From the collection of The Late The Hon. John Dawson-Damer
1949 Jaguar XK 120 Alloy Roadster
Chassis no. 660017
Engine no. W1038-7
Told by the post-war Attlee government to 'export or die', the British motor industry responded valiantly, none more so than Jaguar Cars, soon to become the UK's biggest US-dollar earner thanks in no small measure to the success of its XK120 sports car. Ironically, the XK120's creation had only come about because delays in the gestation of the MkVII saloon had forced Jaguar to find an alternative method of bringing its new XK six-cylinder engine to public attention. Conceived and constructed in but a few months, the XK120 debuted at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show where the stunning looking roadster caused a sensation.
Conceived as a low-volume model, the XK120 proved considerably more popular than expected, the resulting demand for what was then the world's fastest production car taking Jaguar by surprise. It was immediately obvious that the ash-framed alloy coachwork hand built in the best vintage tradition - would have to go and the XK120 was re-engineered in steel after 240 cars had been completed.
Its stunning appearance notwithstanding, the XK120 was conventional enough beneath the skin, being built on a separate chassis - in essence a shortened and narrowed MkV frame - featuring independent front suspension by means of wishbones and torsion bars, a live rear axle, and drum brakes all round. The fact that the major mechanical components were already in existence meant that development centred on the body. The work of Jaguar boss William Lyons himself, and one of the most beautiful shapes ever to grace an automobile, the latter was conceived as a coachbuilt aluminium structure for the simple reason that Jaguar expected to sell no more than 200 XK120s in the first year!
The car's heart was, of course, the fabulous XK engine. Conceived in wartime and intended for Jaguar's post-war range-topping saloon, the 3.4-litre six embodied the best of modern design, boasting twin overhead camshafts running in an aluminium-alloy cylinder head, seven main bearings, and a maximum output of 160bhp. When installed in the lightweight XK120, the result was a car with a phenomenal power-to-weight ratio and blistering performance. The '120' referred to the car's top speed, any doubts about the claim's veracity being swiftly banished when a standard X120 achieved a top speed of 126.4mph with hood and side screens erected, and 132.6mph minus its weather protection and equipped with an under-tray!
The XK120 set new standards of comfort, roadholding and performance for British sports cars and, in keeping with the Jaguar tradition, there was nothing to touch it at the price. Coupé and drophead coupé versions followed, and for customers who found the standard car too slow, there was the Special Equipment package which boosted power from the stock 160 to 180bhp. With either engine and regardless of the type of bodywork, the XK120 was a genuine 120mph car capable of sustained high-speed cruising. From launch until the end of production in the autumn of 1954 the XK120's popularity never slackened, especially in overseas markets that took over 85 percent of total output. In the end a little over 12,000 XK120s were built, making every one of the 58 right-hand drive alloy-bodied roadsters something very special indeed.
The 17th right-hand drive XK120 to leave the factory, '660017' was completed in cream livery with two-tone biscuit and cream upholstery. The history of '660017', carefully researched by Terry McGrath and John Elmgren for their definitive book "The Jaguar XK120 in the Southern Hemisphere", confirms the car was despatched to Brylaws of Sydney on 7 December, 1949 on the "Willesden" and was first sold to Roland Desborough Bright of Edgecliff, New South Wales on 16 February, 1950. By June 1953 the car was owned by Paul Roberts of Wollongong, who raced the car in 1953. Around this period the Jaguar was fitted with some C-type parts, including the cylinder head, sand-cast SU carburettors and exhaust manifold from 'XKC037', the ex-Frank Gardner car.
Sold to Les and Col Merrick by 1965, the car changed hands several times in the late 1960s, passing via Rowley Motors to Robert Kennedy of Sydney, then to Dave Handyside of Richmond Air Force Base and finally to Simon Atkinson in Paddington.
By the 1970s, the old warhorse had begun a new career in historic racing, firstly with Bryan Allart, of Double Bay before being acquired by the late Hon John Dawson-Damer in 1977. Contemporary photographs of the Jaguar depict it looking a little worse for wear and driven hard by Dawson-Damer. Following some damage sustained at Amaroo Park in 1979, the car was retired from competition and treated to a thorough restoration and refinishing in the original colour scheme. Most of the period modifications were left intact, including the louvres in the bonnet and wings, 2" carburettors, 'hotter' cams and close-ratio Moss gearbox.
Dawson-Damer lost his life in tragic circumstances at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2000 at the wheel of one of his beloved Lotus Formula 1 cars, and the Jaguar has remained with the family ever since. Prior to auction, the XK will have been fettled by Steve Fryer to ensure everything works just as it should.
Presented in first class condition today, '660017' is one of the few alloy-bodied XK120 roadsters to remain in Australia. Enjoying single family ownership for the last 33 years, possessing period race history and eligible for many of the greatest events, including the Goodwood Revival, this car is without doubt one of the more significant Jaguars to come on the market in recent years. In its current condition, '660017' would be equally at home on the concours lawn or on the racetrack, where it should prove one of the faster XKs. It should also be noted that the XK120 is a relative bargain in today's market - had the car been produced in the limited numbers Jaguar originally envisaged, values would almost certainly be on a par with contemporary racing Aston Martins and Ferraris.