MONTEREY, Calif. — No less an authority on the subject of breathtaking automobiles than Enzo Ferrari described Jaguar’s E-Type after its debut at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show as the most beautiful car in the world. Almost 60 years later, that assessment still rings true.
An incredible tribute to its enduring design and fashion, this observation explains the E-Type’s growing value as an investment and the decision by Jaguar Land Rover to restore and resell them to wealthy collectors through its recently established Classics division. But Jaguar is not content to merely revive E-Types to their former glory — the company is offering to retrofit them as fully electric machines: the E-Type Zero.
A glimpse of the famed sports car’s future came in May as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made their silent — though much-photographed — drive from Windsor Castle to an evening reception in a stunning, opalescent blue E-Type. Though Jaguar did not dwell on it, the car it had brought to a Monterey airplane hangar last month was the royal E-Type itself, since resprayed a bespoke shade of shimmering bronze.
Jaguar Land Rover Classic brought the electric roadster to woo potential customers for its E-Type Reborn program during the festivities surrounding the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The prestigious car show is now preceded each year by a busy week of high-end auctions, races at Laguna Seca and the extravagantly named — and costly to attend, at $375 per ticket — “The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering.” The exclusive events catering to car-loving billionaires and millionaires in California’s Carmel Valley amount to a Festival of Wealth, replete with displays of old cars, new cars, fine food, wine and a variety of luxury goods, up to and including helicopters.
It only made sense that Jaguar chose Monterey to showcase one of the most expensive cars it has ever thought of selling: An E-Type fully restored by Jaguar — including a refurbished gas powertrain — converted to electric power to earn its Zero designation will cost $375,000 or more.
The electric E-Type’s near-silent operation might have gone undetected by passers-by, but its stunning lines continued to reel them in as it slipped along Monterey’s sleepy streets. Acceleration is strong — aimed to approximate the original gasoline car’s performance, the electric E-Type reaches 60 miles per hour in under seven seconds, although it could undoubtedly be made to do so faster without much technical issue.
“The idea is to keep the car driving and performing as it would have with a gasoline engine,” said Tim Hannig, the director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic. Putting the 40 kWh lithium-ion battery under the hood and the electric motor in the transmission tunnel, he explained, helped the electric Jaguar mimic the original car’s weight distribution.
Jaguar will also offer the conversion service to current E-Type owners, so the layout of the battery and motor should ensure the car’s handling dynamics are familiar to those willing to hand over such a cherished possession for retrofitting.
And the electric roadster does indeed drive much like any impeccably restored E-Type, with alert steering, strong four-wheel disc brakes and what, in 1961, amounted to a silken ride. But it also feels quick in a different way, with maximum torque available from the moment you touch the accelerator making for instant, linear acceleration. The missing exhaust note will disappoint many enthusiasts, but the curvaceous E-Type — and the business of driving it quickly — hardly lose their appeal on account of electric power.
There are limits, however. Jaguar said the 220 kW (or 295 horsepower) electric motor could probably match the gas-powered original’s 150 m.p.h. top speed, but the E-Type Zero would top out slower to optimize range and acceleration. The company said it had targeted a range of more than 170 miles on a charge.
Without looking under the hood — or hearing it on the move — there is little hint the E-Type Zero is an electric conversion. There is the conspicuous omission of the E-Type’s signature tailpipes, a rotary dial on what would have been its transmission tunnel and, on this particular car, a custom dashboard to monitor the proceedings. A conventional dash with all its gauges in place, save a single unit in place of the tachometer to relay the electrical goings-ons, will be an option on retrofitted vehicles.
Elana Scherr, former editor of Hot Rod, said she supported any technological changes that encourage an owner to drive more often is a positive. “If this conversion makes someone who was feeling guilty about the environment, or worried about mechanical breakdown more likely to take an E-Type out into the world and let the rest of us see it, thumbs up for that,” she said.
Where many automakers have relied on existing, proprietary electric motors from third-party suppliers, Jaguar Land Rover — a relatively small company by industry standards — has developed its own motor for the new I-Pace crossover and future models, which could include a flagship Jaguar XJ sedan and an S.U.V. hinted at by a trademark application for the Road Rover.
“When carmakers were threatening to produce electric cars at scale, most of us in the enthusiast community thought, ‘game over,’” said Eddie Alterman, editor in chief of Car and Driver. “But then Tesla happened, and it made priorities of style and performance.”
The electric E-Type, he said, “is proof that E.V. powertrains can add new chapters to old books.”
Apart from a way to help separate the wealthy from their money, the electric E-Types that Jaguar will be building and retrofitting — in Coventry, England, and at a new Jaguar Land Rover Classic operation soon to open in Savannah, Ga., — can be seen as a clever way to highlight the company’s commitment to new technology while showcasing its own greatest design hit.
But with the cost of the conversion expected to be around $75,000 for owners who already possess a pristine E-Type, it will be a while before the roads are filled with machines just like these — even if collectors will be pleased to know that the conversion is reversible.
John Voelcker, former editor of the website Green Car Reports, said the idea of electrifying old cars may have a future. “They don’t offer exhaust rumble, but they’re far smoother, calmer, and more pleasant to drive in traffic,” he said.
A small but growing number of businesses specialize in electric conversions of the sort Jaguar Land Rover Classic will offer. Zelectric Motors of San Diego customizes owners’ old Volkswagens and Porsches with fully electric powertrains.
But Ms. Scherr, the former Hot Rod editor, said she worried something would be lost in transformation, particularly when it came to the E-Type.
“There is a beauty to seeing how people engineered things in any given era,” she said. “To tilt the bonnet up on an unmodified E-Type is to time travel into the head of an engineer in England, in the mid-60s, solving problems with the knowledge and the technology of the day, and that’s really cool.”
Ms. Scherr said she hoped that many E-Types would remain the gas-powered vehicles they had been intended to be, and likened retrofitting to plastic surgery.
“Sure, everyone looks young and similar, but there is some nobility to aging and wearing the changes that time wrought,” she said. “There is something that looks wise about an original car with its original parts. Even if it is actually very foolish.”