'We claimed 120 mph (for the XK 120), a speed unheard of for a production car in those days' - William Heynes, Chief Engineer, Jaguar Cars.
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, the resulting demand for what was then the world's fastest production car taking Jaguar by surprise. With orders rolling in apace, Jaguar had no choice but to think again about the XK120's method of construction. The work of Jaguar boss William Lyons himself and one of the most beautiful shapes ever to grace a motor car, the body had been conceived as a coachbuilt, aluminium panelled structure for the simple reason that Jaguar expected to sell no more than 200 XK120s in the first year! In conjunction with the Pressed Steel Fisher Company a new all-steel panelled body was developed, which retained the fabulous looks of the coachbuilt original while differing in minor external details. Beneath the skin the steel car was entirely different and it would take some 20 months of development before manufacture could begin.
The XK120's heart was, of course, the fabulous XK engine, which had been developed during the war and was intended for Jaguar's forthcoming MkVII saloon. A 3.4-litre 'six' embodying the best of modern design, it boasted twin overhead camshafts running in an aluminium-alloy cylinder head, seven main bearings and a maximum output of 160bhp. It went into a chassis that was essentially a shortened version of the simultaneously announced MkV saloon's, featuring William Heynes' torsion bar independent front suspension. Jaguar lost no time in demonstrating that the XK120's claimed top speed was no idle boast. In May 1949, on the Jabbeke to Aeltre autoroute, an example with its hood and side screens in place recorded a speed of 126mph and 132mph with the hood and windscreen detached and an under-tray fitted.
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 (SE) package which boosted power 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. The XK120 was produced until 1954 and would prove to be the most popular of the XK series, with 12,078 examples built, of which only 294 were right-hand drive dropheads like that offered here. Introduced in 1953, late in the XK120 production run, the drophead coupé is considered by many enthusiasts to be best of the breed, retaining the original open roadster's lines while boasting much greater practicality and refinement courtesy of its wind-up windows, opening quarter lights, heater, improved ventilation and a permanently attached lined Mohair hood, all of which had been first appeared on the fixed head coupé in 1951.
This particular XK120 is the car used by BBC Television's 'Top Gear' programme in 2009 for a stunt that saw 'SKE 7' (driven by James May) and a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle 'race' a Flying Scotsman-type steam locomotive from London to Edinburgh. The Jaguar had been in long-term (30-plus years) ownership before finding a new owner and undergoing a six-year programme of restoration and improvement in the 2000s undertaken by P&K Thornton of Nottingham at a cost in excess of £33,000 (bills on file). In addition, there are bills for £6,817 from marque specialist Guy Broad and others totalling £11,200 for various items including trim, woodwork, etc. Modifications incorporated include installing a 4.2-litre engine converted to unleaded compatibility; fitting disc brakes from an XJ6 and an XK150 pedal set-up; swapping the original four-speed Moss gearbox for an all-synchromesh Ford five-speeder (100mph is now achieved at less than 4,000rpm); fitting a smaller steering wheel; upgrading the suspension with Polybushes, Koni-type dampers and a thicker anti-roll bar; and fitting a Kenlowe electric fan, improved heater unit and a modern radio with iPod dock. A fuller account of the car's restoration may be found in Classic Car Mart (September 2011 edition, copy available). CCM's scribe Steve Wilson test-drove the XK, finding that it was well balanced, steered precisely, was very flexible and possessed powerful brakes.
Described as in generally very good condition, this sensibly upgraded XK120 is offered with owner's manual and handbook, old-style logbook, Shell lubrication chart, MoT/tax to May 2013 and Swansea V5 document. The original engine and Moss gearbox come with the car and may be collected by the purchaser post-sale from Grove, Oxfordshire.