You're a braver man than I, Jeremy Clarkson. There I was, sitting behind the wheel of your 'Car of the Century', shitting myself. Henry Pearman, the man responsible for the Eagle E-Type Sport, was urging me on. 'I've seen this car beat a Porsche 'round a race track,' he hinted. Yes Henry, but I know how to drive a Porsche. I challenge an average driver to cane this E-Type. Even below the legal limit, the car was all over the place. I felt like a novice skier barrelling down a black run. Towards a tree. Without airbags. Or a crumple zone. Sorry, Henry. Sorry, Jeremy. I guess I'm not man enough for your machine.
It's a shame. The E-Type is the most visually stunning car ever made. Allegedly. Forty-one years after its Geneva debut, the nose-heavy styling still stirs debate. Some consider the Series One E-Type Roadster a timeless classic, blending feminine curves with sporting intent. Others see it as the original 'sports car as phallic symbol', embodying the embarrassing hyper-sexuality of a severe mid-life crisis. Love it or mock it, you can't ignore it. Jaguar's first E-Type still has enormous presence, and perfectly judged detailing. From wire wheels to aircraft style toggle switches to the clearly labelled 'cigar' lighter, you wouldn't want to change a thing.
Which is a bit funny really, as Henry and his eaglets have modified, upgraded or replaced every single component. And I do mean everything: engine, brakes, suspension, chassis, body shell, wiring, starter, seats, steering wheel, leather, hood, wheels, fascia, windshield wipers, headlights, window locks, the lot. The entire car has been brought up to zero mileage. Wait a second. Does that mean that's JC's 'Car of the Century' is actually a car from this century? Yes and no…
The Eagle begins life as a genuine 4.2 litre E-Type roadster. Everything save the engine, gearbox, axle and suspension is binned. The bits left behind are stripped down, repaired and rebuilt. The improved internals are mated to an all-new monocoque shell, constructed with more precision than anything the car's Brown's Lane birthplace could muster. Equally important, the rustproofed body is attached to the car's original bulkhead. That makes the Eagle E-Type a 'restoration', exempt from modern safety legislation and US luxury car taxes. The donor car's chassis plate confirms the slight of hand- and qualifies the Eagle for both historic racing and 'Clarkson's Top 100'.
Sixteen hundred man-hours and £115,737 later, and you've got a flawless top-down E-Type. Everything works. Nothing rusts. No leaks. No rattles. You're ready to kick some Porsche butt. Well, almost. To give Stuttgart's finest a run for its money, and earn JC's Seal of Approval, you have to fork over another £45k to Eagle. They'll use the money to upgrade your car to 'Sport' specification. You get sport cams, a big bore exhaust, new suspension and steering geometry, vented front brake discs and a 5-speed gearbox. Then and only then is your 'shaguar' ready to taste a bit of porker. Yeah baby!
Better you than me Austin. Like I said, I've got 'issues' with the Sport set-up. The steering is heavier than deuterium and more direct than Federal Express (take that Clarkson!). Give the Nardi steering wheel the tiniest of nudges and 'things' start to happen. While the Eagle is planted like an oak tree (and that!), the front end fidgets constantly. That epic nose follows every rut, camber and painted line like a bloodhound after an escaped convict (and that!). The car's suspension bucks and kicks. If you're not paying attention, 'things' could easily turn into 'moments'. I know: some people like that kind of thing. They call it 'driving'. By the same token, some people like root canal surgery. They call it 'dentistry'. (There. I'm done.)
With its hard suspension, broad tyres (225/60) and high-ratio steering rack, the 285bhp Eagle Sport may be the perfect track day Q-car. I'm willing to take Henry's word that the faster you drive the beast, the easier and more intuitive it becomes. In the right hands, the Eagle E-Type in Sport specification could humiliate many a Sunday racer. But for mere mortals on a public road, it's too scary. JC may beg to differ, but I reckon this Eagle has made a great landing at the wrong airport. The E-Type's distinctive style suggests effortless, stylish cruising- not sadomasochistic thrashing. 'Ahhh,' says Henry, 'You want an Eagle GT.'
We return to Henry's ever-increasing number of Sussex barns and jump into George Best's old (and ugly) fixed-head coupe. This is an 'Engineered By Eagle' E-Type. It's an upgraded original car, rather than a ground-up re-manufacture. Just to add to the confusion, Mr. Best's old E-Type has been almost but not quite raised to Henry's GT spec.
Anyway, the footballer's cast-off is a good £75,000 cheaper than an Eagle-E-Type Sport. It's also proof positive that the GT Specification is the right choice for anyone who wants an E-Type they can use, not abuse. The damn thing is so smooth it practically glides. The steering is light but precise. The 4.2 litre engine has so much effortless, low-down grunt that you can stick it in third and call it good. Town, country, motorway- just kick back, relax and enjoy the view. Driving a meticulously made Eagle GT roadster with the top down along a winding country road in the late evening summer sun must surely rate as one of the world's finest driving experiences. Whether I'd pay £135,000 for the privilege of owning a brand new old car is another story.
Actually, if I could, I would. I'm a sucker for any machine with a high LB-FGF (Laid Back Feel Good Factor). So I'm saving up. Meanwhile, JC's veneration of the Eagle E-Type Sport has given me insight into the man's character. If the curly-haired curmudgeon should happen to pull up behind me in some exotic hot rod, I think I'll simply move over and let him pass. And if you believe that, I've got a Jaguar XK120 I'd like to show you.