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Book Review – Great Cars 1, Jaguar Lightweight E-Type, The autobiography of 4 WPD

Book Review – Great Cars 1, Jaguar Lightweight E-Type, The autobiography of 4 WPD

Book Review – Great Cars 1, Jaguar Lightweight E-Type, The autobiography of 4 WPD


The Jaguar E-Type caused a sensation when it was announced in 1961, with its svelte lines developed from the D-Type sports racing model, it was a production sports car the like of which was years ahead of its time, and at a price that undercut its rivals handsomely. The initial price was around £2,100, whereas an equivalent Aston Martin was around £4,500 and a Ferrari weighed in at over £6,000, so it can be seen just what a performance bargain it was, and why it was such a success.

This book, by renowned Jaguar expert Philip Porter, traces the life of one of the most famous and most successful racing examples of the model produced, the legendary “4 WPD”, from its roots as one of the first right hand drive examples, sold to preferred client and Jaguar dealer John Coombs, through its transition into the prototype lightweight model, to its current life as a historic race car. The book is an excellent example of extensive and in-depth research, which covers the car’s history in minute detail, with the inclusion of rare factory archive material, contemporary race reports of every race that it contested, its competitors and much more, with a great selection of evocative period images.

As an aside, I was at the Crystal Palace circuit in 1961, and recall seeing the pair of new E-Types, the pale grey Coombs car (4 WPD), then registered BUY1, driven by Roy Salvadori, and the dark blue example entered by Tommy Sopwith and driven by Jack Sears, battling with Mike Parkes in the bright red Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. I still have a vivid image of the Ferrari chasing the pair of E-Types into North Tower Corner, arriving with all four wheels locked up in a desperate attempt to outbrake them, unsuccessfully it should be said, and the Ferrari later retired with a rear wheel problem, the after effects of a practice shunt. This race would be the first win for BUY 1 (4 WPD), followed by a number of podium finishes during the year, giving Ferrari cause for concern of the E-Type being a new challenger to their then dominant force in GT racing, leading to the development of the 250 GTO for the 1962 season. Whilst talking of the 250 GTO, as a Ferrari aficionado, it was fascinating for me to find in the book a picture of the 250 GTO, chassis # 3729GT, with wool tufts attached at the MIRA wind tunnel, together with Malcolm Sayers analysis sketches and comments, when it was loaned by John Coombs to Jaguar for assessment.

To précis the story of 4 WPD, it started life as a standard E-Type roadster, with a carefully balanced engine, road registered BUY 1, and was raced under the John Coombs banner, by Roy Salvadori and Jack Sears during the 1961 season. In 1962 it went on a diet, and was rebuilt with a thinner gauge steel bodyshell and some aluminium panels. It was re-registered 4 WPD, the registration number that it has worn ever since, and raced by Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori, but against the new Ferrari 250 GTO its best results were a trio of 2nd places. To make it more competitive for 1963 it was rebuilt once more, now featuring a full aluminium bodyshell, together with numerous other modifications, in which form Graham Hill won all four races in which he drove the car. The car was further modified for the 1964 season, mainly in the mechanical department, and a young Jackie Stewart drove it to victory at the Crystal Palace. At the end of the season it was sold to Charles Bridges, and he entered in a number of races, driven either by himself or an upcoming Brian Redman, during 1965 and 1966, with considerable success in national races. In 1967 it went to Gordon Brown, who owned it for some 30 years.

This most famous of E-Types reappeared in racing on the historic scene in 1998, and has been a regular competitor at the Goodwood Revival Meeting since that time, albeit sometimes with drama, with accidents in 2006 and 2011, but with laurels as well, including victories in the 2001 and 2005 Tourist Trophy races for Emanuele Pirro/Gregor Fisken and Emanuele Pirro/Dario Franchitti respectively.

A really nice touch are the moody images in the photo gallery in chapter 4, which were shot at the slightly derelict historic Browns Lane site in Coventry, where birth was given to this baby. A book on a single car might seem a bit too specialist for general consumption, but this one paints a vivid picture not only of the individual car, but of the period, the competitors and the various protagonists that made it happen, truly a compelling read.

The book is available from all good booksellers, whilst if purchased direct from the publisher, the copy bought will be signed by the author.

Publisher: Porter Press International Ltd (www.porterpress.co.uk)

ISBN: 978-1-907085-17-8
UK RRP: £48.00

Keith Bluemel