The idea of a removing the “XK” inline-six engine from an early Jaguar E-type and replacing it with an electric motor might sound like sacrilege. Yet that’s exactly what Jaguar Classic did in creating what it calls the E-type Zero. We first told you about the E-type Zero last year. Since then, the car has made a guest appearance at the recent royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex. The Zero is no longer a one-off, as Jaguar Classic has announced that it will be offering the conversion for vintage E-types and also selling restored E-types with batteries under the bonnet in the same way that it sells factory-restored “Reborn” E-types with their original powertrain. We’ve now driven the E-type Zero, and we must admit that, for an apostasy, it works surprisingly well.
Jaguar has created a self-contained modular electric powertrain that shares the same dimensions and mass as the original engine and transmission. The 40.0-kWh battery pack is closely related to the one in the Range Rover P400e plug-in hybrid, with twice as many cells and improved energy density. This sits where the iron-block inline-six formerly did, with the compact 295-hp electric motor occupying the space that previously contained the four-speed manual gearbox. The unit drives the rear wheels via a single-speed reduction gear and a prop shaft that turns the original differential. The new system requires no changes to the E-type’s core structure, which retains the original suspension and brakes, and Jaguar even offers buyers the option to save the original engine and gearbox in case they ever decide to swap back. The total weight of the new propulsion system is quoted as being roughly 680 pounds, slightly less than that of the original.
There have been some other changes, but none dramatically alter the character of the car. The E-type Zero’s control electronics are located under the trunk floor in the space that previously housed the spare wheel. The prototype uses a charging port that has been neatly integrated under the original fuel-filler flap, but Jaguar Classic’s engineering team says they are considering relocating it to make using public charging stations a bit more convenient.
The concept also has been given a digital instrument cluster as well as a central touchscreen, but the plan is to offer the option of a more traditional cabin. The wipers and headlights are controlled by modern switches, but we were pleased to discover that the original E-type’s thin, column-mounted stalk operates the turn signals.
Jaguar claims a range of 200 miles in optimum conditions and around 125 miles in regular use. Fast charging isn’t supported—it would have required active battery cooling, which would have added an unacceptable level of complexity and weight—but the Zero’s likely role as a sometime toy rather than everyday transport means that a 7.0-kW onboard charger capable of replenishing the battery pack in about five hours when connected to a 240-volt source is reckoned to be adequate; that will take longer from a standard 120-volt household outlet.
Our drive took place on the crowded streets of Monterey during Car Week, and we couldn’t confirm the electric E-type’s performance claims. The factory claims a sub-7.0-second zero-to-60-mph time, which corresponds to that of the six-cylinder E-types (like this Jag that we tested in 1961), and we’re inclined to think that’s accurate seeing as the electric motor makes about the same power as the old 3.8-liter and 4.2-liter mills. The Zero concept does without traction control or stability control, although the motor’s 332 lb-ft can be limited to take account of slippery surfaces. There also is no regenerative braking, as this could lead to problems on low-grip surfaces because of the car’s lack of anti-lock brakes.
To our surprise, the lack of any combustion noise is not the deal-breaker we feared it might be. The motor produces a characteristic electric whine under harder acceleration, but the nearly silent running actually well suits the car’s relaxed dynamic character at low speeds. Nor did the absence of an internal-combustion soundtrack lead to any noticeable increase in the perception of creaks and squeaks that might be expected from the structure of an elderly Jaguar.
The Zero’s suspension tune is unchanged from those of the donor car and therefore soft by modern standards, yet it handles rougher surfaces well and, despite some enthusiastic throttle applications, never felt short of traction. The original steering is unassisted, low-geared, and heavy at parking-lot speeds but offers plentiful feedback once on the move. We’re told that buyers will be offered the option of electrically assisted power steering if they want it. The digital instruments did feel incongruous, with the tachometer being redundant given the lack of a need to change gears. The prototype also lacks any heating or ventilation system beyond its open roof; production versions will have heating and—if buyers want—even air conditioning.
Jaguar Classic will either convert an existing E-type or source a donor vehicle that can then be rebuilt to the new owner’s exact specification, which will cost around the same as the $500,000-ish charged for one of the factory-restored Reborn E-types. If the E-type isn’t your classic Jag of choice, other options are likely to become available. The new EV powertrain’s plug-and-play nature means, we’re told, that it will be able to fit any Jaguar that was originally built with the XK inline-six, an engine that was installed in new Jaguars from 1949 through 1992