By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

Drawing generously on its racecar background, Jaguar unveiled the E-Type two-seat sports car in 1961.

It was a near-instant British hit, not unlike the emerging Beatles.

The sleek, low-slung roadster and coupe — harnessing a 3.8-liter, 265 horsepower engine capable of 150 mph — would gain renown for its speed, styling and reasonable price of less than $5,000.

Jaguar would market the E-Type, also known as the XK-E, through 1974. Then a curious thing happened: The iconic manufacturer wouldn’t craft another two-seat sports car as a regular production vehicle for 40 years.

The self-imposed exodus concluded this spring: Jaguar rolled out the 2014 F-Type convertible. The first models arrived at Baker Jaguar west of the Ashley last month.

“This is 50 years in the making,” said Jake Miller, sales manager. He recalled as far back as the turn of the 21st century, Jaguar was toying with plans for a new roadster or two-seater coupe.

With a base price of $69,000, the all-aluminum sports car displays three trims, the F-Type, F-Type S and F-Type V-8 S. The V-8 S version starts in price at $92,000. A decked-out model at Baker this week posted a $105,000 sticker.

The dealership in a month sold four F-Types with orders pending, Miller said. The sports car regularly attracts an audience, even when salespeople drive the F-Type the few blocks to fill up with gas along U.S. Highway 17.

“It’s exotic looking,” he said.

As it turns out, the new sports car posts somewhat more impressive performance numbers than the E-Type. All supercharged, the “standard” 3.0-liter engine amasses 340 hp, the S bumps up the juice to 380 hp and the 5.0-liter V-8 hits 495 hp. Top speed, depending on model, is 161 to 186 mph and the 0-60 time is 4.2 seconds.

Styling-wise, the F-Type debuted with a streamlined look and a wide trunk that gives “the illusion of really high haunches,” Miller said. By comparison, the XK-E sported a rounded body with elongated hood. Both models support ragtops, although the F-Type showcases an electronic roof that takes 14 seconds to open and close. Miller said the driver’s space in the 2014 edition provides the feel of an airplane cockpit and offers 50-50 weight distribution factoring in the driver and passenger poundage.

The sales manager drove an F-Type prototype earlier this year at the Circuit of the Americas race track in Austin, Texas, and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While there, he talked with the model’s designer Wayne Burgess. A big Star Wars fan, the architect molded the front lamps in the shape of Darth Vader’s tie fighter. Burgess wanted standout features, so the finish on the paddle shifters, start-stop button and a Dynamic mode switch is a bright orange shade inspired by a type of Tag Hauer brand watch. An Italian company that specializes in exhaust pipes for Ducati and other high-end motorcycles fitted the four exhaust tips protruding from under the back bumper.

The sport’s car trunk boasts enough girth to absorb a set of golf clubs or “two bags (of luggage) for the weekend. That’s what the car is for, to take up or down the coast,” Miller said.

An hour-plus drive this week of Baker Motors’ F-Type V-8 S convertible begged the question, “What took Jaguar so long to build another two-seater?” The years of planning and research seemed to pay off.

Maybe a clue was Miller explaining that nobody revs the showroom model because it’s too noisy.

The engine pitch varies by style, but the tested V-8 S edition develops a deep rumble that matches the throatiest of the early ’70s era American muscle cars. That’s before flipping a switch that opens up the exhaust, producing a low roar blended with backfire-like sounds.

Once on the road, the roadster keeps up its steady engine accompaniment but is relatively quiet with the top up. Shod with 20-inch wheels touting carbon fiber blades, the convertible steers like a racecar with responsive handling but compliant, too.

The 5.0-liter engine and its 8-speed automatic transmission move the F-Type up to speed quickly and easily. In sport mode, judicious use of steering wheel paddle shifters enable the driver to capture bursts of speed on highways and interstates.

Powerful Jaguar brakes slow or stop the sports car effortlessly, no matter the speed or the dampness of the pavement.

Priced at $105,000, the F-Type V-8 S loaded up with extras. The center console, showcasing a navigation-communications system, is a bit busy but comes with a touch screen that’s fairly easy to negotiate. There’s also a rear view camera. Side-view mirrors signal the driver when vehicles move up from the side or the car strays toward another lane.

Dynamic mode tests the sport car’s outer limits. The F-Type doesn’t shift gears before the tachometer hits the red line — the zone around 7,000 rpms in which the engine can get stressed out.

Nice features on the car’s exterior are door handles that extend out in a “greeting” position to make it easier to open the doors. They automatically close inward when the car reaches 5 mph.

In terms of weaknesses, the sports car scares up amazingly few, particularly since it’s a new model.

To quibble, the engine’s acceleration could use a small boost at higher speeds. Fine-tuning wouldn’t hurt the console. And of course, the low-slung car isn’t a breeze to exit.

But honestly, there’s little not to like, as long as you favor powerful, superb-handling roadsters. The F-Type stands tall even in a vehicle group that demands exacting performance.

To see more, visit your local Jaguar dealer.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.