Brothers George and Sam Barris were car nuts from their earliest days. As a young boy living in California, the younger George would build balsa wood model cars and carefully customize them, paying close attention to detail and form, winning multiple contests with his work. The first real car he and his brother restored was a 1925 Buick they received as payment for their labor in a family restaurant. They immediately began changing its appearance, making subtle improvements and experimentations… and with that, Barris Custom was born. The brothers opened the Barris Custom Shop when George was just 18, and began doing bodywork and mild customizing for their friends and school mates. Their first major breakthrough came in 1951 when a customer named Bob Hirohata ordered a custom Mercury from Barris Customs after seeing one Sam had built for himself. The resulting car, which became known simply as “The Hirohata Merc” is widely regarded today as one of the most important custom cars in history. When new, it was shown at the Detroit Motorama where the exquisite style and craftsmanship overshadowed much of the work by Detroit’s top designers. The success of the Hirohata Merc drew newfound attention to their shop and orders from California’s elite began pouring in.
While George would eventually become known for his wild, over-the-top “Kustoms” and kitschy movie cars, his early work was substantially more subdued and finely considered. One early customer of note was the famed Hollywood superstar Clark Gable. Beyond his on-and-off screen exploits, Gable was extremely well known as a collector of the finest automobiles. Throughout the course of his illustrious career, Gable owned several Duesenbergs (including a Model JN and an SSJ), a Packard Eight Convertible Victoria, and both a Mercedes Benz 300Sc and 300SL Gullwing, among many others. When Jaguar unveiled their sensational new XK120 in 1948, Gable was smitten by the stunning new machine from Coventry, England, and he soon appeared in person at International Motors on Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood to insist that HE would be the recipient of the very first XK120 delivered on the West Coast. Gable would go on to own two other XK120s, one of which was a gift by Tony Hulman of Indianapolis Motor Speedway fame, and would remain in Indy for its whole life. While his last XK120 was a 1952 model which he promptly handed over to George and Sam for the Barris Customs touch, and is the subject we proudly feature here.
Clark Gable was certainly no wallflower, but as evident from his other famous cars, he had restrained and sophisticated tastes when it came to motoring. Because of this, he didn’t go crazy with the XK120, instead relying on George Barris to subtly refine the shape of the already gorgeous standard XK120. Starting with a stock 1952 Open Two Seat model on steel wheels with rear wheel spats, Barris began at the front end by shaving the trim from the headlights, as well as smoothing the front fenders by shaving off the turn signal plinths. The wing mirrors were removed and holes filled, while the body sides are essentially left alone to highlight the beautiful original shape. Around the back, the boot lid is shaved, save for the handle, and the license plate relocated down low. A removable hard top was built to appear like a Carson Top, which features a full headlining and a leather trimmed parcel shelf that complements the red upholstery. To finish it off, a pair of subtle Barris Custom Cars badges were affixed to the cowl below the windscreen posts. The overall effect is quite understated, highlighting the beauty of the basic XK120 form quite brilliantly.
Upon its discovery in 2010, this very important Jaguar XK120 was sent to marque expert Jim Kakuska of JK Restorations in Oswego, Illinois where it received a stunning restoration to concours standards. It presents today in beautiful condition, with the lovely paint color reminiscent of Jaguar’s own Opalescent Sand. The body and paint are finished to concours-quality levels, the panel fit is outstanding and the long, sweeping body sides are exceptionally straight. The car retains the original steel wheels and wheel spats which, combined with the subtle Barris touches just make this XK120 look impossibly sleek and beautiful. Chrome plating on the delicate bumpers, windscreen frame, wheels and minor fittings is all of show-quality. This car is a numbers-matching example with a Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Certificate as well as a certificate of authenticity from Barris Kustoms to confirm its incredible pedigree.
As with the body, the interior was restored to a very high level in correct red leather trim on the seats and door cards, along with proper red cockpit rails, dash and wool carpeting. The quality, fit and finish are outstanding. The Barris-designed, Carson-style hard top was restored to original spec, trimmed in tan canvas to give the appearance of a soft top (there is no folding soft-top fitted). The inside of the top is lined in red, with the distinct parcel shelf area covered in leather to match the seats. Otherwise, the interior is standard fare XK120 OTS, just restored to concours quality.
The outstanding quality continues when lifting the bonnet to reveal the original 3.4 liter XK six-cylinder engine. Topped with signature polished alloy cam covers, it breathes through correct S.U. Carburetors and proper porcelain exhaust manifolds. As one would expect from a specialist restoration, the detailing is to a very high standard and the engine bay is simply gorgeous to look at. It is a very strong running car as well, having been well-sorted since the restoration and is highly enjoyable to drive. The car comes to us fresh from the lawn at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and the sale will include the aforementioned Heritage Certificate and Barris Documentation, as well as copies of period photographs of Mr. Gable with this XK120. This very special and truly unique Jaguar XK120 benefits not only from a fascinating history, but also from a truly world-class restoration by respected marque experts, and is certain to qualify for virtually prestigious concours or road event worldwide.
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