Inside Jaguar: making a million pound car
In 1963, Jaguar announced it was going to build a series of 18 aluminium bodied, souped-up racing versions of the E Type – the now legendary ‘Lightweights’ that, today, rarely come on to the open market. And, when they do, they exchange hands for crazy money. Think well north of five million. But, for some reason, that no one seems to know, Jaguar only ever built 12 of them. Their rarity is what makes them so sought after, of course.
The last E Types left the factory in 1974. But then, last year, Jaguar broke the surprising news that it had decided to build the six cars that it should have made back in 1963. OMG ! The missing six. Fifty years on, Jaguar would finish what it started.
Somehow, I managed to secure exclusive access behind-the-scenes at Jaguar to film the construction of car number 13, the first of the six new cars. Although, for some reason, Jaguar has always referred to it as car number one. I have never really understood why and I think it will only fuel the controversy that now surrounds these cars – see below !
Jaguar was very cagy about how much these cars would sell for, but it was clear that each one would have a price tag of well over a million pounds. But, even if you happened to have the necessary loose change and you were first in the queue, having camped out for a week on the pavement, you couldn’t just buy one. You had to be chosen. Over 300 super rich sports car fans applied. All, bar six, got a Dear John letter from Jaguar HQ.
Jaguar’s attention to detail on this project has been brilliantly bonkers. As well as a hand-made race car, each lucky owner gets a leather-clad suitcase painted in the same colour as his or her car (made by the Queen’s very own case-maker) and a hand-made watch crafted from melted-down remnants of the aluminium used to build the car’s body. Heaven knows how much they cost to make. But the watches, in particular, are simply sublime. Although, all six are definitely designed for men. Does that mean there are no girls amongst the new owners ? I met one buyer. I wanted to hate him but, annoyingly, I actually liked him a lot. His name is John and when I first clapped eyes on him, across a crowded workshop, I thought he was Danny DeVito ! You’ll get where I’m coming from when you watch the film. As for the other five, no idea. Jaguar has kept them a closely guarded secret. But it’s going to be hard to protect their anonymity once the cars get out on the track.
I loved filming this project. The engineers and craftsmen responsible for building the cars are proper enthusiasts and great to hang out with. They know they are part of something very special and they really care about these cars. Jaguar chose them well. Interesting though that all the core team are men!
Genuinely, I can’t believe how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to be a small part of the final chapter in the E Type story. It is certainly one of the most fascinating automotive projects I have filmed. But, it has also ended up more controversial than Jaguar anticipated. Some in the historic car racing world see these new Lightweights as ‘replicas’ – a bit of a dirty word in the upper echelons of the auto aristocracy. They are not of course. They are originals, made by Jaguar using chassis numbers allocated back in 1963. I have seen the six spaces in the hand-written ledger from that year.
Jaguar committed to build each of the cars by hand to the exact specification of the originals. So, in many ways, they are more original today than the actual ’originals’ that have been tweaked and modified over their racing careers. But, Jaguar has allowed each new owner to select from a small range of options including the paint job. Car number 13 is a delicious gun metal grey but the modern paint gives it a depth of colour that, for me, feels artificial and out-of-place on a 1963 race car. The car looks amazing, but it’s these kind of details that niggle those who want to see absolute authenticity on such an important heritage project. And, I understand why.
Despite the asking price, the cars aren’t roadworthy. It’s impossible to get a 1963 spec car through modern regulations. So, buyers will either have to race them or keep them in their living rooms as very expensive E Type trophies. But, I’m not sure how practical that would be as there are very places on an E Type’s curvaceous form where you can safely leave a jug of Pimms or even a tumbler of gin and tonic.
If owners choose the trophy option, I reckon a lot of enthusiasts will be massively disappointed. So too will Jaguar. The bosses want these cars to be seen. It’s good for business as the company seeks to secure the super rich as its brand ambassadors.
If any of the new owners choose to hide their cars away, then they should prepare for the inevitable – a covert, SAS-style rescue mission by yours truly. I will deliver said cars back to Jag and insist they issue a refund before selling the cars on to folk who will do what’s right and put them on the race track.
Racing is what these cars were born to do and, for those who own them, the doors will be open to prestigious race events all over the world. But not Goodwood, it would seem. I caught up with Lord March, master of this particular motoring Mecca, to ask him if he would allow any of the six new Lightweights to race at the iconic Revival or the even more exclusive Members’ Meeting. His answer was immediate. It was clear he didn’t need to think about it. ‘No’, left little room for doubt. He sees these new cars as replicas and replicas simply don’t make the grid at Goodwood. Oh dear. That’s a shame. For the sake of all E Type enthusiasts, I really hope he will change his mind. Once he has seen one, and thrashed it around his garden, I’m sure he will.
Channel 4, Prime Time
Presenter & Producer
1 x 60’
Arrow Media & Jungle TV