It’s Convertibles Week here at the CRO Blog, as we devote the next 5 days to some of the great classic convertibles that have stood the test of time. Today we feature the 1950 Jaguar XK120.
Jaguar’s attempt to reestablish their sporting history with the release of the F-Type may seem like a bit of a stretch, but back in the 50s, they really were a serious sports car maker. This car, which initially started as an afterthought, turned into the XK120. It was not only beautiful, but also a major success on the track.
A Post-War Halo Car
Before the war, Jaguar, then called Swallow Sidecar, was known for taking ordinary cars and adding custom bodies, letting the average buyer get something that merely looked expensive. With the collapse of the coachbuilding industry during WWII, Jaguar moved on to build complete cars. Central to this shift was a new twin overhead cam straight six, the first mass-produced engine of its kind. The 160 bhp motor was to be the crown jewel of the Mark VI sedan which was expected to either make or break the company.
Wanting to show off the new motor before the sedan’s debut, founder William Lyons worked with a panel beater over two weeks to form a body inspired by BMW’s 328 sports car with traces of Italian and French styling. This show car, dubbed the “XK120,” made its debut at the 1948 London Motorshow, wowing visitors with a design widely proclaimed as one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Seeing this success, Lyons pushed ahead with plans for a limited production run to drum up interest in the company.
The 1950 Jaguar XK120 – Performance at a Low Price
The “120” referred to the car’s top speed, a claim backed up when a test driver reached 132 mph at a press event. The four speed manual gearbox, power drum brakes and torsion bar front suspension may seem laughable today, but when it debuted, it was the fastest, best handling and most powerful production car built in Europe. Better still, it cost just $4,000, or about $40,000 in current dollar value.
By the time the car made its American debut at the New York Auto Show, the car had already taken 1st and 2nd place at Silverstone and had secured Jaguar’s first Le Mans win. The original run of 240 cars used an alloy body with an ash frame, but the demand was so high that production continued using steel components borrowed from the Type V and Type VI. Over 12,000 cars were produced with most shipped to America, opening the door to British sports car dominance over the next two decades.
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