1964 Jaguar E-Type Semi-Lightweight,
Lot 238
The ex-Sir Robert Ropner/Factory supplied,1964 'Semi-Lightweight' Jaguar E-Type Two-Seat Roadster with Hardtop Chassis no. S850817 Engine no. RA1357-9S
Refer to department for estimate
Lot Details
The ex-Sir Robert Ropner/Factory supplied
1964 'Semi-Lightweight' Jaguar E-Type Two-Seat Roadster with Hardtop
Registration no. CJX 672C
Chassis no. S850817
Engine no. RA1357-9S


  • In the 50th Jubilee year of the stunningly beautiful and desirable Jaguar E-Type, we offer here this magnificently well-preserved and beautifully-patinated 'Semi-Lightweight' ultra-high performance road car – one of only two such E-Types ever built by the legendary Coventry company.

    Since both of these 'special-order' vehicles included elements of the definitive 'Lightweight E-Type' competition specification they became widely known as 'The Semi-Lightweights'. One of them was this right-hand drive roadster, with 'Lightweight'-style hardtop amongst its many special features, while its sister was a left-hand drive Fixed Head Coupe. This roadster was supplied new to the order of Sir Robert Ropner, of Darlington, County Durham, in the English north-east, while the FHC version went to prominent French collector, Pierre Bardinon, of Mas-du-Clos, Aubusson, France.

    The factory built only 12 full-blown Competition Lightweights to take on the mighty Works Teams of Ferrari with their 250GT SWBs/GTOs, and Aston Martin with their DB4GT/Zagatos in International GT competition. The Ropner Semi-lightweight is a derivative of these cars and utilised much of the Competition department's parts inventory.

    Sir Robert Ropner (the 4th Baronet) was born in 1921 and passed away in 2004. The family had business interests in shipping (the Ropner Line) and in 1948, Ropner Holdings Ltd had been formed and the group's headquarters settled in Darlington. Towards the end of the 1950s, the fleet consisted of 18 vessels. Sir Robert was an extremely enthusiastic motorist, and had a particular affinity to Jaguar. He owned a number of their models – including a D-Type – and in all would own three E-Types. Chassis S850817 was the second – and the most significant – and he took delivery of it in July 1964. One can only surmise that, having seen how well the Lightweights performed in competition, he decided and managed to cajole Bill Heynes into supplying this unique motor car.

    It was based upon a steel-skinned production central monocoque 'tub' bearing a lightweight aluminium-alloy bonnet and steel doors. The engine featured a cast-iron cylinder block with wet-sump lubrication, but topped by one of the classic and now much sought-after and race-bred '35/40' wide-angle cylinder heads. The engine also featured a polished and balanced crankshaft and connecting rods, a lightened flywheel, Holbourn Eaton oil pump, 7/16-inch high-lift camshafts and Nimonic head gasket. The unit breathed through three Weber DCO3 twin-choke carburetors, fed by fuel from twin SU fuel pumps piped in parallel and with transmission via a German-made – and highly sophisticated - 5-speed ZF gearbox a la Jaguar's definitive Lightweight E-Type competition cars.

    The back axle ratio as supplied by the factory was 3.54:1 and the new 'Semi-Lightweight' car's final-drive featured a Thornton Tork-Lok limited-slip differential.

    The car rode upon 15-inch diameter Dunlop perforated-alloy disc wheels carrying 6Lx15 Dunlop SP tyres. A 13/16-inch thick anti-roll bar was fitted and the rear suspension – as was the case with the true Lightweight E-Types – incorporated some Jaguar Mark X components. Quoted power output for the specially-tuned, Weber-aspirated engine was 290bhp at 5,500rpm.

    The new car was finished in Jaguar gun-metal grey with black hardtop and was UK road-registered 'WW1' on May 6, 1964. Sir Robert Ropner, was a friend of Jaguar's illustrious chief engineer William Munger Heynes, and in purchasing this car Sir Robert had dealt directly with Mr Heynes. They conducted extensive subsequent correspondence concerning the car, copies of which are included in the fascinating documentation file accompanying this Lot.

    One early letter related to the new Dunlop SP tyres, with Bill Heynes confiding that "Since the commencement of our test we have had a little bit of trouble on autobahn work in hot countries (Italy), where sustained speeds of over 130mph are being used for fairly long distances... The tyres are perfectly OK up to 135mph but if you are taking the car to Italy and likely to be doing much maximum speed work, I would recommend changing back to RS5, until we have got all our tests completed. It is 90% certain that we shall give the tyres a clean bill of health, but until we have had another month running the top end, that is 130 plus for sustained periods, they must be regarded with suspicion. Please keep this information strictly confidential...".

    Chassis development engineer Derrick White – formerly with the Connaught Formula 1 racing team – also wrote to Sir Robert, recommending that he should "...retain the present axle ratio until the car is fully run in. The car should then achieve 154mph at 6,000rpm and 165mph at 6,500rpm, although we do not recommend sustained running at anything over 6,000rpm...". He mentioned that an alternative 3.31:1 axle ratio could be supplied, if required. Sir Robert subsequently sought further information on tyres from both Jaguar and the Dunlop Rubber Company, and White calculated notional top speed with 3.07:1 final-drive ratio to be no less than 194mph.

    The Baronet's new Jaguar road car proved to be ferociously fast – a truly grand Grand Tourer. But by April, 1965, Sir Robert complained about 'spitting' above 5,000rpm which "...utterly does away with the pleasure one gets on occasionally having an open road...". Plainly frustrated with Jaguar's inability to correct this problem he snapped: "The whole thing has really gone on long enough. The car is in all other ways so delightful it is a shame to have it spoilt by such a stain on its character...".

