Paris Show See’s The Rebirth of Jaguar’s Iconic F-Type

Its predecessor is widely agreed to be among the most stunning sports cars ever – and Jaguar showed it was trying to go one better than the glory days of the 1960s with the new F-Type.

After a leaked image made the rounds on Facebook, Jaguar was eager to unveil its new F-Type sports car at this week’s Paris Motor Show. The F-Type, first announced last April at the New York Auto Show, is a two-seat roadster meant to evoke classic Jags like the E-Type and XK120.

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The Indian auto company Tata bought Jaguar Land Rover for $2.3 billion in 2008, betting big that it could revive two venerable British brands that had lost a bit of luster over the decades. The new F-Type, the first Jaguar two-seater in a half-century, is the first major Jaguar design shepherded through by the new owners.

Tata has been a hands-off owner for Jaguar, largely letting its British team to make the major decisions on the car. At Wednesday’s unveiling, Tata executives were in the crowd, but it was the Jaguar design chief, Ian Callum, who took center stage.

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And the designers looked to the past – and the famed E-Type, beloved by aficionados everywhere and called “the most beautiful car ever made” by Enzo Ferrari – to inspire what they clearly hope will be the automaker’s future.

“It’s just a tremendous challenge today to produce a beautiful car that meets all the world regulations,” said Philip Porter, a Jaguar historian who has written a book about the E-Type. He hasn’t driven the F-Type yet, but likes what he’s seen so far. “It’s a combination like the great Jaguars of the past of sculptural styling, great engineering and superb performance.”

And, he added, “it sounds like a sports car, which is essential.”

Jaguar Land Rover has been a huge part of Tata’s recent success. Sales for the second quarter of 2012 rose 30 percent, largely based on growth in the Chinese market. The car goes on sale in April 2013.

The V-6 starts at $69,000 in the United States; the V-8 starts at $92,000.

“What is a sports car? It’s a race car that you can drive on the road,” Adrian Hallmark, the head of the Jaguar global brand, said Thursday at the car’s official launch. “With the F-Type we tried to keep it pure.”

There are two different supercharged engines: a 3-liter 6 cylinder with 340 horsepower for the normal F-type and 380 horsepower for the S; there’s also a 5-liter V8 with 495 horsepower. Jaguar says the normal F-type does 0-60 miles per hour (0-100 km per hour) in 5.1 seconds; the S does it in 4.8 seconds and the V-8 in 4.2 seconds. The car has an 8-speed transmission with automatic or manual modes.

The body is aluminum, and evokes the E-Type in details like the center hood bulge, the line of the body and the rear flare. But Jaguar is going out of its way not to do a retro E-Type.

The lines are clean on the inside, pared down considerably from many newer cars. Rather than now commonplace touch controls for everything, the heating and ventilation are old-fashioned rotary knobs. The dials are analog, with the optimum revs at 12 o’clock.

Visually, the F-Type is almost identical to the C-X16 concept shown at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Our First Take: While the all new F-Type is an amazing sports car it remains to be seen whether potential buyers looking at the Porsche 911 or the Mercedes-Benz SL will see the F-Type as a real alternative. Fifty years is a long time to wait between models, and memories of the good old days have faded.