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Andrew Martin: an E-type party to remember

The three greats reunited.
The three greats reunited.

As all you crazy cats know, there are good reasons to take an E to a party – that is, a celebrity 1970 E-type Jaguar V12 from the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (JDHT) to the E-type 60th birthday party at Shelsley Walsh.

Driving this E and being immersed in E-type celebrity at the birthday party was invigorating. And it’s not just me. The E-type merely being there brought pleasure to all party goers.

The hill climb at Shelsley Walsh.

The recreational use of the E-type involved racing it up the hill climb route – well, demonstrational drives rather than racing, really (that counts as social, domestic and pleasure on the insurance, doesn’t it?).

And I think I understand the Jaguar addiction as I’m selling possessions and compromising all expenditure to get the money together for a Jaguar E-type.

Great hosts and well-organised events made for a memorable E-type party.

Back to the party. Let’s run through the ingredients provided for this memorable birthday bash. Great hosts: yes, that’s the international E-type Club and Philip Porter. Philip is the author of over 25 motoring titles and owns 9600 HP, one of the famous three cars that featured in the Geneva Motor Show launch in 1961.

He also owns the red convertible E-type from the iconic 1969 Michael Caine film The Italian Job, but some of you will also know Philip from his charity work raising awareness and funds for Prostate Cancer UK with his E-type Club Round Britain Coastal Drives.

Getting ready at the starting line.

For a great party some friendly competition or games helps, and at Shelsley Walsh this was provided by organising competitive timed runs, demonstration drives and public rides in special cars up the famous hill climb circuit.

But for guaranteed party success, get the right guest list. This is where Shelsley Walsh E-xcelled, thanks to Tony Merrygold and the JDHT family. Not only did 77 RW (one of the 1961 Geneva motor show cars) red carpet, but also the last E-type built – HDU 555 N – and the launch V12 that raced the plane, WHP 205 J, joined the party to do some meet and greet in the paddock.

Meet-and-greet at the E-type party.

The JDHT family showcased these cars and gave interested party goers a convivial insight and backstage stories on the star cars. The team also gave attendees the chance to get in the cars and have a passenger ride up the hill climb circuit. Yes, this is the way to keep our art and heritage alive. This made me proud, in part as I was allowed to do demonstration drives in original Press V12.

A dramatic entrance

But I need to tell you why this party was such landmark event: for me, even more significant than bringing ABBA back together for a concert, as the three 1961 Geneva Motor Show launch cars were re-united for the first time since their famous gig!

Let me introduce you to the VIPs. The first E-type seen by public eyes was a hand-built prototype registered 9600 HP. This car initially had a role in important development work and then before the launch itself was loaned, discreetly, to a select few journalists to prepare their road test features in the UK. With the launch scheduled in Geneva, this left precious little time to transport the car to its launch event.

So, in dramatic fashion, the E-type was driven as though in a race, flat-out, from Coventry by Jaguar executive Bob Berry to the Parc des Eaux-Vives in Geneva – arriving just 20 minutes before the big reveal.

A party needs the right guests.

Demand for test drives was so high that Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis was told to “drop everything” and deliver another E-type – the open-top demonstrator 77 RW – to Geneva. He drove through the night, arriving to great applause from the eagerly awaiting press.

“Coventry to Dover took me two hours and I completed the run to Geneva in just over 11 hours,” Dewis told the Coventry Telegraph in 2011. “I averaged 68 miles per hour and there were no motorways back then, so it was quite a drive.”

After the Geneva launch, 9600 HP was converted to right-hand drive and used as a UK press car – most famously for the Autocar road test in which it topped 150mph on the Belgian autoroute outside Jabbeke.

Ready to race.

The 77 RW, the first production open two-seater, is now on permanent loan to – and looked after by – JDHT. When not out being used as designed, the 77 RW is there to be admired at The British Motor Museum in Warwickshire.

Now, one story I was unaware of concerns the third 1961 Geneva launch E-type brought to the Shelsley Walsh 60th; chassis number 885005.

Sir William Lyons, Jaguar boss, had been so enthralled by the hastily drawn shape of the closed version of the car that it was decided, late in the development process, to design and produce a coupe body, although at the beginning of the work the E-Type design was open top only. For that purpose, an existing open body structure was used to hand-build the experimental coupe body. This was chassis number 885005.

The famous two on the hill.

At short notice two coupes were required for the Geneva Show. Only five cars had been built prior to the launch in March 1961. Two were on a boat to the United States, leaving only three potentially available for the Geneva launch, one of them, the 77 RW, being an open car.

So, as a last resort, the experimental coupe body was selected to become one of the two closed cars to be sent; 9600 HP for outside viewing and drives, and 885005 inside for unveiling in the Restaurant Parc des Eaux Vives. To make this look theatrical, the car was concealed in a specially built plywood box.

The ceremony climaxed when the top of a plywood box was lifted, and the sides fell down to reveal E-type Jaguar 885005.

The E-type was then confiscated by police, and by 1977 it had been auctioned off by state authorities

After the show, this E-Type was sold and registered in Switzerland. Now, here is a fun fact that amuses me. By February 1975, the car was owned by Johann Stucki, a chef from Basel.

He had a minor accident with the car coming to rest against a tree. The E-type was then confiscated by police, as Stucki had no driver’s licence, and by 1977 it had been auctioned off by state authorities!

Next month I’ll tell you all about my chaperone role taking WHP 205 J (the 1970 V12 Press car) to the party.

A special thanks to Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust for all the preparation of the cars and demonstration rides they undertook over the two days at Shelsley Walsh.

Jaguar I-Pace takes the rough with the smooth