A car-starved Britain, still trundling around in perpendicular, prewar hangover cars, glimpsed the future in October of 1948 at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in London. The star of the show was the Jaguar Super Sports. It was sensational to look at from any angle, with a purity of line that did not need chrome embellishment. It was also sensationally fast; in production as the Jaguar XK120 it would soon be proven that 120 really did stand for 120 mph (193 km/h), making it the fastest standard production car in the world.
The only trouble was that you could not actually buy one. The XK120 was originally planned as a short production run, prestige showstopper, but overwhelming interest at the 1948 show changed all that. Hand-built alloy-bodied cars dribbled out of the Jaguar factory in 1949, and you needed a name like Clark Gable to get your hands on one. Tooling was ready in 1950, and production really took off. Today the XK120 is a platinum-plated investment.
Many rate the fixed-head coupe as the most gorgeous of all XK120s, with a roof line and teardrop window reminiscent of the beautiful Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. The fixed-head model did not appear until March 1951 and is much rarer than the roadster.
The cockpit was a little cosy—if not downright cramped.
Skinny cross-ply tires gave more thrills than needed on hard cornering.
Standard wheels were the same steel discs as on the Jaguar sedans.
The XK120 was a great success as an export earner, with over 85 percent of all XK120s going to foreign climes.
With the XK120, once again Jaguar Boss William Lyons had pulled off his favorite trick: offering sensational value for money compared with anything else in its class. In fact, this time there was nothing else in its class.
Even though numbers of roadsters were trimmed further in the late Eighties’ scrabble to restore them, their flowing curves and perfect proportions are now more widely appreciated.
Fixed-head coupes had limited rear vision, but at least you stayed dry in a British summer.
Surrounded by leather and thick-pile carpet, you feel good just sitting in an XK120—a lush interior, purposeful instruments, and the bark of the exhaust.
The famed XK six-cylinder engine was designed by Bill Heynes and Wally Hassan, and went on to power the E-Type and other Jaguars up until 1986. Even this was “styled”; William Lyons insisted that it have twin camshafts to make it resemble GP cars of the Thirties.
The XK120 breathed through twin SU carburetors.
The six-cylinder block pumped out 160 bhp.
SELLING THE DREAM
Beautiful enough as it was, the original sales brochure for the XK120 used airbrushed photographs of the very first car built— the 1948 Motor Show car.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Jaguar XK120 (1949–54)
BODY STYLES Two-seater roadster, fixed-head coupe, and drophead coupe.
CONSTRUCTION Separate chassis, aluminum/steel bodywork.
ENGINE 3442cc twin overhead cam six-cylinder, twin SU carburetors.
POWER OUTPUT 160 bhp at 5100 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, Moss gearbox with syncromesh on upper three ratios.
SUSPENSION Front: independent, wishbones and torsion bars; Rear: live rear axle, semi-elliptic.
BRAKES Hydraulically operated 12-in (30-cm) drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 126 mph (203 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 10 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 35.3 sec
A.F.C. 17–22 mpg (6.1–7.8 km/l)