Mark Evans: filming Jaguar’s £1 million E-types

8 mins read

In a documentary set to be aired on Channel 4, Mark Evans goes behind the scenes of Jaguar’s £1 million E-types. Here, he explains what it was like to be involved with the project. 

In 1963, Jaguar announced it was going to build a series of 18 aluminium-bodied, racing versions of the E-type sports car – the now legendary “Lightweights”. In the end, for reasons nobody really knows, only 12 were completed.

But then, 12 months ago, Jaguar broke the surprising news that it had decided to build the six race cars that it should have made back in 1963. The missing six. Fifty years on, Jaguar would finish what it started.

Somehow, I managed to secure exclusive behind-the-scenes access 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 fear it only serves to fuel the controversy that now surrounds these cars.   

Initially, Jaguar was very cagy about how much these E-types would sell for (the originals fetch more than £5 million), but it seems that each will carry a price tag of between £1.2 and £1.5 million, making them the most expensive cars Jaguar has ever built – by a very significant margin. And, before you think of making a dash for the cashpoint, don’t bother. They have all been sold, even though only one has actually been built so far.

Indeed, even when they were still available, even if you happened to have the necessary loose change and even if you were first in the queue, you still couldn’t just buy one. Rather, you had to be chosen. More than 300 of the super-rich submitted applications. All, bar six, received a disappointing reply from Jaguar HQ.

Jaguar’s attention to detail on this project has been brilliantly bonkers. As well as a hand-made race car, each owner receives a luxury, 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. Goodness knows how much they cost to make. But the watches, in particular, are simply sublime. The movement is a miniature E-type steering wheel. It’s all in the detail. Billionaires love this kind of stuff.

I was only allowed to meet 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 his slightly crumpled, corduroy-clad form 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, I’ve no idea. Jaguar has kept them a closely guarded secret, although 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. They know they are part of something very special and they really care about these cars. They are also all of a certain age – the same vintage, in fact, as the E-type. There’s a connection.

This is certainly one of the most fascinating automotive projects I have filmed over the past 20 years. It has also ended up being more controversial than Jaguar had 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. They might lack racing provenance, but they ooze pedigree.

Jaguar committed to build each of the cars by hand to the exact specification of the originals. So, in many ways, these brand new cars are more original than the actual “originals”, which have been tweaked and modified over their racing careers. 

Jaguar has, however, allowed each new owner to select from a small range of options including the paint job. Car number 13 is a delicious gunmetal 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. It looks amazing. It looks expensive. 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 (hopefully Jaguar has told the new owners!). It’s impossible, of course, 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 E-type trophies.  

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.

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. Unless, it seems, it is the Goodwood Revival. I caught up with Lord March, master of this particular motoring Mecca, to ask 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 an immediate “no”.  He sees these new cars as replicas and replicas simply don’t make the grid at Goodwood.

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.

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