Buyers' Guide

Finding the right E-type for you

Philip Porter, E-type Club founder, and acknowledged expert in the field, has written a number of articles covering various options open to you, important points to consider, frequently asked questions, common pitfalls and general advice, all combined to provide a comprehensive guide to helping you on your quest to find your perfect E-type.

Buying an E-type, like any serious purchase, needs care. It is crucial to make your decisions from a position of knowledge, based on researching the subject, talking to others with experience, weighing up the options and taking a little time to get your choice right. It is a complex subject and you can easily get burnt. Buy the wrong car and it will destroy all the enjoyment of E-type ownership. ​In this E-type buyer’s guide we have tried to cover the many aspects of the subject and pass on some of our knowledge, based on many years’ experience. One of the big advantages of a car club is that you can mix with, or correspond with, other owners and learn from their experience and even mistakes, hear recommendations and even warnings about the less-scrupulous companies. The E-type Club, being focused just on these cars, should be able to help you more effectively than any other club. ​We will always try to advise members wherever possible, and can guide you in the direction of the the good guys and away from the bad guys! ​If you make the right decision, you will find the E-type is a truly exciting, fabulous car, but beware!

Buying a Restored Car

This is a high risk activity. You will obviously be risking a far larger sum of money for a start. So you need to be very sure of what you are buying before taking the plunge. It is essential to have as much history with the car as possible. You should be very cynical and start with the attitude “guilty until proven innocent”. In other words, believe the worst and only change your view when you have been totally convinced. ​What will help to convince you? A photographic record helps, though this will only show what has been done and not how well it has been done. Long-term ownership by the previous custodian may inspire confidence, certainly more than a car which has changed hands frequently. A large number of invoices adding to some astronomical sum can be very misleading and as good as useless if the work has been done by a bunch of cowboys, even if those cowboys are masquerading behind large adverts, large premises and plenty of hype that gives them a very upmarket image. They are still con men. So it is important that ALL the work has been done by a reputable firm or firms. ​A car that has been used frequently is likely to be a very much better car than one which has been standing around for a long time. It is amazing how much and how quickly a car deteriorates with a lack of regular use. ​Try not to get too emotionally involved at this stage. Always be realistic. You may love the car now, but what if you change your mind or your circumstances change? Will this car be easy to sell again, or have they seen you coming?

​Buying an Un-restored Car

Buying an original, unrestored car is not easy. The chances are that, though it may look quite nice, under the skin it will need a lot of work. Many of the comments about buying a restored car apply to this category as well. ​Additionally, you should consider the following questions. How has the car been well cared for? Where has it lived? Has it been garaged (depending on which part of the world the car has lived in, this may or may not be vitally important)? Has it been regularly maintained? Are there invoices with the car? Can you build up a picture of how the car has been treated? Has it been owned by an enthusiast? Has he, or she, been involved in club events, such as tours? This will give a good indication of reliability and the faith the present owner (or previous owner if it’s a dealer selling the car) has in the car.

​Buying a Semi-restored Car

This category can be split into two. There are semi-restored cars that are on the road and semi-restored cars that are unfinished restoration projects. ​Taking, firstly, the cars on the road, you should again be very cynical. Has the work done been carried out properly? That is an insultingly obvious question but it is important nevertheless. If reasons of cost have restricted the amount of work done, has that work been done with an eye on cost more than quality? What remains to be done? How urgently will the unrestored aspects need attention or can you be truly convinced that they will be satisfactory in the long-term? ​We cover elsewhere the areas of the bodyshell to examine, but do remember that a few bubbles in the paintwork, the odd blister here and there, will probably indicate the whole shell is rotten. ​As to an uncompleted restoration project, this is another minefield. For a start the car will probably not be complete, so you need to assess what is missing which, as mentioned elsewhere, is almost impossible. What is the quality of the work done? Has it been done by reputable professionals or a capable amateur, or the opposite? Much of the work done can only be assessed when the remaining work is completed. For example, do the bumpers and sidelights fit the contours of the body? It could be very expensive, and upsetting, to find out later when the shell is painted that they do not. ​ Why has the project stopped? There could be a very genuine reason, such as illness or divorce. More often it will be lack of funds. Whatever the reason, it will be sad for the owner will never realise his dream and will be very unlikely to get his total expenditure back. For this last reason, IF all the work is satisfactory, this can be a cheaper way of acquiring a car, especially if you can do the work yourself. ​If you are going to take the car to a professional restorer you should bear in mind that everyone works differently and one restorer will, almost always, criticise the work of another, and often with justification. But it doesn’t make pleasant listening. If the professional completing the work for you is not so reputable, he will use this as an excuse to up the bill very considerably and you will find yourself in a dreadful dilemma. There are very rarely any cheap answers and it pays to go to the best, because in the long run they really will be the cheapest. But do not think that just because a firm is expensive they are going to be good.

