﹒2nd-in-class finish at Monte Carlo ﹒Huge history file
﹒Significantly upgraded drivetrain
﹒Comprehensive chassis upgrades
When the covers were drawn back at the 1948 London Motor Show, Jaguar’s XK120 caused something of a sensation. The company’s first post-war sports car, it featured an all-new six-cylinder engine, wrapped up at launch within a slinky and sylph-like roadster body. The awed reception among the crowds was more than enough to convince William Lyons that putting the model into production would be a positive idea, and the addition of the number ‘120’ into the model name served to further tantalise and enrapture – after all, the figure referred to the car’s top speed, and that was a mightily impressive claim in the late-forties. Indeed, it made it the fastest production car in the world.
A fixed-head coupe variant followed in 1951, and that’s the version we see here today. Interestingly, the closed coupe was sold in far smaller numbers than the roadster – 2,680 tin-tops were built, compared to over 7,600 drop-tops – and, as we’re about to discover, this particular fixed-head coupe is no ordinary example.
This XK120 was delivered new to the United States in 1952 – a factory left-hand-drive car to suit its first owner’s home market, finished in red. In the 1990s, it travelled over to a new home in the United Kingdom, whereupon it was embraced by the renowned collector Roy Hatfield of Sheffield. A classic Jaguar aficionado, Hatfield intended to enter the XK120 into the Monte Carlo classic rally, and set about fully restoring the car and upgrading it to competition specification. Perhaps the most significant undertaking was to convert the Jaguar to right-hand-drive, the work carried out by Derek Watson, as well as fitting a triple-carbed 4.2-litre engine. The chassis was comprehensively reworked and upgraded, and the end result was a 2nd-in-class finish at Monte Carlo; 13th overall out of 130 competitors. Proof positive of the quality of the build and the setup (and, of course, the skill of the driver) – and any fan of classic Jaguars will be aware of just what a guarantee of quality the Hatfield name is.
Naturally the car wasn’t just built for one dramatic outing – it was built to last, and as the history file attests it’s lived a colourful life, with assorted magazine features, road trips and endearing motoring hijinks. Buying any 1950s Jaguar in 2020 offers a window into times gone by, but this particular one is something else – a rambunctious old battler that’s truly lived life to the fullest… and will continue to do so for many, many years to come.
As you’d hope with a car with such colourful and varied history, there’s a massive amount of paperwork in the file to document its numerous adventures. The presence of a certificate of authenticity from the Jaguar-Daimler Heritage Trust is a reassuring thing to have, and there are print-outs of the Jaguar’s various magazine features. The full rebuild is also documented in the June 1999 edition of XK Magazine, here with the current YPN 635 registration number which it received in 1998. Elsewhere in the paperwork we find a FIVA Identity Card, and an exhaustive sheaf of invoices, receipts and descriptions of work dating back many, many years.
A large number of colour photographs also exist within the file, documenting in detail the 1990s restoration, showing the down-at-heel red car being completely reinvented as a straight and solid example finished in Champagne paintwork. Many of these photographs are annotated to explain exactly what was carried out in terms of mechanical upgrades, which will be extremely useful information for a future owner to have.
The interior of this XK120 is a truly sublime place to be. A set of bucket seats in red leather have been fitted in the car’s recent history, complemented by red doorcards, red carpets and a tastefully trimmed rear shelf, all of which is in stunning condition. The wood dash is equally show-quality in its condition and finish, with a deep sheen and no hints of sun damage or lacquer peel. All of the instrumentation is working correctly, as is all of the switchgear.
During the course of the car’s restoration, the interior was neatly reconfigured to accommodate taller drivers; as well as the impeccably executed right-hand-drive conversion, the pedals have been repositioned and the steering wheel replaced with a period-correct but smaller item to allow the driver a little more freedom of movement.
Inside the boot we find everything just as beautifully finished as the rest of the interior. The load bay has a matching carpet in superb condition, with the lower shelf accommodating a correct and matching wire wheel with jack.
If you want to make friends, this is the car for you. During the course of our photoshoot, more than twenty passers-by stopped to ask questions about the Jaguar, and remark upon what a beautiful machine it is. And it’s all thanks to the impeccable finish. The Champagne paint suits the slinky body lines perfectly, and the quality of the paintwork really is exemplary – a masterclass in classic car aesthetics. Naturally the race roundels on the doors are attention-grabbers too, and aficionados will also spot the tasteful and functional louvred bonnet by RS Panels, complete with oh-so-period leather bonnet strap. The window glass is all faultless with excellent seals, all of the chrome trim is present and correct, and the light lenses and mirrors are all in good order. The knock-off wire wheels are as new and wear excellent tyres, and it’s pleasing to note that the hinged vents in the front wings open and close properly using their interior handles.
Underneath, as the photos demonstrate, the car is in impeccable condition with no hints of corrosion or accident damage – an underside to equally match the quality of the bodywork on top. The overall impression is one of class and style; the XK120 may carry a big metaphorical stick but it speaks very softly.
As part of Roy Hatfield’s preparations when he converted the car for the Monte Carlo classic rally, the car was fitted with a 4.2-litre straight-six running triple carburettors, a lightweight flywheel and a competition clutch. An all-synchromesh Moss gearbox with overdrive was also fitted, along with rack-and-pinion steering, uprated Koni shock absorbers, servo-assisted brakes, a conversion to disc brakes on the front axle, an uprated alternator, aluminium radiator, and full stainless steel exhaust system. The full specs are noted in the documentation, which will be useful for future owners when it comes to servicing and so forth – it’s handy to know that the car has an E-Type 4.2 oil sump, E-Type 3.8 inlet manifold, XJ6 water pump, XJ6 gearbox top and stick, XK150-type exhaust system, and XK150 rear suspension mountings. A classic Jaguar greatest-hits, if you will.
The engine fires on the button and idles evenly, with the gears engaging cleanly and the motor making some truly fabulous noises as it clears its throat and explores the rev range. As befits a car which has enjoyed such extensive work at the hands of world-class experts, it’s not a vehicle that comes with a to-do list: the engine and transmission operate beautifully, and there are no reported issues with the brakes, steering or suspension. It really is a wonderful thing to drive.
The allure of an XK120 in 2020 is clear. While there’s always been an arms-race among manufacturers to claim the biggest numbers, the highest horsepower figures, the greatest top speed, there’s a select list of all-time greats which will forever be regarded as legends. The XK120 is one such creation. The fastest car in the world when it was launched? That’s kudos which will never erode.
All XK120s are special, but this one is perhaps more special than most. Its history is fascinating, and made all the better for the fact that it’s all clearly documented so everything can be traced. It’s a Jaguar that enjoyed life as a road car in the States for many years before being comprehensively reinvented as a competition machine in Europe. In the ensuing decades, the quality of the engineering within has ensured that it’s served as an eager and effervescent companion, and that hard work continues to bear fruit. Today, this represents a truly appealing proposition: a pristine classic with a magnificent spec, beautifully presented and positively straining at the leash to be taken on a fresh set of adventures.
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