THE HOTTEST TICKET of Monterey’s classic-car weekend in August is an event called, in all seriousness, “The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering.” Hundreds of rare historic cars on emerald-green fairways, gourmet-food tents, corporate sponsors, helicopter rides. In Carmel Valley, Calif., they call it Friday.
It’s also the annual roosting of the species obnoxious millionarus. So there I was, having a chat with Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works director Tim Hannig, when he was accosted by this old blowhard in aviator sunglasses. This dude began by listing—no, orating—his C-Types and D-Types and E-Types, starting back in high school.
“What’s this?” the stranger demanded, pointing to a car on the stand. This, Mr. Hannig engaged politely, is a Jaguar E-Type Zero: a 1968 E-Type Series 1.5 roadster sympathetically converted by the factory to an electric car. Under that famous louvered hood is a 40-kWh battery pack sized to fit the space vacated by the 4.2-liter inline six. In the space where the four-speed Moss gearbox used to live is a compact 295-hp, 332-lb-ft AC electric motor (the voltage inverter is in the back, in the previous spare-tire well). A single reduction gear drives a prop shaft to the E-Type’s original differential.
Mr. Hannig noted that clients can either buy a Zero fresh from the factory—the new JLR Classic Works facility in Coventry, Warwickshire—for about $375,000; or owners can retrofit their own pristine examples, starting at a mere $75,000.
“Why the f— would you want to do that?” the man scoffed. Mr. Hannig smiled. He had prepared for blowback. Of course, he too loves petrol power and the roar of classic Jags, he said, but times are changing, especially in Europe. He asked his loutish interlocutor to consider that within a generation it may be illegal to drive any internal-combustion vehicle in European city centers—bans applying first to older vehicles, irrespective of their collectible status.
The Zero is the first step in a program to future-proof classic Jags and Jag collectors against such tailpipe bans. In theory, this tech could be used to retrofit any vintage Jaguar powered by an inline-six engine, including ’50s-era stunners like Mark II saloons and XK120’s.
Holy hell. Elderly Tom Cruise was not listening, but I definitely was.
The Zero is visionary, and that vision is about keeping beautiful cars on the road in a post-petroleum world. Setting aside tailpipe bans, the problem is that automobiles were never designed to last the centuries. They are made of materials—glass, rubber, steel, paper gaskets, IC circuits—that decay, erode, corrode, and die from disuse. Especially the engine. Remember the Alfa Romeo Club’s motto: “If you start them occasionally, they occasionally start.”
And who’s going to replace that head gasket or balance those triple carbs a century hence? Go ahead, Google “blacksmiths in my area.”
The Zero resto-mod process retains the original double-wishbone front suspension, unassisted rack-and-pinion steering, and hydraulic disc brakes, including the rear inboard brakes. Surprisingly, the car’s tubular front subframe required little extra bracing. The Zero weighs the same as the donor E-Type (about 2,900 pounds) and retains the 50/50 weight distribution.
But with the 30-something bump in horsepower and extra 50 lb-ft of torque, the Zero is quicker off the line: 0 to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds, besting a stock E-Type by about a second. The original E-Type was, famously, the fastest production car of its time, with a top speed of 150 mph; but in the interests of increased range, the Zero is limited to 125 mph.
The most astonishing part of the E-Type Zero program? The process is reversible. Classic Works will pull the donor car’s engine and transmission, ignition, exhaust and fuel system, crate it all up and store it, thereby effectively preserving even the exhaust note. When it comes time for the owner to sell it, he or she can either restore the car to original or simply sell it along with the crate of spares.
The E-Type Zero is visionary, and the vision is about keeping classic cars on the road in a post-petroleum world.
Jaguar took me to a hangar in Monterey to meet the E-Type Zero, painted a swimming metallic bronze and fettled to a straightness that is itself wildly anachronistic. This particular car, then in opalescent blue, had its star turn at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to bring attention to the Palace’s commitment to fight urban air pollution.
From a distance the Zero is indistinguishable from any other concours-quality, drop-dead gorgeous Series 1.5 roadster (with the covered headlamps), except for the absence of the low-slung dual exhaust pipes. Without this metal underbrush, the roadsters’s fuselage is even tapered and torpedo-like.
This first Zero had been fitted with a dial-mimicking LCD screen instrument panel, as well as a center touch screen. Mr. Hannig said his people could, with some effort, re-use a car’s original Smith tach and speedo, as well as the machine-turned dash of the Series I models.
The Zero’s mahogany-rim steering wheel is also a bit smaller than original, a fact that came through when I tried to crank the steering at low speed. Oof.
Other vintage feedback included the rangy brake pedal, the stiff-legged wobble over rough pavement at slow speed, the outrageous view behind that outrageous hood. All that’s the same.
Behold, the world’s most beautiful electric vehicle, as if that weren’t a low bar to clear.
1968 JAGUAR E-TYPE ZERO
Price $375,000 (est)
Powertrain All-electric, rear-drive; front-mounted air-cooled 40 kWh lithium battery pack; mid-mounted AC synchronous traction motor; single-speed reduction gear; open rear differential
Power/Torque 282 hp/332 lb-ft
Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase 175.3/65.3/46.5/96.0 inches
Weight 2,900 pounds
0-62 mph 5.5 seconds
All-Electric Range 170 miles (est)
Recharge Time 6-7 hours at 240V