This E-Type just became the most valuable E-Type in history. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the racing E-type and how this ultimate Lightweight version stacked up in GT competition in 1963.
Jaguar began developing the E-type for competition shortly after its launch in 1961, and by 1962 it was clear that the new car had great potential. The first of these cars, chassis no. S850006, was delivered to John Coombs’ racing team, and the renowned Graham Hill achieved promising results with a third-place finish at Silverstone in May 1962, second at Mallory Park a month later, and fifth at Brands Hatch in August. Increasingly used as a factory development car, Coombs’ E-Type was further modified with a lighter-gauge steel body. The new competition car was showing tremendous potential against the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato and Ferrari 250 GT SWB, but when the Ferrari 250 GTO arrived, it was clear that greater lightness was needed.
Jaguar moved a step further with the development of S850006, using it as the mold for a projected 17 more competition cars. The new cars were lightened with aluminum alloy bodies and an aluminum hardtop that strengthened the shell’s rigidity. The 3.8-liter competition engines were further upgraded with Lucas fuel injection and dry-sump lubrication, while the chassis was modified with a revised suspension geometry and myriad other competition parts.
Other than the development example, production began with S850659 and proceeded sequentially to S850669, all within the standard E-Type numbering, but with the S prefix signifying the Lightweight Competition model. Jaguar didn’t intend to build enough cars for the Lightweight to be homologated separately, so the intention was for the racing model to be passed off as part of the production E-Type family even though very few parts were shared, and it was never formally marketed or acknowledged in sales materials.
In total, just 12 examples of the E-Type Lightweight were built, with production never actually reaching the original target of 18 cars. So it is significantly rarer than its competition – Ferrari produced 39 of the 250 GTOs between 1962-1964, and Aston Martin built 19 DB4GT Zagatos from 1961-1963.
Briggs Cunningham chose to run three Lightweights in the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hour Race. Cunningham had closed his car manufacturing business in 1955 for tax reasons and subsequently became the director of Jaguar Cars, New York, the marque’s East Coast distributorship, which facilitated Cunningham’s purchase of a D-Type and several racing XKs over the next few years. His choice of the Lightweight for Le Mans demonstrated it’s position as the successor to the D-type for Jaguar in front line international competition. Cunningham’s team were the only Jaguars entered in the race that year, the factory works competition efforts having been abandoned in favor of factory-supported privateer teams such as Cunningham’s.
In 1963 the GT class at Le Mans saw top honors going to the Ferrari 250 GTO, with an AC Cobra Hardtop and a Ferrari 330 LMB also beating the Jaguars. However, in historic racing today, the teething troubles that the Jaguars encountered are a thing of the past, and these cars are very competitive at events such as the Goodwood Revival.
1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition Chassis Registration no. 5114 WK Chassis no. S850664 Engine no. RA 1349-9S.
Officially dispatched from the factory on June 7, 1963, chassis no. S850664 was the 7th Lightweight built, and the second of the three cars sold to Briggs Cunningham. It was registered with Coventry tags reading “5114 WK,” which continue to adorn the rear license plate today.
As Brown’s Lane was still working through issues with a longer-legged ZF 5-speed gearbox, the Lightweight was equipped with a Jaguar 4-speed gearbox when delivered to Cunningham for use at Le Mans. It was piloted there by the legendary champion drivers Walt Hansgen and Augie Pabst, and officially entered as #14. The other Cunningham cars, S850665 (#16) and S850659 (#15), were respectively driven by Roy Salvadori and Paul Richards; and Bob Grossman and Cunningham, himself.
Unfortunately, the 4-speed gearbox failed to hold up for more than an hour, forcing S850664’s early retirement after qualifying at 14th on the starting grid. Salvadori was involved in a fiery crash in the 6th hour from which he barely emerged intact, but Grossman and Cunningham remained in 7th place by Sunday morning. Then a brake failure forced Grossman into a hay bale and the front end sustained minor damage. After the car limped back to the pits, the crew was able to cut off part of S850664’s hood and graft it onto S850659, and Grossman dashed back into the race, managing to finish 9th out of the 12 surviving cars (from a starting field of 55 entries!).
After Le Mans, S850664 was returned to the factory to replace the hood and install the desirable 5-speed ZF gearbox. In this configuration, the Lightweight was delivered to the United States and driven to an 11th-place finish for Cunningham by Hansgen and Richards at the Road America 500 in September 1963. A 4th-place finish by Richards at Bridgehampton followed a week later, and after this brief competition career the unique coupe was retired to Cunningham’s well-known museum in Costa Mesa, California.
S850664 desirably retains its factory-issued aluminum coachwork and matching-numbers alloy engine, a rarity given that most E-Type Lightweights have now been fitted with a replacement motor. It is accompanied by a deep file of documentation that includes correspondence and invoices from Lynx, vehicle histories written by several authors, magazine articles, and an original developmental test report to Cunningham team manager Alfred Momo and the Jaguar factory written by test driver Bill Kimberly (nephew of the better-known driver James “Gentleman Jim” Kimberly).
Boasting impressive competition history as an official team car of the legendary Briggs Cunningham, and having been piloted by champion drivers Augie Pabst and Walt Hansgen, this important and highly original E-Type Lightweight is among the most important examples of the rare competition model.
Some benchmarks for this car include it’s competition back in 1963, the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato, an example of which sold at RM Sotheby’s in 2015 for $14.3 million. This was a breathtakingly beautiful example, and is almost as rare as the Lightweight, but this example had no front line international racing history, such as Le Mans.
What about the car that beat the Lightweight in 1963 to win the GT class at Le mans and the World Championship, the Ferrari 250 GTO? One of the 39 cars built sold for a world record auction price of $38.1 million at Bonhams Quail Lodge auction in 2014.
Of course, the Lightweight is a Jaguar, not a Ferrari or Aston Martin, with a different brand value. If we turn to similar Jaguars for comparison, we find two cars which also ran Le Mans, the C-Type and D-Type – both iconic models which won the race outright during the 1950s. The actual 1956 Le Mans winner, an Ecurie Ecosse 1955 D-Type holds the auction record for a British car at $21.8 million (RM Sotheby’s, 2016). A 1953 C-Type Lightweight sold in 2015 at RM Sotheby’s for $13.2 million – this was one of three Lightweight Cs and placed fourth at Le Mans in 1953.
Back in January of this year, a 1963 Jaguar E-type Lightweight Competition, which had little significant race history, fetched $7.37 million. There was no doubt that S850664 was a more valuable car – it had been fastidiously maintained to highlight its 1963 Le Mans appearance.
This Jaguar E-Type Lightweight Competition S850664 was sold ‘post-sale’ by Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction on 18 Aug 2017, for a reported $8 million – A new record price for an E-Type, and for any post-1960 Jaguar.