Jaguar XK120

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Jaguar XK120
1950 Jaguar XK120 34.jpg1950 Jaguar XK120 roadster on later wire wheels; bonnet louvres also unoriginal
ManufacturerJaguar Cars
12,055 made [1]
Predecessor"Jaguar" SS 100
SuccessorJaguar XK140
ClassSports car
Body style(s)2-seat roadster (OTS)
2-seat coupé
2-seat Drop Head Coupé
LayoutFR layout
Engine(s)3.4 L XK I6
Wheelbase102 in (2591 mm)[2]
Length173 in (4394 mm)[2]
Width61.5 in (1562 mm)[2]
Height52.5 in (1334 mm)[2]
RelatedJaguar C-Type
ManualsService Manual

The Jaguar XK120 was a sports car manufactured by Jaguar between 1948 and 1954. Jaguar's first post-war sports car, it succeeded the SS 100, which ceased production in 1940.

The XK120 was launched in roadster form at the 1948 London Motor Show as a testbed and show car for the new Jaguar XK engine. It caused a sensation, which persuaded William Lyons to put it into production.

The "120" in its name referred to its 120 mph (193 km/h) top speed (faster with the windscreen removed), which made the XK120 the world's fastest standard production car at the time of its launch.[3].

It was available in two convertible versions — first as the roadster (designated OTS, for open two-seater, in America), then also as a drophead coupé, or DHC, from 1953 — and as a closed, or "fixed-head" coupé (FHC) from 1951.

The roadster version was popular with Hollywood stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Clark Gable and Lauren Bacall.


Ex-Biondetti roadster has competition seats and aftermarket steering wheel; positions of tachometer and speedometer have been reversed

The first 242 cars, all 1949-model roadsters hand-built in late 1948, had aluminium bodies on ash frames. To meet demand it was necessary for the mass-production versions, beginning with the 1950 model year, to have pressed-steel bodies. They retained aluminium doors, bonnet, and boot lid.

With alloy cylinder head and twin side draft SU carburetors, the dual overhead-cam 3.4 L straight-6 XK engine was comparatively advanced for a mass-produced unit of the time. With standard 8:1 compression ratio it developed 160 bhp (119 kW). [2] A 7:1 low compression version was also available to cope with low quality fuel. This same basic design of the XK engine, later modified into 3.8L and 4.2L versions, survived into the late 1980s.

All XK120s had independent torsion bar front suspension, semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear, recirculating-ball steering, telescopically adjustable steering column, and all-round drum brakes that were prone to fade. The roadster's lightweight canvas top and detachable sidescreens stowed out of sight behind the seats, and its barchetta-style doors had no external handles; instead there was an interior pull-cord which was accessible through a flap in the sidescreens when the weather equipment was in place. The windscreen could be removed for aeroscreens to be fitted.

The drophead coupé had a padded canvas top, which folded onto the rear deck behind the seats when not in use, and roll-up windows. The windscreen was fixed. Dashboards in both the FHC and DHC were wood-veneered, whereas the roadster's was leather-trimmed. All models had removable spats ("fender skirts" in America) covering the rear wheel arches, which enhanced the streamlined look. On cars fitted with optional centre-lock wire wheels (available from 1951), the spats were omitted as they gave insufficient clearance for the two-eared Rudge-Whitworth knockoff hubs.

In addition to wire wheels, upgrades on the Special Equipment, or SE, version (called the M version in the United States) included increased power, stiffer suspension and dual exhaust system.


The Motor magazine road-tested an XK120 roadster in 1949. With hood and sidescreens in place, it achieved a top speed of 124.6 mph (200.5 km/h), accelerated from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 10.0 seconds and consumed fuel at the rate of Template:Convert/foutmig (Template:Convert/L/100 km mpgus). The car as tested cost £1263 including taxes. [2]

In May 1949 Jaguar demonstrated an XK120 roadster to the press on the high-speed autoroute between Jabbeke and Aeltre in Belgium. The road was closed for the occasion. The white left-hand drive car, chassis number 670002, was the second XK120 built. Jaguar's development engineer Walter Hassan was to have driven but fell ill, so Jaguar test-driver Ron "Soapy" Sutton substituted for him. With hood and sidescreens erected, and the airflow under the car improved by the addition of a full-length aluminium undertray, the Jaguar was timed through the flying mile by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium at 126.448 mph (203.498 km/h). With hood, sidescreens and windscreen removed, a metal airflow deflector fitted in front of the driver, and a tonneau cover fastened over the passenger side of the cockpit the speed improved to 136.596 mph (219.830 km/h), making the XK120 the world's fastest production car.

