The upcoming F-Type, set to debut at the Paris Auto Show, marks Jaguar’s return to the sports car market after an absence of almost forty years. While the brand may be known today for its big luxury cars, its success was built on performance vehicles.
A Sporting History
Originally a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars, Jaguar built sports cars using off-the-shelf parts in the 1930s and 40s, offering fantastic styling coupled with less than fantastic performance. That would all change in 1949 with the XK.
During the war, the company’s designers came up with a twin overhead cam engine design. Although common today, this valve arrangement was seen exclusively in race engines up to that point as it was deemed too difficult to maintain for a production vehicle.
This new engine was fitted to a light chassis using a combination of aluminum and steel parts, creating a car with unheard-of performance. The “120” in the original XK120’s name referred to the vehicle’s top speed, which at that time made it the fastest production car ever produced.
Combined with surprising reliability and a price significantly lower than its competitors, the car became a massive hit.
Meanwhile, Jaguar’s D-Type race car, which combined the DOHC straight six with a state-of-the-art chassis, won the 1955, 1956 and 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans. After the company’s factory racing program was shut down, the D-Type racers were adapted for road-going use creating the E-Type.
Although its body was designed primarily for low aerodynamic drag, the car has regularly called the “most beautiful car ever made,” even by competitor Enzo Ferrari. High-tech features like independent suspension carried over from the race car again putting Jaguar at the forefront of the sports car market.
Over time, the E-Type’s dimensions expanded, trading sportiness and looks for a roomier, more practical interior. Its successor, the XJ-S, was a massive grand tourer, leaving the brand without a true sports car.
Owners British Leyland and Ford already had British sports car brands, giving them little reason to make a successor to the E-Type, although Ford’s J Mays proposed such a car over a decade ago.
Now under ownership of Indian automotive giant Tata, there is no such barrier, promoting the company to get a sports car program underway two years ago. That car will be the new F-Type.
What can we expect from the F-Type?
While most automakers try to hide their prototypes as much as possible, F-Type mules have had “Search F-Type” pasted on the sides of their camoflage. From these glimpses, it seems that most of the styling will carry over from the C-X16 prototype shown at last year’s Frankfurt Auto Show.
Performance-wise, this new car is aimed squarely at naturally aspirated Porsche 911s. The F is based on the XK’s platform, but has been shortened significantly. The car will be sold with the company’s new 3.0 liter supercharged V6, available with 340 or 380 hp, or the current supercharged 5.0 liter V8 producing at least 500 hp.
A new four cylinder engine will join the options list in 2015, although Jaguar says the hybrid system shown in the Frankfurt show car isn’t a priority. Power from these engines will reach the rear wheels through a new eight speed automatic transmission, and all models will be equipped with a stop/start system to conserve fuel.
The first convertibles will be in showrooms in the middle of 2013, with coupes following a year later. The base price should come in at £55,000, or about $86,500 U.S.
Full details from Jaguar’s press release can be seen here.