Has Eagle Become A Pioneer With The New Lightweight GT?
Photography by Tom Hains
First launched almost 60 years ago, the Jaguar E-Type was twice as fast as most other cars on the road with looks that still turn heads across the world today.
The original E-Type was produced over a period of 14 years and just nine years after Jaguar ceased production in 1975, Eagle was born. The British marque has spent almost four decades refining and elevating the legendary roadster, delivering improvements to the reliability, longevity, safety and performance for today’s driver, more than twice the length of time Jaguar spent building the original.
But the Eagle Lightweight GT takes this a step further still, in that it is a thoroughly modern classic.
This car is an evolution of the lightweight concept: lighter and more powerful with an upgraded chassis. It stands apart from the Jaguar Heritage limited edition run of a few years ago – these were trying to be faithful copies of the original – and, with the Lightweight GT, it can genuinely be argued that Eagle has become pioneers, taking the original and making it better in almost every respect, and thus, creating a road-going and super-civilised take on Jaguar’s E-Type Lightweight racer.
Paul Brace has been with Eagle since 1989. He built the first dozen Eagle E-Types and their subsequent Special Editions, and today is responsible for all the technical and design work that goes into the company’s line-up, including the Speedster. As he drives the Lightweight GT on the roads around the company’s workshop in East Sussex, he lays out just what a revolution this car is.
“[The Lightweight GT] is a natural progression on our Low Drag GT,” Paul explains. “That car is a road-going and super civilised take on Jaguar’s original Low Drag Coupe racing car, and the Lightweight GT is essentially the same exercise on Jaguar’s E-Type Lightweight racer. They are both true GT cars that you could, if you wished, confidently, stylishly and speedily cross continents in.
“We have been developing E-Types for 36 years and building bespoke compromise free E-Types for 26 years, so we pretty much nailed reliability, longevity, safety and performance decades ago. This latest evolution draws from everything we’ve learned since day one, but also benefits from the newer, ‘funkier’ stuff we have more recently learned too. See those control levers?” – Paul waves a hand in the direction of the cabin – “One of the benefits of 3D printing!”
The Lightweight GT concept had been on the drawing board for some years, waiting for the right customer and since shaking hands on the purchase (back in what Paul refers to as “the good old days” with a wry grin), the new owner has waited nearly three years for their finished car. Being the first, it has naturally absorbed a lot more time and thought than later repeats inevitably will.
The build began by sourcing an original Series 1 E-Type and replacing every panel with a lightweight aluminium more suited to road use than the thin, fragile material of the original Lightweights. The team invested more than 2,500 hours forming those unforgettable curves on an English Wheel, then fitting them to a tolerance many times more demanding than those specified by Jaguar’s Competition Department.
The famous Lightweight profile is subtly enhanced with improvements to aerodynamics including a steeper rear ramp angle and deeper sills, which also increase chassis stiffness and allow the driver to sit lower, improving headroom and lowering the centre of gravity. The result is a very clean silhouette. Deeper sills could have quite easily undermined the delicacy of the side profile of the car, but they look completely at home and the lack of any fussy retro appendages helps to keep the car’s lines sleek. Though Paul admits that, for this particular model, some initial ideas were eventually scrapped…
“Right at the beginning,” Paul continues, “[the GT] was going to be super bold with a rich blue ‘Candy Coat’ over a chrome base with matching roundels and racing stripes. The car didn’t need that amount of bling though and we deleted the stripes and maintained the roundels only in a subtly lighter shade of the same hue as a respectful doff of the cap to the car’s race heritage.”
One notable challenge for the 22-strong team at Eagle though was redesigning the hardtop…
“The primary new challenge was making the fit, finish and functionality of the hardtop befit a car of this value. As well as changing the shape [from a regular Lightweight E-Type hardtop], we increased the rake of the front and rear windows too, bonding them in flush. We deleted the need for door frames, so we’ve also no need for the array of clunky fixing catches and brackets. The rear seals are now hidden, the screen pillar fixings are hidden, and the visible fixings have been re-designed.