Racing and rallying

XK120s were active in racing and rallying:


  • First race victory: In the Daily Express-sponsored One-Hour Production Car Race held on August 30 1949 at Silverstone Circuit, England, Leslie Johnson drove the Jabbeke car to the XK120's first-ever race victory (despite an early collision with a spinning Jowett Javelin which dropped the Jaguar to fifth).[4] The car, road-registered HKV 500, was converted to right-hand drive for Silverstone. Two other XK120s took part. One, driven by Peter Walker, finished second and the other, driven by Prince Bira, spun out of contention when a tire punctured.


  • First victory in America: In January 1950 Johnson also scored the model’s first competition success in America, winning the production class in a race at Palm Beach Shores, Florida with the car that had finished second at Silverstone. The Jaguar lost its brakes but finished fourth overall. John Lea, Jaguar’s Experimental Department mechanic who attended the race, reported: "The conditions at Palm Beach were wet, windy and sandy. Water and sand gained entry into the brake drums at the front, and the mixture had the effect of accelerating the wear very considerably. Our car finished with no linings and with the steel shoes bearing on the brake drums."[4]

In 1950 Jaguar allocated six alloy-bodied XK120s to drivers Johnson, Walker, Nick Haines, Clemente Biondetti, Ian Appleyard and Tom Wisdom.

  • Le Mans: Three of the allocated cars, extensively modified, were entered for the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Johnson, who spearheaded this factory-supported assault on the race with co-driver Bert Hadley, never ran lower than seventh place, and held second for two hours, but in the 21st hour had to retire from third place with clutch failure caused by using the gears to slow the car in the absence of brakes. (As a result the clutch was revised to a more robust design for production models.) The Jaguar had been closing the gap to leader Louis Rosier, whose Talbot's pace was significantly slower, at a rate that would have secured victory.[5] Haines, with co-driver Peter Clark, finished 12th, and Walker’s car, driven by Peter Whitehead and John Marshall, was 15th.[4] The results convinced William Lyons it was worth investing in future success at Le Mans.[6]
  • Targa Florio: Biondetti's car, the first XK120 to contest the Targa Florio, lay second to Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari when a connecting rod broke, ending the Jaguar’s run.
  • Mille Miglia: Johnson took fifth place in the Mille Miglia, with John Lea as his riding mechanic, while Biondetti and co-driver Gino Bronzoni finished eighth. Fifth was an outstanding achievement for a production car, with Johnson's Jaguar beaten only by Fangio's works Alfa Romeo and the works Ferraris of Serafini, Bracco and winner Marzotto. It was Jaguar's best-ever finish in the Mille Miglia; also the best by a British car and driver combination, a feat that only Reg Parnell ever equalled, driving an Aston Martin DB3 in 1953. [7]
  • Silverstone Production Car Race: Five XK120s entered the race, which Peter Walker won from Tony Rolt, with Johnson recovering to eighth after spinning on oil. Jaguar won the team prize.
  • Tourist Trophy: XK120s also achieved a 1-2-3 victory in the TT, held at Dundrod in heavy rain. On the eve of his 21st birthday Stirling Moss drove Tom Wisdom's car to a brilliant win ahead of Whitehead and Johnson, and Jaguar once again took the team prize.[4]
  • Alpine Rally: Ian Appleyard's XK120, road-registered as NUB 120, won the French Alpine Rally with his wife Pat, who was the daughter of Sir William Lyons, navigating. They also won a coveted Coupe des Alpes. both the 1950 Alpine and 1951 Tulip rallies with Appleyard driving and his wife Pat navigating.[4]


  • Alpine Rally: NUB 120 and the Appleyards repeated their previous year’s success.
  • Tulip Rally: The Appleyards took first place in this gruelling Dutch rally, with Swiss fighter pilot Rolf Habisreutinger’s XK120 finishing second.


  • Alpine Rally: Although the Appleyards’ XK120 did not win its third Alpine, it completed the rally without incurring a single penalty point, winning the first-ever Alpine Rally Gold Cup.


  • Australian 24-hour race: On February 1, 1954, an XK120 FHC won Australia's first 24-hour race, the Mount Druitt 24 Hours, from a Bristol 400 and a Humber Super Snipe.
  • NASCAR road race: In America, an XK120 FHC was the first imported car to achieve victory in NASCAR, when Al Keller[8] won the first NASCAR road race, held at Linden Airport, New Jersey, on June 13th, 1954.


