Inspired by the drop-dead gorgeous Jaguar XK140 roadster which stars in the Curry & Paxton centenary campaign video "The Getaway", we felt compelled to share some notes on these truly magnificent machines.
1955 Jaguar XK140 kindly loaned to Curry & Paxton by Philip Neate & family
Jaguar's XK range combined innovative engineering and beautiful design to create some of the most iconic sports cars of the 1950’s. After World War II, the automotive world was still recovering, shifting their attention from wartime efforts building weaponry, to revitalising factories and picking up where things left off before the war.
1936 SS Jaguar 100 by what was then known as SS Cars Limited
As little time was available to develop all new cars, manufacturers were forced into producing only slight cosmetic updates of their prewar offerings. Jaguar Cars Limited (who wisely changed their name from SS in 1945) was no different. Whilst manufacturing aircraft during the war, Jaguar's co-founder, Sir William Lyons, had continued engineering development of an all new engine that would help to build the future of the company over the next 40 years.
The legendary Jaguar XK engine
The XK engine was intended to power the new range of Jaguar sedans, but Lyons wanted his new DOHC straight-six jewel presented in something more exciting. He penned the lines himself, and at the 1948 Earl’s Court Motor Show, the XK120 made its debut to an astonished crowd. The name reflected the top speed of 120 mph, which was quite a feat at a time when most cars would struggle to reach 80 mph.
Rendering of the XK120 for the 1948 launch brochure
Reaction was overwhelming, and the orders for this prototype, never meant for production, came flooding in. As a consequence, the factory immediately set out to produce the XK by hand in aluminium, in order to provide time to manufacture the tooling necessary for mass production in steel. Initially offered as a roadster with 160 horsepower and four-speed manual gearbox, later offerings included a fixed-head coupe and a drop-head coupe.
The Fixed Head Coupé version of the Jaguar XK120
One of the biggest markets happened to come from the stars of the silver screen. The sleek lines and outstanding performance captured the attention from the likes of Hollywood icons such as Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Roy Rogers, Tyrone Power, and Clint Eastwood.
Sir William Lyons personally delivered Clarke Gable's new car
In addition, the XK120 proved to be quite competitive on track, driven by such greats as Phil Hill & Sir Stirling Moss. A racing version of the XK120, the C-Type, was developed with a tuned engine, placed in a more aerodynamic aluminum body. They were very successful at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning outright in 1951 & 1953.
XK120 C-Type - sold for £5.7m at Bonham's 2016 Monaco auction
With the XK140, Jaguar aimed to address some of the issues they did not have time to sort on the XK120 when rushed into production. They increased interior volume, reduced the truck-like steering effort, designed a more compliant suspension, and boosted engine performance by making the previously optional C-Type cylinder head standard equipment. Thankfully, the only exterior changes were to side indicator lights, a revised grille, chrome body accents and larger American spec bumpers.
XK140 - features in the Curry & Paxton video "The Getaway"
In its final iteration, the XK150 was the model’s swan song that would see it through 1961. Though it lost some of the taut lines of its predecessors, it gained Dunlop disc brakes all around, a power increase to 210 hp from the 3.4 liter straight six, and a top of the range S model with a larger 3.8 motor churning out 265 hp.
1958 Jaguar XK150S Roadster
The XK defined a decade for the automobile and set a new course for Jaguar that another sportscar icon would carry on throughout the 1960’s…. the legendary E-Type!