“The roof vent is also a key Lightweight E-Type feature, and it continues to function as the exit for cabin air and now includes an intricate baffle to avoid water ingress. Naturally it is also trimmed luxuriously, and my colleague Matthew Dewhurst has done a beautiful job with the fluted Alcantara.”
On top of that, the wheels are based on the original Dunlop racing wheels but the 16in peg-drive magnesium alloys are wider, with a little more offset and one inch taller to allow for modern tyres.
Eagle’s 4.7-litre evolution of the famous Jaguar ‘XK’ straight-six is a masterpiece, producing 380bhp at 5,750rpm and 375 lb ft of torque (508Nm) at 4,000rpm, a combination that propels the roadster to a top speed of 170mph plus (touching distance of 275kph). These incredible performance figures are achieved by combining a faithful recreation of the aluminium block of the original Lightweight E-Type with a significantly lighter front. A bespoke crankshaft, pistons and con rods improve responsiveness and durability, while a wide-angle head, as specified for factory Lightweights, accommodates larger valves and a higher lift camshaft for improved breathing.
But the real achievement is the fact the car weighs just 1,017kg. Paul describes slimming the car down whilst keeping it civilised as “quite a tall order” as the team was always aiming for the magic 1,000kg bull’s eye, albeit one they never really expected to reach. They tried everything sensible to rid mass but ultimately, Eagle didn’t want to compromise the ride: stripping climate control and surround sound for example would get the car well under 1,000kg, “but why would you want to sacrifice all that comfort just to get under the magic 1000?” Paul even jokes that his team could get a speedster down to 980kg if their customers don’t mind going without a roof!
Clearly though, some serious work, and quite a lot of money, has gone into getting the weight down on the Lightweight GT. Specialist materials like magnesium and titanium, a lithium battery and, of course, the aluminium body and block. All these things don’t come cheap, but they amount to a significant weight saving of more than 300kg.
The gearbox is an all-synchromesh five-speed unit built in-house. Developing its own gearbox was an enormous undertaking for such a small company, but Eagle made the decision to do this in the early days as the team couldn’t find something in existence without compromises. The result is something that suits the car perfectly, right down to the last ratio, and they have built more than 90 to date. Normally housed within an aluminium case, as opposed to Jaguar‘s original cast iron four-speed unit, the Lightweight GT’s casing is lighter still having been cast in Magnesium.
Comfort was also a big focus for the guys and girls at Eagle. That meant resisting the temptation to go for an exhaust note reminiscent of a racing car or a track-focused suspension calibration that so often makes cars sound and feel too harsh to be a truly refined ride. Working together with the seats and tyres, the lightweight suspension, carefully specified geometry, spring rates, bushings and bespoke Ohlins adjustable dampers, mean long distances in the Lightweight GT are an exciting but not daunting prospect.
The designs of the floorpan, pedal mountings and rear bulkhead have been tweaked to significantly increase legroom in the E-Type’s notoriously cramped cabin while the seats are redesigned to improve safety and long-term comfort. The remarkable attention to detail has even increased finger room around the seat adjusters.
Paul smiles as he confirms that he drove over a thousand miles in the Lightweight GT last week and enjoyed every second of it. He talks about how easy it is to get hot and bothered in a car, given that some of the most desirable models can be quite tiring to drive. Eagle though wants its cars to be anything but tiring, and given the work that’s gone into the Lightweight GT, Paul is confident its new owner, even after a three-year wait, won’t be disappointed.
“We build what our customers order and we will be delighted to build more Lightweight GTs as and when the opportunity arises. But we are a small company and that naturally regulates our output. So, Eagle Speedsters, Low Drag GTs, Spyder GTs and Lightweight GTs. They will always be incredibly exclusive and each variation is unlikely to break into double figures: we’ve been building Eagle E-Types, steel bodied roadsters and coupes for 26 years and we still haven’t quite built 50 of those!
“It’s not much of a stretch to say these are possibly the most exclusive handbuilt cars available today. What owner wouldn’t love that?”