There's an obvious question raised by the prospect of an expensively electrified Jaguar E-Type: why? Why remove the most soulful element of one of the most beautiful sportscars of all time? Why spend a huge amount to do so? Why not have buy a Nissan Leaf instead?
Of course, the E-Type Zero hasn't been designed for rational reasons. It's both proof of Jaguar's commitment to an ion-fuelled future, but also a car that's likely to appeal to some of the virtue signallers that will help to spread that message further.
But it's also an impressively well thought out piece of engineering.
Jaguar produced an E-Type Zero concept last year, with what seemed to be the same car subsequently making an appearance at the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (the company refuses to confirm the connection). Now Jaguar's in-house Classic division has confirmed that, alongside the "Reborn" restored E-Types it already sells, it will be offering buyers the chance to buy their own electric E.
Which is why I got to drive the demonstrator that had been brought to the Monterey Car Week in California last week. Although a different colour from the original concept it appeared in every other way to be functionally identical. I resisted the temptation to peel off paintwork to see if I could find any evidence that it used to be blue.
Although the test route was short and chaperoned, and speeds were low, the Zero did manage to prove that an E-Type can cope surprisingly well with electrification.
In large part this is due to the clever modular power pack that has been created for it. Developed with the help of Rimac, the EV system's battery pack and electric motor shares the same dimensions as the original 3.8-litre XK engine and its four-speed transmission. Jaguar Classic's director, Tim Hannig, says that the production version will use a 40kWh battery closely related to the one fitted to the Range Rover P400e, albeit with twice as many cells and a higher energy density. The prototype's unit has been made from more exotic components, but has similar mass and capacity. This sits under the bonnet in the space formerly occupied by the six-cylinder engine, with the compact 255hp electric motor mounted where the transmission previously was. In total it weighs just under 300kg, slightly less than the original IC unit and gearbox did.
The e-motor turns a single-speed reduction gear and then the rear wheels through the original differential; the clever bit is that - apart from the need to make space for control electronics beneath the boot floor - the Zero requires no bodywork modification. The prototype has a charging port where the original fuel filler went, but the Hannig says they are considering switching to a front-mounted port for the finished version, as most EV infrastructure is designed for nose-in parking.
But considering the full heart transplant, surgery has been remarkably light. Classic say it will be possible for buyers to have the EV power pack fitted but also to keep the original engine and gearbox in case they ever want to swap back.
The Zero has been designed for light use rather than any kind of punishing duty cycle. The battery won't support fast charging as that would have required active battery cooling which would have added hugely to the complexity and brought an unacceptable weight penalty. So using the fastest possible 7kW charging it will take around five hours to fully replenish the battery pack. Jaguar previously said that the range would be about 125 miles, but we're told that the concept has covered 170 miles in regular use during testing - and Hannig reckons it could manage 200 miles in optimum conditions.
I get to drive around six miles along the city streets of Monterey, with no opportunity to go above 40mph much less verify the claimed sub-7 second 0-60mph time, corresponding to that of the original six-cylinder E-Type in period. While that would have been pointless, harder use would have given the chance to see how the battery pack would cope with tougher thermal challenges.
From the outside the Zero looks like a nicely restored E-Type, but the Zero's interior gets very futuristic with a carbon fibre dashboard and digital instruments as well as a central touchscreen. Hannig says that production versions will be offered with the option of a more traditional cabin. Wipers and headlights are controlled by modern switches, although the tiny triple arms sweep the screen much faster than I remember any other E-Type managing; it looks like the electrical upgrade has pepped up everything. I was pleased to find the Zero still uses the original E-Type's thin column-mounted stalk for its indicators.
The first real surprise is that the lack of any six-cylinder soundtrack isn't the immediate deal-breaker you might expect. The electric motor has a characteristic electric whine when pressed harder, but the almost silent running actually suits the car's relaxed character at urban speeds, and even without the acoustic mask of internal combustion it didn't squeak or creak in a way I'd expect an elderly Jaguar roadster to. Yet nor did it stand out - during my drive in the car nobody clocked that it was anything other than an E-Type, the electrification effectively undercover.
With unchanged suspension, steering and brakes the Zero handles pretty much exactly the same way as a standard E-Type. It's soft and the dampers can take a couple of goes to defuse bigger urban bumps, but it's never harsh and the unassisted steering is alive with feedback even at trundling speeds. (The plan is to also offer an electrical assistance upgrade for anyone who wants to cut down on the effort required for low-speed manoeuvring.)
The instant torque makes the Zero feel lively, with a forceful off-the-line shove even using just the top couple of inches of the throttle pedal. With no need to change gears, the natural rate of 'keen start' acceleration is definitely higher than an XK-engined E-Type would be. The lack of any traction control could be an issue on slippery surfaces; the infotainment system offers the chance to inhibit the motor's output. For similar reasons, there's currently no regenerative braking (and likely a very modest amount in the production car) as this could lead to problems on icy surfaces with brake torque on the rear axle and no ABS.
Other stuff? Well the cabin is as tight-fitting as I remember the regular E-Type feeling; was everybody really six inches shorter in the early 1960s, or just less prone to complaining? The digital instruments also feel out of place, especially as the rev counter is made pretty much redundant by the lack of gears. The concept also lacks any heating or ventilation system, which the production versions will get, with the use of electrically powered heating elements and - Hannig says - even the heretical option of aircon.
The modularity of the new powertrain is the really clever bit, as it can fit into anything that was powered by an XK engine in period. Anticipate ion-fuelled versions of Jaguar's greatest hits as we go forwards. Buyers will be able to either have the system fitted to their own car - for around £60,000, if no other work is required - or can use Jaguar Classic to source a donor vehicle that can then be built to personal specification for around £300,000. Both Coupes and Roadsters can be converted.
That's right, three hundred grand for an E-Type with what many would reckon is its soul removed. Yet while the Venn diagram overlap between those with sufficient money and an active desire to own a combustion-free E-Type will likely be a narrow one, Jaguar Classic says that early interest has been high - and that much of it has come from existing E-Type owners wanting to have something similar-but-different to their existing pride and joy. In a world where some people buy identical hypercars in different colours, that doesn't seem entirely irrational.
SPECIFICATION - JAGUAR E-TYPE ZERO
Engine: Electric motor, single speed reduction gear, rear wheel drive.
Power (kW): 190
Torque (lb ft): 331
0-62mph: sub 7sec (claimed)
Top speed: TBC
Price: c. £300,000 (built)
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