With World War II still at its height and Coventry experiencing frequent bombing raids, Jaguar Chief Engineer, William Heynes, and fellow-engineers Walter Hassan, Claude Bailly, and Harry Weslake spent many hours of their mandatory fire watches on the roof of the Coventry factory discussing ideas for a new line of engines. The team opted for a double-overhead-camshaft configuration that could be built in both four and six-cylinder form. Plans moved forward on a limited-production sports car to create excitement for the new postwar Jaguar engine “XK” series engine which was ultimately intended for the upcoming Mk VII sedan.
By the time the first alloy-bodied XK-120 was completed in 1948, the engine displaced 3.4 liters and produced 160 horsepower. Additionally, it featured a robust ladder-type chassis with independent front suspension with torsion bars, and semi-elliptic springs and a live axle in the rear. Hydraulic drum brakes were at all four corners, and steering was via recirculating ball. Much of the chassis was shared with the Mk VII saloon, but tuned for high-speed handling. With its distinctive grille, delicate bumpers and sweeping fenders, the new Jaguar stunned crowds attending auto shows. The excitement was so great, that the initial limited run of alloy cars—said to be 240 units—didn’t satisfy demand, and Jaguar was forced to quickly adapt to keep up with the orders pouring in.
The model was named for its claimed top speed of 120 mph, a boast that was proven on a closed highway in Belgium in 1949, when an essentially standard car averaged 132.6 miles per hour. As interest in the XK120 exploded, Jaguar quickly tooled up for a steel version which became available in the fall of 1950. The steel body could be produced much more quickly, affordably, and with greater quality control than aluminum, with little sacrifice to the weight and performance. However, the bonnet, boot skin, and doors remained in aluminum. Production continued until mid-1954, by which time more than 12,000 had been built. While the bulk of production consisted of the open two-seat sports car, Jaguar added a drophead coupe and fixed head coupe to the range, which appealed more to the GT-oriented buyer.
This left-hand-drive open two-seat roadster is very desirable as one of the first 800 steel cars built and uses the early style “small” top, chrome fender lights and lacks footwell vents in the front wings, which did not appear until February of 1951. The accompanying Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Certificate shows this US-spec car was originally delivered to Los Angeles, via the West Coast distributor, Hornburg. It left the works finished in silver over a duo-tone blue interior and French Grey hood. Now finished in British Racing Green over biscuit hides and fitted with standard disc wheels, Firestone black-wall tires, and rear wheel spats, the livery shows the XK120’s iconic form at its best.
In the care of the same collector since 1998, it received a body-off concours restoration shortly after he acquired it. An accompanying photo album documents the project, which included a full strip-down of the chassis, engine rebuild, and bare-metal body restoration. When completed, the proud owner showed this XK120 extensively throughout the early 2000s, and has maintained the car to a high standard while in his collection. It is a former JCNA 100-point winner, and has also been shown at prestigious concours events. The car’s many achievements include 5 JCNA National First Place awards, a VMCCA Best in Show, AACA Regional, National, and Grand National Senior First Prize awards, and Best in Class at both the Amelia Island Concours and Meadowbrook Concours.
While the restoration is now more the 20 years old, this XK120 remains in outstanding condition, having mellowed into an inviting tour-ready example, ideal for rallies and driving events. The British Racing Green paintwork is beautiful, with a consistent finish quality, exemplary body fit, and highlighted with well-preserved chrome and brightwork. Inside, the biscuit leather shows a pleasing character from use and care. Carpets and kick panels are excellent, as is the canvas top on the correct early-type top frame. Power comes via a period-correct 3.4-litre early XK120 inline-six, which is extensively and properly detailed, and runs strong. Receipts show that throughout the years, the owner saw to it that the car was serviced, maintained, and freshened as needed.
This striking XK120 comes complete with JCNA judging sheets, owner’s manual, restoration photos, receipts, jack, side curtains, and a two-piece set of custom fitted luggage. The car shows equal signs of excellent care and light use and it remains a fabulous example to drive and enjoy on the road.
Offers welcome and trades considered
Stock number 7463
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