It was great to catch up with Ben and the team at Vintage Tyres again today – I’ve been coming to Beaulieu for tyres for at least 25 years but hadn’t been down for far too long. This was an extra special visit, because it marked the fulfilment of a dream… For too many years than I care to count, I’ve dreamed of owning an E-type. Three years ago, I realised I was going to miss the boat unless I jumped – fast. So, with heart in mouth I bid on a Series I 2+2 auto (the only option I could afford, and ideal for installing my favourite Jaguar 4-speed with overdrive gearbox down the line) in Ohio – and won. A couple of months later, the car arrived – in need of lots of work, as expected. For personal reasons, it had to wait a couple of years, but since December my wife Helena and I have been working flat out to get it back on the road.
Wheels and tyres are crucial to both appearance and driving on a car like the E-type. My car had its original chrome wires, but they were a bit too rusty and when I saw a set of lovely Dunlop chrome wires for sale with little-worn Pirelli P4000 205/70 tyres, I broke my cardinal rule of sticking to the original-spec tyres: they seemed too good to miss. That was until I tried to fit them, and found they fouled the bump stops at the back – so I had to cobble together a pair of old 185s for the back with two of the big Pirellis on the front to get through the MoT. The car drove OK, but the steering was heavy, the ride was harsh, there was a lot of vibration and it looked low at the front. Not good.
I’m normally a stickler for originality, but have to confess the 2+2, with its bigger body, looks a little overbodied on the standard E-type wheels. The 205/70s clearly weren’t going to be the answer (unlike some, I’m not prepared to remove the bump stops) but then a friend offered a set of 6in Dayton tubeless wires – the extra half inch of width is on the outside, neatly filling that big gap between wheelarch and wheel. But what tyres would I fit?
Heading to the Vintage Tyres website, I was astonished at the range of choices! I’ve run SP Sport Aquajets on my Jaguar 420 for years and love them, so was about to plump for those when I noticed that Dunlop has brought out a new range – the Sport Classic – which is actually W-rated, the highest speed rating of all 185/80×15 tyres on the market. Academic, perhaps – but then, once I get that overdrive gearbox in, if I can find a long enough downhill autobahn in Germany I might just… Anyway, they had to be tried. The E-type successfully completed only its second longish run down to Beaulieu, where Paul and John soon united Dunlops with Daytons and fitted them up. The car immediately looked better – and I had the confidence that the wheels were properly balanced – I knew from bitter past experience that most tyre fitters don’t have the knowledge or equipment to balance wires these days.
Heading out of the shop, the difference was immediately clear. The steering was lighter and the ride – what a difference! No more crashing over bumps, even though pressures were slightly higher than before – Helena commented that from the passenger seat, the E-type now felt more like the 420, which has a wonderfully comfortable ride. On the motorway, there wasn’t a trace of vibration, there was less road noise and the car held a dead straight course – I soon found myself going way too fast without realising it!
I’ll be piling as many miles as possible on the car over the coming months, so will see how the new Dunlop Sport Classics perform on the limit once they’re bedded in, but first impressions are certainly good.