welcome us Mini owners received from the Jaguar occupants was nothing short of amazing, and despite the cost and size dichotomy between the cars, the ensuing friendships formed were testament to the club and its members.
Renewing those friendships and continuing the special relationship between the E-type and the Mini at Shelsley is a prospect to relish. After all, they’re both icons of the ’60s, they’re both British and they both have a huge international following, even six decades years on. Now, after an extended period stuck in the garage, we can look forward to a new chapter in their illustrious history.