Restoring an E-type in the USA


Joe Mahoney’s Texas Dream – Oliver the E-type

First appeared in Jaguar Magazine. Reproduced by kind permission of editor Les Hughes

I first saw our 1968 E-Type in late 2002 when I took our Triumph TR8 coupe, “Barney”, (yes, we name all of our cars) to Jack Laswell at JL Enterprises for some engine and suspension work.  As I walked through his storage area, I saw a seven foot tall bonnet in gray primer standing straight up that could only belong to an E-Type.  Jack told me that it was a one-owner, low mileage car that the owner wanted restored to JCNA Concours standards.

Fast forward seven and a half years to June 2009 when I took “Edward”, our 1962 Jaguar Mark II to Jack for a new suspension including a power rack and pinion steering unit.  As I got out of Edward, I was astounded to see the same E-Type bonnet in the same place.  Before I left, I asked Jack what was happening with the car.  I was surprised to see it still there in the same condition.  Jack told me the gentleman who owned the car had lost interest and stopped paying on the project the year before but Jack still serviced his BMW and his wife’s Mercedes.

Jack asked if I was interested in it and I said, “Sure!”, but there was no way I could afford an E-Type.  Jack grinned and said, “Make me an offer” and I did.  It was absurdly low, but all I could afford.  Jack checked with the owner and called me the next day and said, “You have an E-Type!”. I was flabbergasted, but ecstatic.

Here is what I bought.  A 1968 one-owner Series 1.5 E-Type with 34,083 original miles completely disassembled.  The body work was done.  The body had also been dipped, protected and painted with primer.  The motor, transmission, and front and rear suspension had been completely rebuilt and restored to original specifications and was like new.  The car had a new steering wheel on a refurbished steering column, new gas tank, complete new exhaust system plus many new parts and re-plated nuts and bolts.  The radiator had been refurbished and the gauges restored.  Because JL Enterprises is a highly professional shop, I received hundreds of photos documenting the disassembly and the individual systems.  

The seats and interior had been stored in a metal shed out back because the intention had been to install a brand new interior.  When we pulled the seats out of the shed, the leather was still in perfect condition after eight years. That led to my first decision which was to retain the original seat leather and as much of the original car as possible.

The next day, we loaded the E-Type, now known as “Oliver”, on two trailers and transported it to Keith Steward of JKL in Canton, Texas to begin a professional restoration, a process that would span almost three years. The body was put on the rotisserie and the seats sent to Hatfield Restorations in Canton for new foam and frame reconditioning.

The engine was returned to the machine shop in Dallas that originally rebuilt it as it is the best in the area.  After sitting for eight years, the engine required a new rebuild because the assembly grease was like dried varnish.

Once we got the body on the rotisserie, there was little doubt that the old primer needed to be removed.  After years of sitting, surface rust had formed and the entire underside of the bonnet was showing signs of it.  So the body was taken down to bare metal again.  The bonnet had numerous dings from standing in Jack’s shop so long.  The body was resurfaced again and everything was smoothed out ready to accept a new coat of primer.

The car was originally Primrose Yellow, a color that I never liked and that is putting it mildly.  This led to my decision to a re-spray in black…which I regard as the most beautiful color for an E-Type.  The interior and top were originally black so this would give us a triple black car which should be stunning when finished.

This was the easy part!  We began with four primer coats, four base coats of black and finished with five clear coats. There is little need to mention the enormous amount of preparation required before starting and between each coat because black is a color that will show the slightest imperfection. However, the paint job is gorgeous and worth all the extra time and expense.

With the car now painted, it was time to start laying out the parts and organizing them for assembly.  We came to a point where we looked at each other and said, “Oh my God! This is not an MGB!! How can one car have so many parts and where does it all go??”  Even though we have previously restored British sports cars, nothing prepared us to start from scratch on a car we did not disassemble and an E-Type to boot!  The E-Type is a different “breed of cat”.  Yes, pun intended!

