Amelia Island, Fla. – It was done in haste. It was to be an alluring delivery system to introduce Jaguar’s brilliant new XK engine intended to power the substantial Jaguar Mk VII luxury sedan.
But the Mk VII wasn’t ready, so Jaguar Chief William Lyons and his men created a quick solution. They shaped it on a shortened Mk VII chassis, painted it bronze, named it the “Open Two-Seat Super Sports” and took it to the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show just to show off their new XK engine.
Yet the elegant new engine that brimmed with twin-cam competition-bred sophistication played a supporting role when Jaguar’s “Open Two-Seat Super Sports” took to the Earls Court stage and stole the show.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the speed record and the first race victory that set the Jaguar XK120’s course and gave it its immortal name.
On a super highway in Belgium the new Jaguar (with full windshield and top erected) recorded a top speed of 126.448 mph. With the windshield and top removed it was timed at 132.6 mph. The XK120 became “the fastest production car in the world” eclipsing the existing record by over 22 mph.
Perhaps the XK120’s most impressive number was the price tag: for 1,000 Pounds Sterling one could own the fastest production car in the world. The XK120 had no equal on the road or in the showroom, standing alone atop a short list of aspirational cars.
No one was immune to the XK120’s charms. Clark Gable got the first one to arrive in the United States. Then Gable had the legendary George Barris customize his second XK120 so he could drive in greater comfort.
Gable’s Barris-customized XK120 will be the “Hollywood Star” of the 2019 Amelia’s Jaguar XK120 class. The display will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the XK120’s coronation as the record-setting “fastest production car in the world.”
The XK120’s competition record is as eclectic as it is deep. The record-setting XK120 was converted to right-hand drive. The car then raced to the type’s first victory, winning the Silverstone One-Hour Production Car Race. Future World Champion Phil Hill won the first Pebble Beach Cup with an XK120 in 1950. Jaguar XK-power won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times in seven years from 1951 through 1957. In 1954, Al Keller’s XK120 coupe won the NASCAR road race at the Linden, NJ airport!
“Jaguar’s XK120 is a landmark car. It was the first sports car I ever rode in,” said Bill Warner, founder and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “I was just a kid but the smell of the leather and the wood has stayed with me. The XK120 is simply unforgettable.”
Now in its third decade, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is among the top automotive events in the world. Always held the second full weekend in March, “The Amelia” draws more than 300 rare vehicles from collections around the world to The Golf Club of Amelia Island, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island for a celebration of the automobile like no other. The 24th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for March 8-10, 2019. For more information, visit www.ameliaconcours.org
Courtesy Vintage Road & Racecar Staff and Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance