From Coventry to Geneva: Recreating the Jaguar E-Type’s Epic 750-Mile Journey
In 1961, the carmakers at Jaguar were not prepared for the surprise, delight and downright hysteria that came in lock step with the debut of the legendary E-Type coupe. Unveiled at that year’s Geneva Motor Show, the fixed head coupe undoubtedly stole the show. So much so that at their Coventry, UK headquarters, Norman Dewis, a Jaguar test and development engineer, was tasked to drive the one available droptop roadster through the night to present it alongside the coupe the following afternoon.
A 750-mile journey, Jaguar invited me to recreate the road trip, over 60 years later, in a classic E-Type. However, we made a bit of an excursion out of it, taking five days to retrace the historic route, rather than rush through it in a single night. We granted ourselves permission to opt into prettier roads when the scenery allowed, and some rather grand hotel experiences, as well: A fitting celebration for the automobile that competitor Enzo Ferrari reportedly called “the most beautiful car in the world.”
Technical Difficulties and a Short Hop
Even those who don’t identify as outright car enthusiasts will find the Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works facility in Coventry, UK, pretty astounding. Dedicated to restoring the classics and purpose-building the brand’s reimagined continuation cars, the 150,000-square-foot Classic Works melds past and future. Additionally, it houses a variety of vehicles crashed in several James Bond films and stores some of the what was Queen Elizabeth’s official livery, as well.
Although we were meant to slip into a slinky 1965 Opalescent Silver Blue E-Type 4.2 FHC (Series 1), she had a bit of a radiator blow-out upon arrival. Luckily, we switched her out for Signal Red 1961 Jaguar E-Type Flat Floor, one of the first 50 E-Types ever built.
For those unfamiliar with double clutching, on some classic cars, one must, when downshifting, shift from in gear, into neutral, and then into the next gear lower. A brief but essential step repeated many times whilst taking a jaunt to Birmingham, home of seventh-generation family-owned jewelry house Deakin & Francis, our first stop on this trip recreation. Old Norman Dewis might have appreciated some cufflinks, but he was in a hurry to get to Geneva.
After touring the factory and stepping into the artisans’ workshop to hand-saw the silver around a pair of E-Type commemorative cufflinks, it was back into the car and over to the former residence of motor racing legend Sir Stirling Moss, Long White Cloud in Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire. (In addition being one of the most celebrated drivers of all time, Stirling Moss first drove a Jaguar in competition in 1950 which led the CEO William Lyons to ask him to lead the Leaper racing team, on the day before his 21st birthday.)
Through the Euro-Tunnel In An F-Type
With the Red E-Type droptop safely home and the original 1965 Series 1 still in recovery, we returned to Coventry and swapped into a brand, spanking new 2022 F-Type P450 AWD convertible in Velocity Blue. In many ways, the modern F-Type is the spiritual successor to the E-Type, so we jumped at the chance.
While Mr. Dewis took the roadster destined for the Geneva car show on the night ferry to Ostend, Belgium. We selected the Eurotunnel to Northern France. (Pro-tip: reserving a larger truck compartment will save one’s wheels from being scraped and allots more breathing room for the voyage.)
Before boarding the tunnel train, we headed to the WWII RAF Advanced Landing Ground in Kent whereupon a proper Fortnum & Mason picnic lunch, complete with fresh duck pate, awaited us. It wouldn’t be England without a quick two-hour downpour, which absolutely coincided with that stop (and explained why the grass around the airfield is so positively lush).
Once in France, we took advantage of the whisper of humidity and cloudless sky. It was here, driving down the Opal Coast to the seaside medieval town of Montreuil-sur-Mer and the Château de Montreuil where both the drop top and 450 hp of our modern Jaguar F-Type were fully appreciated.
A Bit of the Bubbly
After a morning frolic in the lush gardens of the resort, it was off to see a man about champagne. Family owned and operated since its establishment in 1849, Maison Pol Roger in Epernay remains one of the few Grand Marque Champagne houses. Served at both William and Harry’s weddings, Pol Roger holds the current royal warrant as purveyors of champagne to the crown of England.
It’s not until one descends into the cave, the cool, wet air arriving deep in the lungs, that the history of the place settles in. There are no signs, no directions underground, simply a friendly cellar master and miles of lightbulbs hanging from exposed wire, casting shadows down the long, bottle-brimmed hallways.
Lunch feels slightly earned, and the effervescent Blanc de Blancs Vintage arrives subtlety on the palate. The afternoon departure allowed for a golden hour arrival at our next stop.
Approaching the 17th century Château de la Resle, it’s impossible to ignore the modern and contemporary art smattered throughout the two hectares of the estate.
No Sleep ‘Til Switzerland
The longest day on the road, we journeyed from France and into Switzerland, where the temperature swung a casual 30 degrees cooler. However, we were gleefully reunited with the E-Type we originally intended to drive: The 1965 Opalescent Silver Blue E-Type 4.2 FHC (Series 1). After a while, the car was running hot, and both the chassis and the vehicle’s occupants were grateful for a break in the atmospheric heat. Windows down, we hit the Swiss Alps after lunch.
Without question, the E-Type felt right at home gliding into the parking lot of the Chedi Andermatt hotel. Famous as the Bond Goldfinger hotel it’s certainly possible to envision the more glamorous parts of being a spy as one glides through the hotel.
Jaguar’s Dewis started his voyage armed with a mere cheese sandwich. The Chedi has an entire room, chilled, of course, dedicated to the finest expressions of dairy product. Needless to say breakfast was plentiful.
The grandest highlight came on the final day, the Gotthard Pass. Often referred to as the “King of Mountain Passes,” with 37 bends and 24 hairpins, we timed it perfectly. No motorhomes, just a few lorries. One of the most curious passes in the Alps, the top half-mile retains its original road surface – cobblestones. My body decided to bark at me at this moment, and rightfully so. Three-pedal driving without power steering does take its toll.
But the views far outweighed the burning forearms. Descending from the pass, we worked our way from the far side of Lac Léman, or Lake Geneva, around its shores and into the urban heart of Swiss watch country. A champagne toast awaited our arrival, and then, straight to airport to return home to normal life.
As we left the car for Jaguar’s pickup in the parking garage, I’m certain quite a few people were more than surprised to find a 1965 E-Type parked amidst rows of modern gray SUVs and bright-colored Euro compacts.
(Photography by Simon Kay)