The first of many things we discovered about the Series 1.5 is that you need both the Series One and the Series Two wiring diagram books and even then, it is not always as shown.  Because as we all know, when these cars came down the assembly line, every day was a new day.  

Oliver is a late model Series 1.5 built in 1967 and has rocker switches instead of toggle switches.  He does share the same open headlights and small tail lights above the bumper that all Series 1.5 models had.  

We had not previously noticed that the windshield had begun to delaminate and that was the first thing that had to be installed after paint.  So we bought an absurdly expensive and correct new triplex windshield which was absolute hell to install.  Every time we thought we had it installed correctly, it slipped and we had to start all over.  

We were feeling somewhat overwhelmed at this point and luckily, that is when I found Ivan (The Car Nut) in Georgia.  Ivan restores E-Types and knows them well.  Fortunately he was willing to help us with any questions we had and more importantly, he recommended Boone at Welsh Jaguar for all our parts requirements and as we all know a good supplier is “gold”.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was to have my original parts re-chromed.  Not only are the original parts made of superior materials, but they will also fit perfectly when reinstalled.  Reproduction parts, I am reliably informed, do not.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is putting many small chrome shops out of business with restrictive regulations but fortunately my chrome shop was still in business.  For 30 years they have been known for quality work at reasonable prices.  They gave me a delivery date of six weeks. Sure enough, six weeks to the day, I got a call and drove to Dallas to pick them up.  They were beautifully done!  But as I looked around the shelves were empty and the vats were covered. The shop foreman told me that mine were the last pieces they did.  The owner had decided to shut down because of the new rules and because Oliver’s were the last, they took particular care with them and it certainly showed.

When we began test fitting the body panels, we discovered that an extra section had been welded to the rocker panel.  (Yes, Jack, now I remember that you pointed it out.)  It looked to be original, but the bonnet would not fit properly.  By measuring from inside with the bonnet in place we found that it needed an extra inch to fit properly.  When Keith added the extra metal to both sides, the bonnet fit perfectly.

Other than touching on the “highlights” of the mechanical assembly, there is little else that needs to be mentioned.  We picked up the engine in Dallas and began the drive train installation.  Surprisingly everything went together very well though test fitting and refitting became standard practice.  The only real problems came in fitting the steering column, mating the transmission to the engine without the proper tool (won’t do that again), and not fitting an adjustable torsion bar in the first phase to get the proper ride height.  The only benefit of assembling the front suspension twice is that it is now spot on.

With the engine installed and the new battery fitted, the time had arrived to try a start.  Keith turned the key and “WHAM” it knocked our brand new gear reduction, high speed starter completely off!  Turns out the engine shop had the timing mark on six instead of one. Check and double check is now branded on my forehead.

After installing a new starter we tried again and Oliver started right up, running about 300 rpm too high, but running smoothly.  This is unusual to say the least. On the first drive, sitting on a seat from one of the TR8’s, everything seemed to work nicely except the tach and turn signals.  It felt tight and shifted beautifully and the brakes worked smoothly.  The Jaguar “gods” were smiling which was only fair as they had many laughs at our expense over the past few years.  We were elated.  

Now it was time to fit the new wheels and tires.   Since all series 1.5 E-Types came with chrome wires, we bought five new Dayton chrome wire wheels and five 185-70-15 Vedrestein black walls to go with them.  Many owners install 205-70-15 tires, but the wider tires make the steering harder and though they do fill the wheel wells nicely, they never look quite right.  This seems to be borne out by the way Oliver drives and handles with the original size tires.  

After picking up the seats from Hatfield’s Restorations (Tony did a superb job) I ordered the rest of the interior from OSJI which was highly recommended.  We were not doing a JCNA Concours restoration, so we upgraded to a Sunfast top and boot cover which gives the car a more classic and elegant look.  Because Hatfield’s was fully booked for the next two years, we took Oliver to a shop in Fairfield, TX, that specializes in ’55-’57 Chevrolets, but employs a terrific custom interior man.  Bill Green, the owner, was kind enough to provide space for his man to install Oliver’s interior.  The seats were already done and the rest was pre-cut for the car, so it was a relatively easy installation except for one minor detail.  I had forgotten to order the leather sill covers.  OOPS!!

