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GQ Magazine

The Jaguar x Helm E-Type is the perfect car

On the 60th anniversary of the most beautiful car in the world, a deft new reimagining refuels our desire.

Defining art is like nailing jelly to a wall. But let’s just say it’s something creatively expressive that stirs the soul, on which basis the Jaguar E-Type is a doozy. New York’s Museum Of Modern Art certainly thought so: the E-Type was the third car admitted to its permanent collection (there are still only nine there in total). And Enzo Ferrari, rarely forthcoming with praise for anything, famously deemed it “the most beautiful car in the world”.

The truth is that this most venerated of cars was the product of an empirical mind, one that belonged to former aviation aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer. “[He] kept his mathematical formula for design a secret,” noted one of his colleagues in the styling department, Tom Jones, “and in fact died before anyone else learned it. Sayer would disappear and return with sheets of numbers which represented the coordinates of the car.”

Not a tale of miracles and magic, then. The E-Type’s teardrop form, smooth fuselage and inset wheels are all components in a car that obeys the laws of science to become objectively beautiful. That it was also part of a competition continuum that had already given the world the C- and D-Type sports racers – four-time winners in the Le Mans 24 Hours during the 1950s – only helped intensify its impact. It was also more affordable than its rivals.


Nor does it look 60 years old. This milestone has seen a flurry of activity, including Jaguar’s classic division creating a limited edition of six matched pairs of restored fixed-head coupés and roadsters, in honour of the car driven overnight from Coventry in March 1961 by test driver Norman Dewis and PR Bob Berry to its unveiling at the Geneva International Motor Show. But the E-Type also supports a thriving ecosystem of specialists, the latest of which is a company called Helm.

Founder Chedeen Battick spent the first eleven years of his life in Jamaica – a country that’s still home to its fair share of historic British cars – before becoming captivated by the E-Type. A designer by background, Battick’s expertise in classic cars and fastidious attention to detail has now found itself focused on crafting an E-Type that flirts with the fashionable “restomod” idea without going all the way. He’s leaving the lightweight, racy stuff to established expert Eagle, maxing out instead on the craftsmanship and materials to create the most artful E-Type ever attempted.


“This is the apex of individualisation. We know what we want to get out of the car without ruining the feel or the driveability,” Battick says. “It’s not a restomod. We haven’t replaced the engine with a different one or gone for 500bhp. We’ve updated the car, enhanced it. You might not even register the differences from a distance, but when you get up close...”

Only 20 will be made, each taking 3,800 hours to build, the modifications running to chassis reinforcements, soft-close aluminium doors, beefier internals for the newly fuel-injected 3.8-litre engine, whose power output is a genuine 300bhp, and a stainless-steel aircraft-grade exhaust system. The original and rather gnarly manual gearbox has been replaced, there’s a modern power steering setup and uprated brakes. This is the E-Type redux.


Perhaps best of all, Helm has partnered with Bill Amberg to deliver an interior makeover of a quality the mass-produced original never got within a country mile of. Amberg’s understanding of – and relationship with – leather and the opportunities it provides eclipses any of the big automotive OEMs. Everywhere you look there’s supremely tactile semi-aniline leather, with suede on the door trims and on the dashboard. Even the E-Type’s famous row of toggle switches are encased in leather. Lift the side-hinged rear door and Amberg’s celebrated Rocket Bag – as seen in the V&A’s permanent archive – nestles in the trimmed luggage bay in bespoke weekend and briefcase form. Amberg owns a wonderful old Lancia and is currently finishing work on a 1930s hotrod, so he understands the emotions involved here.

“The Italians had them, the Americans too, but the E-Type was the first sexy British car you could buy off the forecourt,” Amberg explains. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so significant, so evocative. People are nervous about classic cars. They’re nervous about the engineering, so if they replace it they’ll end up with a reliable car. But that takes away a lot of the charm, because the lightness and the balance of the car was built around the original drivetrain. This is an original car that has just been beautifully reworked.”

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