Setting the scene, Evelyn Waugh was an English author. As English as breakfast tea, marmalade and roast beef whose, arguably, best book, “Bridehead Revisited” was published in May 1945. The leading characters were equally old school English, lots of tweed, Tiffin and tennis racquets. It’s a myth – as the novel’s action took place in the mid to late 1920’s – but had the cast been wealthy, young and foolish in 1948 the dramatic personae would have certainly included a Jaguar XK120 and, at least, one jolly young lady in a Burberry raincoat – see our earlier post here – Burberry Trench Coat and a Hermes headscarf.
It’s not often that we can trot out the word quintessential but the iconic Jaguar XK120 was quintessentially British being produced in Coventry by Jaguar Cars between 1948 and 1954. There were over 12,000 production cars made during the run.
Launched as a “rag-top” (aka a “convertible” or a “drop-head”) open two-seater at London’s 1948 London Motor Show it was a kind of concept car of its day intended as an elaborate display for Jaguar’s new 3.4L twin-cam straight 6 XK engine. With minor modifications the engine was produced until the late 1980’s and saw service with the XK120, XK140, XK150 and the E-Type. All delivering in the founder’s mantra of “value for money.”
With what may be seen as either nativity or great good fortune the phenomenal level of interest in the car at the 1948 Show prompted Jaguar’s founder – in 1922 debuting as Swallow Sidecars Ltd. – giving rise to the “SS” brand that Jaguar used extensively – only changing to Jaguar in 1945 for post war reasons – William Lyons to green light production. Early examples had ash wood frames with aluminum bodies but it evolved into an all steel vehicle from 1950 retaining the aluminum doors – with no external door handles but opened by an internal cord – bonnet and boot.
The XK120 first retailed at around £1260. For the purposes of comparison, an entry level family car, such as a Ford Anglia, would have cost around £300 in the same era.
Of course, “120” referred to the top speed for the aluminum bodied car of 120 mph – the world’s fastest at the time – although other tests set the genuine top speed at over 130 mph.
Many of the early cars were exported and orders rolled in from overseas including Hollywood. Clark Gable (seen here with Sir William Lyons) took delivery of an early XK120 in stunning deep gunmetal gray with a red leather interior.
Two versions were offered over the production run the more familiar drophead and a fixed headed coupe. Our featured image shows the car without its color matched removeable rear wheel “spats” – it is likely that this car dates from around 1951 when the optional extra of wire wheels was first offered and these spats – which I have always disliked – removed.
I am a massive fan of certain European car brands of a similar era having never really shared the passion for many British brands but the grace, style and whimsy of the XK120 and its successor, the XK140, are compelling.
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