How the High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire played a key role in the development of the E-type Jaguar!
In the spring of 1957, sixty years ago, there emerged from Jaguar's experimental department an extraordinary prototype sports car with an amazing performance and stunning looks. It was the first iteration of what was to become the Jaguar E-type, the car which some have said defined the spirit of the 1960s and which, on its launch in March 1961, the rich and famous clamoured to buy.
That first prototype, called E1A within the factory, was evolved by Bill Heynes, Jaguar's chief engineer, and was used to test all the main engineering features of the E-type to come. Then on an extraordinary occasion this top secret car was lent by Jaguar's founder, Sir William Lyons, to Lt. Col. Christopher Jennings MBE. Jennings, apart from being High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire, was the editor of The Motor, a leading British weekly magazine. Jennings lived near Kidwelly in Wales and had told Sir William about his "test run course" between Brecon and Carmarthen, over which an Aston Martin "with Le Mans engine" had set the fastest time.
"Knowing this", recorded Jennings later, "Sir William said he had a proposition to make. It was that he would lend my wife and myself a prototype of an entirely new model [and] we should then make the run with a view to comparing it with the Aston Martin and other fast vehicles driven on that route."
In May 1958 Jennings collected the "very beautiful" pastel-green two-seater from Jaguar's Coventry factory, where it was in the care of chief test development driver Norman Dewis, and driven home to Kidwelly. "On Sunday morning soon after 7am in perfect conditions we made a 20-mile warm-up run and then 'had a go'. The result was almost fantastic..." Indeed it was: they averaged just over 70mph from Carmarthen to Llandovery, this at a time when many family saloons would be hard pushed to achieve 70mph flat out! Over the full 48.5 mile route in those pre-speed limit days they averaged 67.7mph, easily beating the Aston's time - which Margaret (a former race and rally driver herself) equalled on the return journey home "at a fast touring speed".
All this and more is recorded shortly afterwards in a confidential memo penned by Christopher Jennings to his managing director at Temple Press. This concluded by observing "that the new Jaguar is a potential world beater" - and the production E-type, when it was announced in March 1961, instantly became exactly that!

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