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1949 Jaguar XK120 Alloy Roadster : Classic Cars

With its French curves, 120 mph performance and a price tag of £988, the XK120 was Jaguar's most important roadster. In 1948 it set a new standard of post-war performance which progressed into a comprehensive motor sports campaign and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times in seven years. Before it was allowed to race, Sir William Lyons personally tested an XK120 at Silverstone himself. He called it the 'Super Sports Two Seater', but after reaching 120 mph in Belgium, it was simply known as the XK120.

Inspired by Italian sports cars and the streamlined styling of the French design houses, Sir William Lyons personally sketched out the basic silhouette for the 120. In what must have been a difficult task, the panel beaters slowly embodied the simple steel chassis with a sweeping hand-hammered aluminum body. The resulting prototype was timeless, simple and instantly recognizable.

What began as a design exercise for the first postwar London Motor Show in 1948, quickly turned into a rushed production car once the public got a glimpse and fell in love. The first XK120 prototype, chassis 660001, was made without production tooling or testing and after the show it was actively raced. Not long afterward, Sir William Lyons printed up a brochure and announced immediate production plans. Like the prototype, the first cars were made from scratch. They were intended to complement Jaguar's Mark V which was a much heavier and luxurious car.

To bring the XK120 to market, Jaguar relied on technology developed during the war for the upcoming Mark VI saloon. This included their existing chassis members and XK engine which was the world's first affordable and mass-produced twin-cam unit. Developed during war by Chief Engineer Bill Heynes, Claude Baily and Wally Hassan, Jaguar's 3.4-liter 'XK' engine was more than sufficient for the aluminum-bodied XK120 compared to the larger MK VI Saloon it was originally intended for. So much so, Lyons thought it was enough to take the roadster up to magical 120 mph mark. Eventually, over 12,000 would be built and derivatives of the XK engine powered Jaguar to five wins at Le Mans.

120MPH Performance
After its introduction to the world, the XK120 gained further acclaim during a high-speed test, when Ronald Sutton, Jaguar's test driver, achieved a speed of 133 mph (214kph) during a press preview on the Jabbeke-Ostend highway in Belgium under the official observation of the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium. Not only did this boost the car beyond its advertised 120mph, it established the XK120 as the world's fastest production car.

Many of the first XK120s were entered in motor sports races from the onset of production. After Lyons personally tested an XK120 on the Silverstone circuit in 1949 he had Walter Hassan prepare three pre-production cars for the upcoming production car race. Painted red, white and blue, Leslie Johnson won at Silverstone with chassis 670002 and Peter Walker took second place in 67001. Not long thereafter, every racer wanted an XK120, but a slow production meant it was hard to get a hold of one. The following year, three privately entered XK120s raced LeMans with impressive competitiveness and encouraged the legendary XK120C or 'C-Type'.

Success at Lemans encouraged Jaguar to build a specially designed XK120 which would lead the company into its most successful year. The XK120C (or C-Type) endurance racer used a tube frame chassis and streamlined body with the familiar XK120 drive train. This combination was quite successful and claimed Jaguar's first outright victory at Le Mans.

Aluminum Alloy to Steel
By 1950, Jaguar took necessary steps to move towards large-scale production of the XK120. Originally intended only as a limited-production model of 200, initial demand for the 120, fueled by its low price, forced Jaguar to replace the expensive and time-consuming aluminum body with a steel counterpart. This reduced the production delays, enabling Jaguar to produce over 12,000 examples. Only 240 aluminum-bodied roadsters were completed and they were outwardly identical to the steel cars.

In 1951 the range was extended with a Fixed Head Coupe which was followed up by a Drophead Coupe in 1953. The later had luxuriously crafted soft tops with burled wood veneer trim and rollup windows inside. Around 1,800 XK 120 Drophead Coupes were produced.

Our feature car is number 670005 and was probably the first XK120 in the United States. Imported by Hoffman Motors in June 1949, it was used as a display vehicle at a number of races and has a unique Blue Sheen paint job and specially painted engine bay. It was fully restored and displayed at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. It will offered for sale the the 2011 Amelia Island Sale by Gooding & Company.

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Sources : 1949 Jaguar XK120 Alloy Roadster Photo | 1949 Jaguar XK120 Alloy Roadster Article


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