We are already 1/12 of the way complete with 2016 and it's that time where the month's cover car is introduced by its proud owner. February showcases the 1968 Jaguar E-Type OTS (open two-seater) of George Sweeper, who's owned this Series 1.5 for just about 45 years. That's a mechanical companionship that not many of us can brag about and George shares his with such humbleness. Please enjoy the following Q&A regarding his relationship with one special Jag.
Briefly introduce your car and why you drive it. What's your story?
This is a 1968 XKE or E-Type Jaguar Roadster Series 1.5. The 1.5 designation, while commonly used, is unofficial. It has an XK twin cam 4.2 litre inline six engine that is said to produce 265hp. I acquired and drive this car because of its power, styling and performance characteristics, particularly compared to other sports cars of that era. For me, its beautiful and sensuous lines and design cues represent the culmination of automotive art and function at its best. I never tire of viewing the car when parked from various angles, but more importantly putting it on the interstate or back roads and pushing it to the limit.
What's the exact model of your car? Where does it fit in the production history?
This particular vehicle represents the transition from the Series 1 to the Series 2 E-Types, and was produced for only one year, '67 to '68. It combined some of the features of both Series. One of the major and most noticeable differences was that the vast number (save for an unknown number at the end of '67) of the Series 1 E-Types had covered headlights, but to my knowledge none of the Series 1.5 maintained this feature, although I've heard otherwise. Some Series 1.5 owners had their vehicles retrofitted with covered headlights. Also, the interiors of the 1.5 more closely resembled the Series 2 E-Types than that of the Series 1. The earlier models of the Series 1, which began production in 1962, had a 3.8 litre engine which was later replaced with the 4.2 litre. That engine was common to both the Series 1 through Series 2 E-Types. All of the pre-1968 models were fitted with three SU carburetors, but during the transition year these were switched to two Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, which diminished the horsepower. There are other differences between the Series 1, 1.5, and 2 E-Types, but that's a topic for another article. Suffice it to say that the '68 E-Type holds a unique place in the E-Type lineage as a result of its combination of features and of its one year production run. I've have also heard that Jaguar considers the '68 E-Type as the end of the Series 1 production line, and the '69 model as the beginning of the Series 2 run.
It's also worth noting that these changes to the E-Type were dictated by the Americans, who after five years suddenly decided that covered headlights, winged spinner wheel knockoffs, and the toggle dashboard switches were suddenly somehow unsafe. Can't imagine the fact that the Series 1 was one of the fastest, most responsive and “affordable” sports cars of the early “60s” and that the “Big Three” had virtually nothing to compete with it, had anything to do with that decision...
How long have you had the car? What is the mileage? How often do you drive it?
I purchased my E-Type in 1971 after owning two Austin-Healey sports cars (a 100 and a 3000 Series). In the late ‘60s, a woman with whom I attended college and briefly dated some time after, was the owner of a canary yellow Series 1. This afforded me the opportunity to drive it from Washington, DC to NYC one summer. By the end of the trip, I knew that I had to have one. Over the next couple of years I perused the NY Times Classified Auto Section searching for a reasonably priced used E-Type in good condition. The Car Gods finally rewarded me for my efforts and persistence, which is a story in itself.
The total mileage on the car is clouded and approximate. During the early stages of my ownership, my monetary solvency ebbed and flowed. Attending graduate school with very little deposable income meant that if a repair was needed that wasn't crucial to being able to drive the car, it was put off. During one rather extended period, my speedometer ceased to function so I drove using the tach and the exhaust note as a guide. So a realistic approximation of the total mileage would be around 185,000, with an engine rebuild at 79,570. For the first twelve years or so the car was my daily driver, was parked on the street in NYC and driven year round. Then for two years it sat in a garage in need of engine and suspension work.
What is special about your car? Is it a collector's vehicle? Have you customized it?
I purchase the car knowing intuitively that I would never be telling someone years later that I USED to own an E-Type; I considered this a purchase for life. So I preceded to slowly make certain modifications to enhance the performance, handling and to a lesser extent interior comfort to suit me and my driving style. I swapped the two Zenith-Stromberg carburetors for three SU carbs from a pre-68 series 1. I had a mild racing cam and Koni shocks installed along with beefed up torsion bars. I swapped the American differential for the European one, which allowed for higher cruising speeds at lower engine revs. I replaced the original headers with a stainless steel individual setup along with larger Wilwood brakes up front and an electronic ignition. There are a few other things, but you get the point. The E-Type purists would probably pass on my car, but then they probably don't drive like me either.
What have been the worst and best experiences with this car?
The worst experience I've had was driving from NYC to Atlanta with my 13-year-old son to attend the Men's NCAA Basketball Final Four Tournament in 2002. About two hours outside of Atlanta on our non-stop trip it started to rain, and then pour (did I mention that the Jag leaks?). Water started leaking in the windows first, but then from the top of the windshield onto our legs, the dash, and center console. Then, condensation began to fog up all of the glass surfaces and my visibility was reduced to zero. I pulled out a couple of towels from behind the seats and we began wiping furiously. Finally, I reluctantly pulled over and we waited out the storm while drying everything off. Half an hour later we were back on the road, and the rest of our trip and the Tournament was wonderful. A quick note, my son happened to read this paragraph as I was completing it and his immediate comment was “What are you talking about dad, I thought that was a really GREAT trip!!”
It's very difficult to single out the best experience because there have been so many over the years. However, one of my favorites was my first trip from NYC to California. One summer in the early ‘70s, I took six weeks crisscrossing the country to the west coast and back. Gas was cheap, the roads were not congested, the scenery was awesome, sunshine was abundant (never put the top up while driving), the engine just purred and no cops.
One of the most memorable legs of the trip was going from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico straight down the coast with as much travel as possible on US 1. I had one breakdown, about 50 miles from the Grand Canyon, when my fan belt snapped; I pulled my spare from the trunk and half an hour later I was on the road again on my way to see my first sunset and sunrise at the canyon. At the start of my trip, as I was leaving NYC via the GW Bridge, I set my trip odometer at zero, and upon my return traversing the same bridge the odometer turned over to exactly 10,000 miles...uncanny! During the trip, I also did three oil/filter changes. [There is] nothing like the sound of the Jag engine with new oil cruising at 90 to 100mph for extended periods across Wyoming, Montana and Nevada.
Any other thoughts about your car?
I've always enjoyed driving this car because of its power, torque, responsiveness and the feedback which keeps you completely in touch with the driving environment and elements. The engine, refined from the Le Mans racers of the late '50s, never tires of driving at speed. Example: Second trip: NYC to San Francisco, two drivers (in a hurry) 58 hrs non-stop on Interstate 80. Return trip (still in a hurry) 56 hrs on Interstate 80! Suffice it to say, that although I have a more contemporary and faster car with more power and creature comforts there is still nothing like owning and driving an E-Type Jaguar...
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