In the late 40s Britain was still in the grip of post war austerity and rationing was still very much in place. Yet the nations lack of cash, sweets, bread and petrol didn’t put the guys off down at the Jaguar factory – “You know what we need?” they may have said, “A new supercar – that will cheer everyone up”.
The Jaguar XK120 was unleashed on the world at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show and it was the world’s fastest production car. It put a smile on the face of the hard-up British public and it wiped the smile off the face of the Italians – the gorgeous looking 120mph (hence the name) XK could out-perform the Italian exotica and came with a much cheaper price tag. The XK was also so advanced that the twin-overhead camshaft straight-six, that powered it to many racing wins, was used by Jaguar well into the 80s.
[label type=”small”]^ Clark Gable kicks up some dirt in his XK120 Photo: PA[/label]
With the Festival of Britain promoting a feeling of recovery in 1951, Britain’s well-heeled started queuing up for a bit of XK action. It helped that Phil Hill and Sterling Moss were roaring to race victory after race victory in theirs. But it wasn’t just on these shores the XK got noticed. Across the pond the Americans were falling head over heels for the 120. Film stars and big names clamoured over the Jag which looked tailor made for Hollywood with its drop top and leading lady curves. Owners included Roger Moore, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Clint Eastwood.
Minimal updates came in 1954 but with no real change in top speed. By 1957 the XK enjoyed a complete over-haul to bring it up to date which saw the top speed increase to around 132mph (confusingly the name changed to the XK150). When ‘The Motor’ magazine took a Fixed-Head Coupé for a spin in 1959 it was the fastest ‘closed car’ the magazine had ever road tested.
[label type=”small”]^ Clint Eastwood in his 1957 XK150 Photo: PA[/label]
A Drop-Head XK 120 or 150 will set you back around £100K these days, but this game-changing car for Jaguar surely has a long way to go. It’s still on a lot of must have lists for collectors and celebrities. Jay Leno has one in his garage (but then what doesn’t he have). Racer/actor Patrick Dempsey and Harrison Ford are smitten with the XK and can regularly be seen out and about in their Drop-Heads.