Body Repairs

A large part of the E-type bodyshell is the bonnet. They corrode quite badly along the folded edges where the wing panels and centre section meet, with a chrome plated bead between. The wired edges along the bottom of the panel and around the wheelarches are a good haven for rust as moisture gets trapped in here. These sections are difficult to repair and it is usually more cost effective to fit a new bonnet. However, fitting a new bonnet is not just a matter of unbolting one and bolting on another. They have to be tailored to suit the car and this may simply be a matter of using shims on the pivot mountings, or it may involve trimming the back edge of the bonnet panel. ​The front tubular sub-frames also suffer from corrosion. They are made of a particular type of steel and, bearing in mind the structural importance of these frames, repairing them is a specialist task. As above, it is probably more cost effective and safer to replace the frames. ​The level of work needed on the monocoque obviously varies depending on the condition. It is, however, true to say that in most cases that work will be extensive. It is best to start by carefully shot-blasting the shell. I say ‘carefully’ because too coarse a treatment can easily do more harm than good. This shot-blasting will strip the paint and filler, remove the corroded metal and clean up the surrounding metal and panels in general. In can be a demoralising experience for many cars that have been described as having excellent shells, once shot-blasted, reveal their true state which may be more akin to a string vest! However, one has to bite the bullet because this is not the sort of job you want to do again in your lifetime. ​Being a monocoque, the panels are structural and the strength of the tub depends on the state of every panel. When cutting out larger areas of metal or removing complete panels, it is important to bear in mind that you may get some distortion in the remainder if this remainder is not held in a jig and/or braced with temporary struts. This is more of a problem with the Roadster, for the roof of the Fixed Head gives more rigidity to its structure. ​So you need to proceed with caution and careful planning, rather than wholesale hacking. Alternatively, you can go to one of the specialist restorers who specialise in rebuilding bodyshells. They will, or should, have dedicated assembly jigs which maintain the dimensional integrity of the shell if and when most of the panels have been cut off. In this way, they can rebuild your shell or more often build a new shell around your old bulkhead. Providing you go to a good company with many years’ experience, this is the best way to proceed. ​Incidentally, it is absolutely vital for whoever is doing the work to ‘try-fit’ such items as bumpers, headlamp chromes (particularly Series 1 models) and sidelights. These can need ‘tailoring’ either by filing or modifying the items or by shaping the body to suit. The last thing you want is to have to do this when the items have been chromed or the body has been painted.

No Turning Back

You cannot weld good metal to old corroded metal. So once you have started by replacing one panel it may be necessary to replace the panel adjoining it, and so on. More and more corrosion may become apparent as you strip off paint and filler. As the work escalates in this way, it becomes necessary to remove more and more of the outer trim, the chrome plated parts and suchlike. As the area receiving attention increases in proportion to the whole, the argument for painting the whole shell becomes stronger. Obviously, painting certain parts of a body is always a compromise. ​So if you have reached the stage where it makes sense to paint the whole shell, do you want to go to all the trouble and expense of stripping all the exterior trim, and probably the interior, preparing the surfaces (which are so important to the final finish), painting the car, and then refitting everything, if you are going to have to do the whole exercise again when you tackle the remainder of the shell? ​Clearly, this does not make sense and so you are, effectively, trapped into doing the whole job properly in one go. You may have no choice anyway as the stripped shell may be so unsound that it is unsafe.

Supplementary Work

Restoring the bodyshell properly will involve removing all the exterior trim – the bumpers, lights, door handles, soft-top (on Roadsters), glass and so on. You should be aware that refitting is not always going to be straightforward and extra costs must be budgeted for. You will need to fit new rubbers for example. You may wish to have the brightwork rechromed or replace these items as rechroming may not be practical. Items may break upon removal or be found to have worn badly. Door locks are a good example of the latter. ​Even experienced restoration firms often underestimate the true cost and time involved in refitting a car. Everyone thinks that once a car is bodily rebuilt, painted and mechanically completed, that the work is very nearly done. Nothing could be further from the truth and ‘refitting’ is one of the most labour intensive and parts consuming stages of all. Also, the work has to be done with extra care because one slip with the screwdriver while fitting the sidelights, for example, and the resulting scratch on the pristine bodywork means a trip back to the paintshop.

