Magazine article The Spectator

A Thing of Beauty

Magazine article The Spectator

A Thing of Beauty

Article excerpt

When I was three my passion was a bulbous blue Austin J40 pedal car. When Henry Pearman was three his was a red E-Type Jaguar, but a real one. He used to see it parked in someone's drive whenever his father took him to the beach. Our different passions were prophetic: I still bumble around in the equivalents of aging pedal cars, while Henry - MD of Eagle E-Types - turns the cars he loves into something incomparably better than the one that dazzled his infant eye.

Following their 1961-1974 production run, you could pick up old E-Types for a few hundred pounds. Although they became one of the greatest automotive icons from day one of their appearance at the 1961 Geneva motor show (costing just over £2,000), people were frightened by their running and maintenance costs. Rightly: if you were poking around them during the Seventies, your screwdriver would very often poke through rust; you would become sadly familiar with oil leaks, rainwater, overheating, clutch plates, fuel pumps, all manner of electrical problems, and lights and brakes that didn't provide much of either.

Yet people of all classes and all pockets always loved them for their beauty and their performance. Although very few achieved the 150mph Jaguar claimed for them, many got close enough to feel like it. They went very well in straight lines. At a fraction of the price of their Aston Martin and Ferrari competition, they caught the me-too spirit of the Sixties - you may not have been able to afford one, but it was possible to imagine you might. They had - and have - glamour.

Towards the end of the Eighties, those still on the road became seriously collectable and prices were ludicrous. They've settled down now - you can pick one up for £15,000 or so, or £30,000 if you want something you can feel reasonably sure about - but you're still buying a cheaply built product using old technology.

Eagle realised that there's a market for more expensive, properly made E-Types that don't break down, leak or overheat, and that start, stop, turn corners and run as well as good modern cars. They realised, too, that this demanding market wanted originals, not E-Type replicas. What Henry Pearman and his small team of specialists do, therefore, is re-manufacture E-Types, starting with the original bulkhead (essential for maintaining the car's identity) and then replacing or improving virtually everything else. Engine (original but up-rated, higher-revving, with much more torque), gearbox (five-speed, made by Eagle), axle and suspension are dismantled and replaced or reconstructed, then mated with a new, corrosion-proofed monocoque body and panels. …

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