x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Eagle Speedster drags the E-Type into the modern age

Eagle Speedster is a Jaguar E-Type for the 21st Century, combining stunning looks and supreme engineering.

The Eagle Speedster looks like its famous predecessor but benefits from modern engineering and technology. Courtesy of James Lipman
The Eagle Speedster looks like its famous predecessor but benefits from modern engineering and technology. Courtesy of James Lipman

It isn't very often that I waste an hour or so on the video sharing website, YouTube, but recently a friend pointed me in the direction of a clip featuring Jeremy Clarkson, in which he spent 15 minutes or so extolling the virtues of the Jaguar E-Type. Or, more specifically, a car called the Eagle Speedster.

I have long been a fan of what Eagle does as a company. Formed in 1982, from the outset Eagle dedicated itself to "the bespoke 'remanufacture level' restoration and engineering of a single, exceptional car - the Jaguar E-Type". Initially, the company was little more than a restoration shop (admittedly a stupendously good one) but, in 1991, it produced a car that has gone on to redefine classic car ownership all over the world: the Eagle E-Type.

The cars that have since emerged from Eagle's workshops in East Sussex, England have been received with rapturous worldwide applause; the Eagle E-Type, while physically indistinguishable from the classic cars we have all come to know and love, has been extensively redesigned, re-engineered and remanufactured to deliver a modern, reliable, yet still thrilling experience. Clarkson once remarked that, for him, the Eagle E-Type was the greatest car of the 20th century - the highest possible praise from the world's prickliest motoring journalist.

Jaguar E-Types aren't exactly in short supply around the world. More than 70,000 were sold between 1961 and 1974, but a huge amount of them have fallen into disrepair. Their relative ubiquity means high restoration costs have put off many owners from returning them to their former glory. After all, spending up to Dh600,000 on a car that might be worth half that when it comes to sell it on makes no sense to many of us.

The Eagle treatment is different, however, because underneath the beautiful exterior is a thoroughly modern car. Bespoke gearboxes, aluminium engine blocks, modern brakes and suspension componentry, the latest anti-corrosion treatments - you name it and Eagle will do it for you, working in close contact with clients to give them the E-Type of their dreams. It's not uncommon for more than 4,000 man-hours to be put into creating one of these cars.

And one such customer, from the east coast of the United States, was getting a bit tetchy about how long the process was taking on his car. According to Eagle's head of projects, Paul Brace, this gentleman started to ask about how far he could take things, about how they could come up with something totally unique - an E-Type re-imagined for the 21st century. The idea for the Speedster was born.

"He saw the initial sketches of what we thought was possible and that was it," Brace recently told me. "He wasn't bothered about having a roof, so that gave us an incredible amount of freedom when it came to designing the car. And what we eventually built looks almost exactly the same as those early drawings."

That customer's Speedster, when first shown to the world, received so much praise that Eagle approached its owner to see if he objected to further examples being built. He saw sense in this, Brace explained, reasoning that a limited production run could only give his own car more credibility. "It would have been a shame, after all that huge development cost, to have built only one," Brace remarked. "We had to buy in certain parts in batches of 10, so making extra cars was quite easily accommodated. At the moment we are putting the finishing touches to the third car and we have a fourth already sold. We think that, after six, we'll close the book, though."

It's an incredible motor car - one that even Jaguar's current design chief, Ian Callum, says he wishes he could have designed - a truly modern twist on a bona fide classic.

With a ballpark price of between Dh3 million and Dh4.5 million, it was always going to be out of reach for all but the most wealthy collectors but the fact that such a car exists should give reason for cheer. The great British spirit of engineering derring-do is evidently still alive and kicking.