After receiving the sill covers, and with most of the interior installed, it was time to finish detailing the dash.  The dash was in good condition and we decided to retain it for the sake of originality.  In making this decision, I was influenced by two people, John Osborne and Geof Maycock.  I read an article by Osborne of New Zealand in Jaguar Magazine back in 2000 where he discussed the merits of restoration at different levels vs “preservation” which he defined as “maintaining a car ‘as is’- warts and all.”  Also, Geof Maycock of the Old Autocats Co., which restored Mark II’s in England had a stated goal to produce a car “that equaled an impeccably maintained five year old car”.  As I understood it, they were trying to point out that it is not necessary to restore a car past its original beauty, just as it is possible to improve on the drivability and handling of a car without sacrificing its character.

I knew that I did not want a car restored to the level of an art object that could never be driven nor would I care to have a car in original “tatty” shape unless it were of great historical value.  Oliver’s restoration was a combination of the two philosophies.  Though Oliver is a hand built, professionally restored E-Type, he retains the original seat leathers and dash including most switches and bezels.   Perhaps there is a perverse pleasure in knowing that Oliver is the reverse of many restorations that are done.  Many concentrate on visual perfection and may not give adequate attention to parts of the car that do not show.  Oliver’s mechanicals are fully restored plus he has the character that comes from retaining as much of the originality as possible as long as it is attractive and functional.  The next owner can restore the dash to perfection if he pleases in a very short time.

Next, we trailered Oliver back to JL Enterprises, Jack Laswell’s shop, for a final sorting.  We could not get the turn signals or tach to work no matter how hard we tried and for some reason, after running beautifully for a bit, Oliver would bog down and emulate a kookaburra with a cold.  

The next day, Jack called to say that the turn signals were simply wired wrong in spite of what the books said and the wiring color code indicated to us.  The tach was the same problem.  We were missing an intake manifold bolt and Jack was able to find one in his extensive parts bin. Several other suspension bolts were the wrong type, so he replaced them as well.

Now we came to the real problem.  Why does Oliver go “wonky” after a bit of driving?  After checking everything else, and driving Oliver until he began to act up, Jack narrowed the problem down to the carbs.  He removed the carbs and took them apart.  The problem was in the float. They were filled with gas.  Apparently, sitting dry for so long had produced microscopic pin holes that were too small to see with the naked eye, so we had no reason to think them faulty. I ordered new floats and two more carb rebuild kits….ouch!!  Jack rebuilt the carbs, tuned the engine, set the front end, and did a final check of the entire car.  Oliver was finally ready to be picked up.

As we walked into the shop, there was Jack standing by Oliver, grinning, and holding a fire extinguisher, saying, “Just in case!”  When we finished laughing, he said “hop in”. Jack turned the key and Oliver started immediately.  He sounded better than ever with that special Jaguar throaty rumble, idling smoothly.  Jack shifted into first, and off we went.  We drove around a circular and rough road, onto a main street, and out onto the highway.   Oliver felt absolutely solid and tracked beautifully, and what a second gear!  I truly could not have hoped for more.  

I thanked Jack, who was absolutely pleased with the car, and we loaded Oliver up and headed home with just a few things to finish such as fitting the boot cover, some minor dash details and a final cosmetic detailing.

I never thought I would own an E-Type and certainly not one of the rare Series 1.5, but thanks to an “alignment of the stars”, here we are.  However, we would not be here without the earthly efforts of Keith Steward of JKL in Canton who devotedly put Oliver back together as well as giving him his lustrous black paint, and the skill of Jack Laswell who is a genius with mechanicals.

When I see Oliver between our two Mark II Saloons, I feel so fortunate to have these remarkable Jaguars in our small collection of British cars.


To see Oliver’s restoration in more detail, go to Little Dog Garage

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All information correct at time of publishing.