The Concept Zero is identical to the classic original except that its conventional XK engine has been replaced by a 295bhp electric motor and a battery big enough to give a 170-mile “real-world” range.
The new model, aptly dubbed Project Marmite in the early months of its 18-month gestation, is the brainchild of JLR Classic’s chief, Tim Hannig.
An avowed old-car lover with his own classic collection, Hannig is quick to acknowledge that an electric E-Type won’t suit everyone and may outrage a few. But he has nevertheless coined the motto ‘We Future History’ for JLR’s newest division, believing it must look to a time when big cities have zero-emissions zones, and to a new breed of buyers who desire classic motoring “without the oil leaks”.
The Concept Zero’s saving grace from the purist’s point of view is that its electric conversion is designed to be reversible. Traditional mechanical parts will be retained so an owner can return a car to its original specification. Against the stopwatch, the Concept Zero is also near-standard, offering the same 150mph top speed claimed for the petrol original in 1961, plus a very similar 5.5sec 0-60mph time.
Beneath the long bonnet, the Concept Zero’s battery sits in the space formerly occupied by the E-Type’s famously heavy 3.8-litre six-cylinder iron-block engine, with the new drive motor (plus its single-speed reduction gearbox) in the space previously occupied by the four-speed gearbox. A modern Jaguar’s rotary controller dictates forward/reverse movement and no clutch is needed. The result of the work, remarkably, is a 46kg saving.
The electric powertrain connects to the rear wheels via the original tailshaft and differential. The inverter and power electronics sit in the boot. If the Concept Zero takes off, these components will be redesigned to save space (and improve boot room) utilising ‘family’ components from the I-Pace and other forthcoming electric models, much as Jaguar spread the XK powertrain through its range 60 years ago. Having engineered this conversion for the E-Type, Hannig believes he has a set-up suitable for most Jaguar classics.
JLR estimates the cost of a restored electric E-Type at “north of £300,000” but has already had positive responses from potential owners. Hannig will confirm production when a batch of prospective buyers has emerged, after which the car will be finessed to give it more commonality with the I-Pace. It’s an off-the-wall project, Hannig admits, but he also believes the day of the electric E-Type is coming.
Riding shotgun in the ‘EV’-Type
With Concept Zero’s project manager Stewart Bramham at the wheel, we hardly went faster than 40mph on a closed, single-lane road on London’s outskirts. But on this brief ride, it was still possible to feel the strong off-the-mark torque and the accurate response of the electric motor, whose faraway whirring, overlaid by a gear whine, gave the whole thing the surreal sound of a jet engine. Surreal or not, this was still an E-Type: same low seating, same high sills, same long nose, same wind curling at you over the top of the screen. Not sure it would suit me but, after this episode, I can see it might be just right for others less obsessed with originality.
Heresy, nicely done
Should we give this hare-brained project space in a serious motoring magazine? The purist in me says no, but the rest of me is just as sure we should.
JLR Classic is definitely pushing the envelope with this one: when the company got serious about building a heritage business a couple of years back, none of us imagined an electric E-Type would be in the frame.
But the modern car world is changing with bewildering speed, driven by legislation. Punitive laws already cramp old-car owners’ style and will do it more. And soon. Here is a bold attempt to find a solution to an emerging classic car problem, and to appeal to new buyers along the way. We should let it breathe.