Having wowed sporting drivers before World War II with the SS Jaguar 100, the company (now officially named Jaguar) impressed them even more in 1948 when it introduced the fabulous XK 120. For it was positive public reaction to the sensational concept car shown at the Earls Court Motor Show that year which persuaded Jaguar chief William Lyons to put his beautiful machine into full-scale production.
The first few hundred completed in 1948 had to be hand built with aluminum bodies over ash frames, but buoyant demand saw the introduction of pressed-steel bodies early in 1949. The ‘XK’ stood for Jaguar’s advanced 3.4 liter six-cylinder engine, which in modified form would continue in production into the 1980s. The ‘120’ represented the top speed — exceptional performance for a road car at the time. With the windscreen removed, ceiling speed was 136 mph (220 km/h), comfortably confirming the XK 120’s status as the world’s fastest production car.
This streamlined speedster was eventually produced in three body styles — first an open-top roadster, with a fixed-head coupe added in 1951 and a convertible coupe available from 1953. The roadster’s detachable side screens and canvas top stowed behind the seats whilst the windscreen could be removed and performance-enhancing aero screens fitted. The convertible had a hood that folded back onto the rear deck, wind-up windows and fixed windscreen. A Special Equipment (SE) version offered a tuned engine, stiffer suspension and twin exhausts. This high performer was a natural racer, enjoying considerable track success and setting numerous speed records. Needless to say, these sublime postwar sports cars were coveted then as now, and anyone lucky enough to pilot one gets to experience the ultimate 1940s driving experience. There’s a good chance — over 12,000 were built, making the XK 120 a great British success story.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1948 (until 1954)
3,442 cc DOHC Straight Six
Top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h) in road trim; 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 10 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The best place to chase an XK 120 is America – over three-quarters of the production run consisted of Ieft-hand drive versions destined for the car’s admirers (including Humphrey Bogart and many other Hollywood stars) in the United States.