The Jaguar E-type S3 is currently the most affordable of all. But is its reputation as third-best deserved? We find out.

Words: Aaron McKay

I deliberately didn’t do my research this time. I could have used street view to pinpoint the perfect corners, most scenic landscapes, and sifted through the local pubs and found the most idyllic. But no. With little more than a glance of my road atlas, I veered off the B149 and into the North Norfolk countryside. Eyes open for a pub.

Diving inland and away from the main road’s traffic, the wildflowers edge their way closer to the tarmac and farm fields begin to take over the landscape. The E-type S3 in its Primrose paintwork, a bright yet soft shade of yellow, seems to naturally blend in and as it warms up, the V12 makes effortless work of sending the car down the road like a summer breeze. There’s simply so much torque that getting up to speed doesn’t take a second thought. It sets a lovely, relaxing tone to the morning.

With my first run of B-roads and the warm-up done, I stop to take a step back and appreciate the very fact that I’m here with this amazing car. Ostensibly I’m here for petrol, but before that I pop the bonnet up – requiring the release of two interior pulleys as well as a tricky central catch on the outside – and perform some basic checks. Quietly in awe of this vast engine, I make some affirmative noises and carefully close the clamshell.

Jaguar E-type S3 clamshell

As I leave, car and engine suitably appeased, the more obvious attention of a young lad is caught and with a visible shock he scrambles for his phone to capture the primrose yellow sight. With a smile I think how wonderful it is that younger generations are still excited by these older cars, and using the junction as the prime scene, I edge on the throttle and the big cat surges round with a subtle spin of the inside wheel before I fully open up the V12 on the straight. I hope he got a good video to show his mates.

Out of Burnham Market, I follow an instinct that there may be something to find on the unclassified roads that go even deeper into the countryside. Shade begins to cover the road from a smattering of trees, the cool woodland air rushing into the warm, un-air-conditioned cabin through the front windows. Stopping for the occasional oncoming car, not everyone wanting to yield to the slightly showy Jaguar, I’m keeping a keen eye on the temperature and noting the wafts of warm air seeping into the footwell. It’s asking to be back on the open road. I can’t disagree.

I notice now that the V12 is idling with remarkable creaminess as I set off after meeting yet another oncoming car and then, in a moment of perfect timing, the road opens up for an enticingly long, wide straight through a densely wooded section. I click the gear shifter from D down into 2 and ease through the long throttle’s travel, letting the V12 sing past its normal shift point. It takes on an exhilarating wail that echoes dramatically off the trees and suddenly the E-type S3 is carrying a considerable turn of speed. I hover over the brakes to find their response; far sharper, in a reassuring way, than I expected, and I find that I actually had plenty of space before the road narrows and twists off in another direction.

Jaguar E-type S3 driving

Escaping the little lanes of Norfolk, I turn the long, yellow bonnet back onto the wider, smoother tarmac of the local B-roads. What’s the need for big travel? The Jaguar has plenty of breathing room along the scenic carriageways that thread through this lovely bit of English countryside.

A convoy of contemporary classics filter into view around a corner ahead of me as if to prove this – first an ivory coloured Volvo P1800 that immediately has me reaching for the flasher stalk and we exchange enthusiastic waves. Already chipper with this one, I catch sight of a Jensen Interceptor, followed by an Aston Martin DB5, then an Alfa Spider all in quick succession, almost too quickly to give each one a wave. The early DBS and Bentley S2 that follow at a distance has me wondering if there’s an event on nearby.

It’s nearly noon now and lunch calls, but rather than go direct to the choice pub I’d clocked earlier, I lead the Jaguar – now happy to be on its preferred roads – round a bit of a B-road loop. It’s here that I begin to explore what it’s really like to drive this car in its element. But what is its element? Is it a sports car? The purists will point to the early, six-cylinder cars – a good 300kg down on this. Is it a supercar? Difficult to say. This 2+2 model with its extended GT credentials and heavy V12 seems to pull its definition away from true sports or supercar exotica. That’s just fine with me.

V12 engine

As I up the pace and feed it along the Norfolk tarmac, the feeling of this car being something special is undeniable. Even with the practical bodyshell, the extra trim, heavier engine and gearbox, it drives with the delicacy of a finely set up sports car. In fact the E-type S3 is still closely derived from the famous racing cars of its recent past; a central steel monocoque and tubular front subframe closely follows the layout of the competition D-type, while an independently sprung rear end with in-board brakes echoes Briggs Cunningham’s 1960 Jaguar Le Mans car.

With a wider front track than earlier models, it conspires to feel like I’m sitting on the rear axle in the E-type S3. I find an apex, wind on the throttle, then off, find another and finally push into the carpet and unleash the magical song of twelve cylinders given their full bore. Holding the gearbox in its 2 position, the long grass and wildflowers are blurred into an ever faster rolling image either side of the curved windscreen and long bonnet. The V12 doesn’t scream, rather howls with ever greater smoothness until it begins to peter out at the top end, wanting for a flick into D to deliver third gear. It never feels stressed. Confidence inspiring brakes scrub off the astoundingly easy speed and the delicate steering is wonderfully accurate. It’s a proper car this.

The pub approaching, I ease off and let that lingering thrill of having this super, sports, GT car flow along the road sink in. Flashing images of Norfolk’s blurred countryside still flicking across my mind, I pull into the gravel car park of The Duck Inn, Stanhoe. I’m in petrol-adrenalin shock. A stunning Ferrari 250GT is parked next to this morning’s DB5, and around the corner the rest of the pack – of the earlier convoy and some others – litter the pub’s car park. What a day.

It’s been made all the more special for the fun of discovering this lovely pub, the charming villages, and fantastic country roads on little more than a whim. Click open the door, glance at the map, take a turning, and simply enjoy the day. Those moments in a special car, on a fine day, whooshing through beautiful countryside, having a break, enjoying a slice of freedom – isn’t that what it’s all about?