Frank Sinatra is said to have taken one look at the Jaguar E-Type upon its unveiling in 1961 and exclaimed, "I want that car, and I want it now." So began Hollywood's love affair with the iconic English sports car. With its thrusting hood, wire wheels and optional V-12 motor, the E-Type, celebrating its 50th anniversary with an Aug. 18 showcase at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, was an instant sensation. The car went on to be driven (off-screen) by the likes of Steve McQueen, Tony Curtis and Brigitte Bardot. And today, it's part of the collections of such car buffs as Jay Leno and Patrick Dempsey. But the model's association with Hollywood doesn't end there.
The car, manufactured in coupe and convertible variants until production ceased in 1975, has graced such films as Harold and Maude (1971), The Avengers (1998) and -- most ridiculously -- the Austin Powers series. It's easy to pinpoint the appeal, says Ian Callum, Jaguar's design director, who has also designed for Aston Martin. "It was a very dramatic car. It didn't require any explanation," says Callum, who designed the newest iteration of the Jaguar XK, a grand tourer that debuted in 2006 and is viewed by some as the spiritual successor to the E-Type. "The fact is a Jaguar has always been a romantic notion for film studios."
Lenny Shabes, an E-Type owner and co-founder of WATV Productions, which creates auto-enthusiast TV programming, echoes Callum's sentiment. "Everybody my age, when they first saw an E-Type, they said, 'Oh my God, that's the most beautiful car I've ever seen,' " says Shabes, 60, whose firm has produced shows for the Speed and Discovery channels. "It's a staple of any sizable car collection."
Indeed, the E-Type, one of which is in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art, remains a hot -- and sometimes incredibly pricey -- commodity. (When in production, the E-Type sold for roughly $6,000, about double what a Ford Mustang cost at the time; Jaguar sold more than 70,000 during the car's life span.)
It's a popular model at Heritage Classics, a West Hollywood vintage car dealership. Heritage owner Irving Herve Willems says he has sold hundreds of E-Types and had four for sale at press time. Depending on the model (the car was sold in six- and 12-cylinder versions, and standard models topped out at 265 horsepower) and condition (vintage British cars are notoriously brittle), E-Types typically sell for $50,000 to $125,000, according to Willems. But rare models have fetched much more: In 2008, a concept version sold for $4.96 million at a Bonhams auction in Carmel, Calif. Willems says he has sold E-Types to celebrities, but he declined to name them. One thing that isn't a secret -- the car's broad appeal. Says Callum, "It is simply a very, very beautiful car."
Classic Cars Invade Northern California
The Pebble Beach Concours d'elegance is perhaps the world's most prestigious automotive event. The annual gathering, which takes place at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif., runs Aug. 17 to 21 and features a slew of events including vintage car races, exhibitions and auctions.
This year, Pebble Beach will feature a special exhibit of the Ferrari 250 GTO, commemorating the rare auto's 50th anniversary. Only 39 were produced, and about 20 are expected at the Concours. But for many, the auctions are where the real action is, with Gooding & Co., RM Auctions and Bonhams all hosting events.
Gooding & Co. is the official auction house of the Concours; it will auction more than 120 vehicles Aug. 20 and 21, including a few with Hollywood pedigree. A motorcycle owned by Steve McQueen and Sheryl Crow's vintage Mercedes-Benz will hit the blocks, but big-money collectors will have their sights on a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa Prototype, which could command a staggering $13 million.