Our man Julian Rendell at the helm of 77RW, Chassis No. 3, retracing the route driven in 1961 at the Jaguar E-type's world premiere in Geneva. By JULIAN RENDELL on 5/17/2011
With an Alpine breeze tumbling down Mont Blanc, cooling Lake Geneva to an unusually low temperature, this is a ridiculously cold morning to be driving an open-top Jaguar E-type.
But this is not just any E-type; this is 77RW, Chassis No. 3, the star of the E-type launch at this same lakeside venue in 1961.
Back then, the Restaurant H?tel du Parc des Eaux-Vives in Geneva was the center of a major sales push aimed at well-heeled Swiss car lovers, and 77RW had sped overnight across the Continent to perform for potential buyers.
Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches, Ferraris and Jaguars, period exhausts blaring, were all gunned around the local lanes, speeds rising when someone decided to put an unofficial stopwatch on proceedings.
Modern-day driving is not for such heroics. The car we're driving is priceless, the living embodiment of the shagadelic, Swinging '60s. And 77RW, completely rebuilt after last year's Goodwood Festival of Speed, is about as close to a factory-fresh E-type as possible.
There's no denying that even 50 years on, the E-type's styling still looks sensational, its more than 14-foot-long body flowing seamlessly over an eight-foot wheelbase.
Getting into the cabin elegantly is a challenge, requiring recalibration of any preconceptions about ergonomics. With your knees splayed, the delicate wood-rim wheel sits low in your lap. The thimble-size starter button cranks the 3.8-liter straight-six into life with a bellow from the twin exhausts.
The agility of the chassis is instantly noticeable as the speed rises; the nonpower steering is alive and responsive like that in no modern car. The same goes for the fluid ride, much softer than that of any modern two-seater.
The brakes--one of the first applications of front discs--require a superhero effort to get any bite. But otherwise, the controls reward with that precise metal-to-metal contact long lost in today's refinement-focused cars.
Tiny throttle movements keep the engine and its triple SU carburetors ticking along. But crack the throttle open, and 77RW surges forward, an intense exhaust bellow overwhelming the cabin. The experience is all the more intense because the narrow windshield is a poor barrier against the freezing airflow.
The four-speed Moss gearbox is tight but beautifully positive. First and the dog-leg reverse are easily confused, requiring patience and precision in stop-and-start traffic. Original test driver Norman Dewis has the same problems, which is reassuring.
It takes just one morning's drive to grasp the significance and magic of the E-type, which show no sign of dimming after 50 years.
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