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• High-end restoration to incredible standards
• Massive history file, including heritage certificate
• Original right-hand-drive example • Matching numbers example!
• Beautifully presented, and wonderful to drive
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 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 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.
Today, its legacy endures with flair and panache. A celebrated race car, a B-road hero, a suave boulevardier, and – most importantly of all – surely one of the most beautiful automobiles ever crafted.
This XK120 has a particularly interesting past. The big cat mightn’t have lived all of its nine lives just yet, but the chapters of its history make for compelling reading.
Originally supplied in 1952 by Hoffman of New York, this Jaguar was sold to the US market in UK right-hand-drive spec, something confirmed by its official heritage certificate. Having found itself in Fargo, North Dakota by 2003, the XK120 was then repatriated to Great Britain whereupon an extensive restoration was immediately carried out.
This extended to a fully body stripdown, shot-blasting, galvanising and resto, any corrosion ruthlessly chased out and the perfected shell re-painted in British Racing Green. The interior was fully retrimmed and a new hood fitted, along with new seals and screens; the engine and gearbox were overhauled, all new electrics swapped in, the suspension and braking systems fully rebuilt, cooling system attended to and exhaust replaced, chrome repaired and replated, and much more besides.
The next chapter is helpfully documented by a magazine feature on the car from the May 2006 issue of Classics Monthly: with the XK fully restored in 2003, it was put on display at a show at Alexandra Palace. Here it was spotted by a husband-and-wife duo of Jaguar enthusiasts who immediately fell in love with it.
They agreed to buy it there and then, and less than thirty miles later she was entering it into the Three Castles rally in Wales. This baptism of fire stamped out a blueprint for the XK120’s immediate future, as this intrepid owner went on to enter many classic rallies across the UK and Europe. In the name of reliability and improved ease of use, she then set about making a few changes to the Jag, including replacing the original (and somewhat truculent) Moss gearbox for a modified all-synchro 4.2 ’box.
The engine was also comprehensively reworked by Vintage Sports Engines in Llanbister; its power has increased from the stock 160bhp to an impressive 230bhp, and to rein it all in there’s an XK150 front disc conversion with 4-pot calipers.
This, then, is an XK120 that’s very much been used as its makers intended – and yet, thanks to a no-expense-spared approach to maintenance and restoration, this storied rally competitor is presented absolutely beautifully throughout with a remarkably thoughtful and considered specification. The ultimate XK120? It might just be.
There’s a huge and fascinating history file with this car. The V5 is present, showing just one former keeper in the UK since it was imported in 2003, and confirming it as a 1952 car. Further confirmation is provided by the all-important heritage certificate, which lists this as a right-hand-drive example built on 4th June 1952, supplied to its first owner by Hoffman of New York.
The 2003-stamped North Dakota title shows where the car came from before repatriation, and there’s an itemised list of all the resto work that was carried out after its arrival in the UK. All of this restoration is helpfully photographically documented in great detail, and a copy of the magazine in which the car was featured in 2006 is included to provide a full background of the story.
A thick sheaf of MOTs verifies the mileage year-on-year, and there’s a huge amount of invoices and receipts documenting everything that’s been done to the car in recent years – as all of this demonstrates, this is a Jaguar that has been showered with love and curated by true enthusiasts.
It’s also interesting to note the insurance valuation certificates: in 2007, for example, the value was agreed at £55,000; by 2018, this had climbed to £120,000. This marked trajectory surely indicates an automobile which will make a sound investment as much as it will an entertaining driver’s car.
The interior is a sublime mix of form and function. Having been fully retrimmed during its 2003 restoration, it’s also since been refreshed in 2010 – the leather trim was cleaned and re-connolised, and while the seats were out a whole new carpet was fitted.
The dash is in outstanding condition, with all of the correct gauges present and functional, and a Brantz trip meter installed on the passenger side for rally purposes.
The trim is in superb condition throughout - from the seats to the carpets and door cards, it’s all tip-top quality. There are handy cubbies in the doors hidden by lift-up flaps, with a further cubby behind the passenger seat. (The aperture behind the driver’s seat houses the battery.) Inside the boot it’s also been retrimmed and is extraordinarily tidy; the lower section contains a matching spare wire wheel complete with jack and tools.
This was evidently a very high-end restoration, as the presentation of this Jaguar is glorious. In spite of its extensive rally usage, every panel is wonderfully straight, as you can see by the reflections in the photographs (normally we’d try to avoid such reflections, but we wanted to demonstrate how impressively straight and ripple-free these panels are).
You can see how tidy the panel fit is, and how beautiful the paint. And this fabulous base is augmented by all the correct details: all of the original-spec chrome trim has been repaired and re-chromed, and the wire wheels are just as shiny.
The roof is a quality item, fixing and stowing as it should and with a zip-out rear window. Of course, this car presents best as a top-down roadster as the proportions are just spot-on, and it’s a machine that drew admiring comments from every single passer-by during our photoshoot, as well as numerous passing motorists as we drove through south London.
This is a car that everybody immediately falls a little bit in love with, and the outstanding exterior presentation is a key part of that allure.
It’s an impressive mechanical package in this car, engineered for friendly road manners as well as competition prowess.
The engine has been fully rebuilt by the renowned experts at Vintage Sports Engines in Llanbister; it now produces a vivid 230bhp thanks to a ported and polished head with bigger valves, stronger head studs, competition head gasket, custom-ground cams, the flywheel lightened and balanced to C-Type specs, 9:1 C-Type pistons, uprated oil pump, heavy duty bearings and ‘endless’ timing chains. The stock SU carbs have been retained for reliability and mid-range torque.
The car starts on the button, and is perfectly friendly when driving slowly through town, transmuting into a snorting animal as the roads open up; the performance and manners are equally impressive at full-tilt and at urban crawls.
The gearbox was supplied by the Jaguar specialist SC Parts in 2004, and its all-synchro setup makes for excellent day-to-day usability. (Top tip – the original gear knob has been retained for an OE look, which has reverse marked top-left rather than its new position of bottom-left; once you know, you know.)
The suspension and braking systems have been fully rebuilt and upgraded, and everything is just as robust and dependable as you’d hope. Truly a wonderful Jaguar to drive.
The appeal of an XK120 in 2021 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 – but there’s absolutely no compromise brought by its rally endeavours.
It’s still a tactile and amenable car in day-to-day situations, and the presentation is incredible throughout. A Jaguar that could win trophies on the showground, then beat everyone to the pub for lunch. A legend, a polymath, and a truly beautiful piece of automotive art.
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