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Jaguar: Fifty and fabulous


CLASSIC COMEBACK: Ratan Tata with his team at Jaguar's 50th anniversary celebrations

This 50-year-old story has all the makings of a blockbuster, involving some very interesting characters at the helm. Let's begin with Jaguar founder William Lyons. Having been a veritable tour de force at Le Mans in the 1950s, winning the 24-hour race five times with his C- and D-type cars and outsmarting Ferrari in the process, Lyons came up with a striking roadgoing sports car powered by what was essentially a detuned version of the very engine which had got all those Le Mans' victories. Being the quintessential 'PR type', he loved dreaming up novel ways to publicise his wares.

Communication about new car models was an important aspect of marketing in the swinging '60s but what came even higher on the cards was impressing journalists who walked in to attend the Geneva motor show, Europe's premier automotive event.

Lyons and his team, including engine man Bill Heynes (responsible for the XK 120, XK140, XK 150 and also the C- and D-Type racers), put together an impromptu first preview for some selected hacks at the Restaurant des Eaux Vives situated on the banks of Lake Geneva for the new sports car which was logically named the E-Type. It was quite a step for a car to follow the tracks of Le Mans' winning machines, but of course, when you had such a glorious shape and the same race-winning mechanicals, it was worth the risk.

As things transpired, the impromptu promotion at the official unveiling of the car in Geneva paid off. Lyons and Heynes gave journos a short drive in the car on the twisty mountain roads around the hotel.

The launch created quite a stir and the E-Type remains Jaguar's most enduring and iconic symbol. Owners included celebrities such as George Best, Brigitte Bardot and Steve McQueen and the sports car became as synonymous with the Swinging Sixties as the Beatles and the mini skirt. There was something almost phallic about the car, packing as it did both show and go in equal measure.

To mark the golden jubilee of the E-Type, Jaguar did a re-enactment, and this time around it was Ratan Tata who was present to do the honours along with his colleagues and a small contingent of motoring journalists from around the world.

Playing pilot to Tata on this journey was Carl-Peter Forster, CEO and MD of Tata Motors. The car that the two drove was the 50-year-old 77RW that was actually driven at the time of the launch.

The journalists present, however, got to drive other general E-Types, but the route they took was the same that Lyons and Heynes had driven on, back in 1961.

Summing up the experience of driving the 77RW, Forster said, "What better way to celebrate the half century of the E-Type than driving beautiful cars. This is a sporting classic that symbolises the power and passion of the Jaguar brand - one of the factors that attracted Tata Motors to purchase both the Jaguar and the Land Rover."

He perhaps spoke for everyone present and his boss too, and this is where one thinks that Jaguar has done everything right since the ownership was transferred to Tata Motors. Ratan Tata has been mindful of its tradition and heritage and that's also the direction he has outlined for Jaguar in the future. One thing is for sure, other new Jaguars will emerge with a great many cues from the past. Also clear is the fact that there will not be a modern day E-Type, a fact that many would lament. You might say some icons are best left untouched!

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