XK120s set numerous world records on the steeply banked oval track at the Autodrome de Montlhéry, near Paris:

  • 1950 107.46 mph (172.94 km/h) for 24 hours (including stops for fuel and tyres): Leslie Johnson sharing his XK120 roadster, road-registered JWK 651, with Stirling Moss. The first time a production car had averaged over 100 mph (160.93 km/h) for 24 hours. Changing drivers every three hours, the Jaguar covered 2579.16 miles, with a best lap of 126.2 mph (203.10 km/h).
  • 1951 131.83 mi (212.16 km) in one hour: Johnson solo in JWK 651. "No mean feat...driving at almost twice today's maximum (UK) speed limit into a steep turn, assaulted by the g-force induced by 30 degree banking twice every minute, using Forties technology, leaf spring suspension and narrow crossply tyres...Johnson remarked that the car felt so good it could have gone on for another week, an off-the-cuff comment that sowed the seed for another idea. Flat out for a week..."[6]
A 1953 fixed-head coupé with steel wheels and spats
  • 1952 100.31 mph (161.43 km/h) for 7 days and 7 nights: XK120 fixed-head coupé driven by Johnson, Moss, Hadley and Jack Fairman. William Lyons, mindful of the considerable kudos and advertising mileage that had already accrued from Johnson's exploits, commandeered a brand new XK120 FHC for him: bronze-colored, and fitted with wire wheels, it was Jaguar chief engineer Walter Hassan's car, the second right-hand drive coupé made.[6] The car broke a spring on the track's rough concrete surface when already well into the run. No spare was carried, and regulations stipulated that a replacement from outside would make the car ineligible for any further records beyond those already achieved before the repair. Johnson drove nine hours to save the other drivers from added risk while the speed had to be maintained on the broken spring. When he finally stopped to have it replaced, the car had taken the world and Class C 72-hour records at 105.55 mph (169.87 km/h), world and Class C four-day records at 101.17 mph (162.82 km/h), Class C 10,000-kilometer record at 107.031 mph (172.250 km/h), world and Class C 15,000-kilometer records at 101.95 mph (164.07 km/h), and world and Class C 10,000-mile (16,000 km) records at 100.65 mph (161.98 km/h). After the repair the car went on to complete the full seven days and nights, covering a total of 16,851.73 mi (27,120.23 km) at an average speed of 100.31 mph (161.43 km/h).

Technical specifications

Ref: [9] [10]
Model Years Displacement Configuration Bore/Stroke Carburettor Power
XK 120 3.4 1948-1954
3442 cc
DOHC Straight-6
83 mm/106 mm
Double SU H6 160 bhp (119 kW; 162 PS) @ 5000 rpm
XK 120 3.4 SE ("M" in USA) 1951-1954
3442 cc
DOHC Straight-6
83 mm/106 mm
Double SU H6 180 bhp (134 kW; 182 PS) @ 5300 rpm
XK 120 3.4 SE (C-Type Head) ("MC" in USA) 1951-1954
3442 cc
DOHC Straight-6
83 mm/106 mm
Double SU H8 210 bhp (157 kW; 213 PS) @ 5750 rpm


  1. Robson, G (2006). A-Z of British Cars 1945-1980. Devon, UK: Herridge. ISBN 0-9541063-9-3. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "The Jaguar 2-seater Type XK120 Road Test". The Motor. 1949. 
  3. Holloway, Hilton;Buckley, Martin. 20th Century Car Design. Carlton Books. ISBN 1-84222-835-8. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Porter, Philip (1998). Jaguar Sports Racing Cars, Bay View Books. ISBN 1-901432-21-1
  5. Buckley, Martin: Jaguar: Fifty Years of Speed and Style p.120. Haynes Publishing 2003, ISBN 1-85960-872-2
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Nevinson, Tim: "Flat out for a week" Thoroughbred and Classic Cars June 2008 p. 84.
  7. [1] Photograph of Biondetti's XK120 prepared for the 1950 Mille Miglia.
  8. [2] "Al Keller" Legends of NASCAR website, includes photo of Keller with XK120.
  9. Jaguar XK120 Specifications - Retrieved on 04 November 2008
  10. The Jaguar Database - Retrieved on 04 November 2008

External links

  • volunteer maintained online registry with thousands of cars and over 10,000 photos
  • International network of Jaguar XK model automotive owners and enthusiasts