    Bill Heynes responded that it could take two or three weeks for a first-class man to set-up the Weber carburettors perfectly and spit-free, "...and just at the moment this sort of labour cannot be made available for the period of time required...". He continued: "If the trouble is persistent and you feel the car is unacceptable in this state, I think we shall have to change it back to SUs until such time as we can work on the full development of these carburetors". He concluded "....frankly, I thought that this car and the other one we tried were to an acceptable state of development and that, together with your powers of persuasion, was the only reason I permitted the order for Weber carburettors to be accepted". One gets the feeling at this stage that Heynes wished he'd never allowed himself to be talked into commissioning such a bespoke high-performance car to one of his elite customers.

    Sir Robert kept this superb 'Semi Lightweight' E-Type Jaguar for nearly seven years, driving it almost every day to his office and covering most of his miles on the A1 arterial road so familiar to British enthusiasts.

    Historic racing great Neil Corner, himself a resident of the north east, recalls the car very well during its Ropner ownership: "I had seen him on the road in and around Darlington because he always went to work in his D-Type (before acquiring the 'E'). He used it every day. I had a DB5 Aston Martin and wasn't particularly paying attention and I was cruising along going north, somewhere near Catterick. I was doing something like 90mph. I suddenly saw this E-Type behind me, I thought 'Where has he come from?'. So I put my foot down and he slowly went past me. The thing I remember is, we got up to 120mph – there was no speed limit then – and I saw a puff of smoke come out of the exhaust pipes...of course it was his five-speed gearbox. Being an enthusiast he pulled over at Scotch Corner and I pulled in behind him and we had a great chinwag...".

    In July 1971, this E-Type was sold from Sir Robert Ropner to Alan Ensoll – another former D-Type owner from the English north-east. The car's registration had been changed in January that year to '166 YHN' and when acquired by Alan Ensoll (Sales) Limited of Middlesbrough it was changed again to 'XAJ 1'.

    Alan Ensoll was an enthusiastic sprint and hill-climb competitor, having previously campaigned both C- and ex-Jim Clark D-Type Jaguars. He is thought also, perhaps, to have raced this E-Type in club events at Oulton Park in Cheshire and Snetterton in Norfolk.

    In September 1973 the ageing semi-Lightweight E-Type was then traded from Alan Ensoll to Jaguar XK-E specialist Fred Cliffe whose Cliffe Motors company was based at Sherburn-in-Elmet. Mr Cliffe then sold the car in October 1973 to Robert Ashcroft of Worsley, Manchester, well-known as an entrant of minor-Formula single-seater racing cars through his private team, Robert Ashcroft Racing.

    It then passed subsequently via dealers Martin Jonson and Brian Classic to Mike Fisher, who raced the car at Silverstone and "maybe at Oulton as well". The car was at that time painted mustard yellow with black hardtop. Mr Fisher recalls repainting it dark blue before he part-exchanged it with fellow dealer David Mulvaney for the ex-Cunningham team competition Lightweight E-Type '5114 WK'. Mr Mulvaney then offered this 'Semi-Lightweight' for resale at £3,650", finding a buyer in Balmforth of Ormskirk, from whom it passed to a Mr Ramsbottom of Park Lane Service Station, Keighley, Yorkshire.

    The present vendor eventually acquired the car after advertising "Good Scottish home available for older Jaguar with competition history. WHY?" ("What have you?").

    He had been running the ex-Peter Walker Le Mans XK120 Jaguar 'JWK 977', and had a road going V12 E-Type but did not want to wear out either of them. He recalls: "This chap Ramsbottom phoned up and said he'd got just the job, which was the Ropner car. I went down to see it, and despite it being in pretty ropey condition I agreed and so, we swopped cars" – much to his wife's disgust since the V12 had been utterly immaculate and the Ropner car proved to be "as grotty as a tack".

    The present vendor has thus possessed, restored and preserved this extremely rare and important road-going high-performance Jaguar since April, 1982 – 29 long years. He had the car sympathetically restored to preserve as much of the absolutely original fabric as he could, including its red cockpit carpeting and seat leather. He says: "The car is a very easy thing to drive. I've done tens of thousands of miles in it. At RAF Kinloss I ran out of runway at 155mph. The colour is presently Jaguar Dove Grey instead of the original Gun-metal Grey with black hardtop. The only thing I lost was the wide-angle cylinder head, which went to Ron Beaty, the Jaguar engine specialist, but which I have since succeeded in replacing. The block – still the original and bearing the original engine number - is unique because it is in iron but from the aluminium-engine casting patterns. The car even retains its original steering wheel.

    As Jaguar authority Philip Porter observes in his superb new book 'Ultimate E-Type- The Competition Cars' (Porter Press International – 2011 – ISBN 978-1-907085-07-9) the 'Sir Robert Ropner semi-Lightweight' "...without the bumpers of the production cars and the external bonnet handles, roof and boot lid vents of the Lightweights... arguably had the purest form of any built by the factory. It is unadorned sculpture...".

    Today its boot lid is an aluminium Lightweight panel with the top vent of the pure competition cars, but the external bonnet handles are still evident by their absence and this lovely E-Type remains most decidedly 'unadorned sculpture'. Its original German ZF 5-speed gearbox is still in place and this mouth-wateringly high-performance road car with significant individual history – and as-yet largely untapped competition potential – is certainly offered here with our highest recommendation.

    Offered with V5C registration document, MSA Historic Technical Passport (Category: Competition GT; Period F – 1962 to 1965; FIA Class GTS12), general correspondence between Ropner and Jaguar, and internal copy of Jaguar Cars technical sheets illustrating the factory specification for the Ropner E-Type.

    Estimate upon request

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