“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.
The 1968 E-Type Zero represents a new product line from the freshly formed Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works: the electrified vintage automobile. Photo: Jaguar
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 car’s 40-kWh battery pack, derived from the hybrid battery pack in the Range Rover P400E, fits under the hood in the space once occupied by a 4.2-liter inline six. Photo: Jaguar
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.”
Weighing in almost exactly the same as the done Series 1.5 (2,900 pounds), the E-Type Zero also preserves the car’s 50/50 front/rear weight ratio. Photo: Jaguar
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 295-hp, 332 lb-ft traction motor fits in the space once occupied by the four-speed Moss gearbox. The gearshifter is gone and replaced by a rotary dial, like ones found in contemporary Jaguars. Photo: Jaguar
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 concourse-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.
The E-Type Zero conversion retains the car’s double-wishbone front suspension, tubular front subframe, hydraulic brakes (including the rear inboard-mounted brakes) and unassisted rack-and-pinion steering. Photo: Jaguar
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
With 30-something more horsepower and an additional 50 lb-ft of electric torque, the Zero accelerates from 0-62 mph in 5.5 seconds, a least a second quicker than a vintage 4.2-liter E-Type. Photo: Jaguar
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