Buying at Auction

Another way of buying an E-type is at auction. Personally, I would advise people to be very wary, unless the car in question is an historic car with a known history. The Lightweight E-types are, for example, a very different matter! For lesser cars, the auction can be a way of quickly getting rid of something that would not sell in any other way. It can be a last resort. The extremely brief descriptions given in the catalogue are often vague and may not be based on reality. The cars may not have been viewed by the auctioneers and the catalogues are thus written from the vendor’s own highly optimistic, favourable opinions of their car. I know all this because many years ago, I was retained by a large firm of auctioneers to write some of their classic car catalogue entries. Typically, the first two thirds of the catalogue description is waffle about the model of car, rather than the specific example in question. ​Obviously, you have no way of thoroughly examining the car being offered and cannot road test it. Please be very careful. ​This is not say that there are not a few reputable auction houses but caution is needed and one should never make an impulse purchase.

Buying Privately

Buying a car from an enthusiast who has some history with the car, who knows what’s been spent on the car and where it’s been for a number of years, can be a safer road to follow. You still need to be careful for this may be an owner who has devoted hundreds of hours of loving care and attention on his car or lavished thousands with genuinely good companies, or he may not fall into either of those categories. ​He may be a DIY man who has rather more enthusiasm than experience and skill. He may have had to take short cuts to save money on parts, or he may have been the victim of one or several of the many rogue restorers. So, care is still needed but there is no substitute for personal contact. This will allow you to build up a picture of the sort of person you are dealing with and how he will have treated his car. Obviously, the greater the history with the car the better, including invoices, MOTs and suchlike. A full photographic record should be very helpful. Photographs will not necessarily tell you the work has been done right, but will certainly illustrate the level of work undertaken. You should be careful of comments about a car being restored by a particular firm, whom you have established are reputable. It is possible they may have only done part of the work, and yet their good name is being applied to the restoration as a whole. These comments also apply to buying from a dealer or an auction house.

Conclusion

A lot of my comments might seem very negative. They are designed to make you be very careful in the hope that you will avoid the pitfalls that many have fallen into. I want you to enjoy your E-type. They are fabulous cars that can give enormous pleasure and be very practical but you must buy the right car for you. ​As with any major purchase, do your homework, speak to experts, talk to owners at E-type Club events or via the web site. Read all you can. Become an expert and if we, at the Club office, can help we’ll be delighted to give advice. We want you to not only enjoy your E-type initially but to keep using it for many years to come and, depending where you are in the world, take an active role in the E-type Club. ​The real joy of ownership is driving the cars.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Buying From a Dealer

Buying an E-type from a dealer can be a very high risk activity. Of course there are a few notable exceptions, but the majority of dealers will not really know what they are selling. This is firstly because they will probably be selling MGs, Ferraris, Aston Martins and other Jaguars, and they cannot possibly have specialist knowledge on every model of every make. They will be unlikely to have a workshop with specialist mechanics who know the cars inside out. They only make money if they sell the car relatively quickly and so it is not commercially practical for them to spend time and money on the cars. Furthermore, as we have seen, once you start working on a car it is possible for that work to escalate and the costs likewise. ​When buying, or if selling on commission, the dealer (unless he is an E-type specialist) will have had to rely on the vendor’s description. Sitting in their showroom, the car will look very smart because they have concentrated on the cosmetics knowing that that is what sells a car to the uninitiated. But, as we stress elsewhere, a newly-painted car should be treated with scepticism. ​Unfortunately, it is a fact that restoration invariably costs more than the car is worth. This situation has varied over the years and may change in the future. When prices reached silly heights in the late eighties, cars were briefly selling for more than the true cost of properly restoring them, but when values took a dive in the early nineties this was no longer the case. For these reasons, it is rarely commercially viable for reputable companies to restore cars to sell. The exceptions will be historic, more valuable cars and firms that charge a high price for standard cars and find a few wealthy clients per year. More recently ‘upgraded cars’ have entered the equation and these are commanding a premium (often considerable) over standard cars, making full restoration and upgrading more viable. ​A dealer can be an entirely honest and honourable individual (and there are a very few) but with the best will in the world will not know the true state of the engine, or what quality of components has been used in a rebuild, or what the bodyshell is really like under that nice, shiny paint. Thus you need to deal with a reputable company who will still be around if any problems do arise.