Old Orange's were a nightmare....my E2 was a 1" head set, but so too was my E3 - when the E2 cracked my Pace RC-35s went straight onto the E3 without any conversion. Some E3s had a canti hanger on the wish bone seat stay whilst others had a noodle around the top of the seat tube. It was definitely what Orange had lying around at the time which is probably why they've given up keeping any records pre '98 - nothing was particularly standardised - I'm still trying to work out the ID of my Vit T2 seat tube!
As the the 1.125" head set became the 'industry standard' E3s will have started as 1" and moved to 1.125". It was only after my E3 cracked and I got a UFO that I had to get a new crown for my forks as the larger OD steerer wouldn't fit.
It's only a hunch but I think this fella's E2 is an early one, with a head tube from the spares pile after the Elite was discontinued - the serial numbers can tell you a lot about a frame but some of the numbers on my Vit T2 remain a mystery too.
It's a shame most of the people on this forum know more about early Orange frames than Orange do themselves - probably due to Orange staff from BITD not being at the factory now. It's business like anything else - you may have a classic Ferrari or Mercedes but I doubt getting in touch with the companies for info on your car would achieve much these days... except for maybe Aston Martin
I think you are right on these points. I suppose in the early days, if they had customer orders to fulfill, they would do what they could to produce the bikes, which would include non-standard production of the frames. I have seen an article about the early days of Pace and there is an inference that they had similar problems. They produced the first prototype RC100 and were surprised by the positive reactions they received. So imagine the chaos in their workshop trying to fulfill the masses of orders they got.
My E3 has a noodle behind the seat tube and it looks as ugly as sin, compared to neat canti hangers. Its also a devil to try and clean/polish.
It does not surprise me that the members of RB know more about the early bikes than the manufactures do. Because RB is a specialised site (no pun or advert intended!) generally dealing with pre-1998 MTB's, the amount of members coupled with their age and the amount of different bikes they have run over the years, along with the experience they have had in maintaining and upgrading their steeds means there is a hell of a wealth of knowledge within the site when taken as a whole.
The past models is an area most manufacturers have forgotten about, especially if the old guard of workers have left/retired and new younger workers come in. The manufacturers have a tendency to look forward at the next innovation/trend for the coming year, to keep up with the competition, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but good production methods and frame styles can be lost in the rush for "advancement".
One thing that has always amused me is that you could buy, for example, a 1997 P7 with full 1997 XT groupset in the middle of 1996!
No matter how bad it gets... it could always be worse.
1996 Orange E3 - A601
1996 Orange P7 - A602
Repairs: All the various bikes of my 4 children and various nephews and sons of friends, etc. - Just give me the cape and call me "Bicycle Repair-Man"...