1954 Jaguar XK120 SE Roadster
From the Tresham Collection; current owner 23 years; fully restored with various choice upgrades including 5-speed Broad Sport gearbox; veteran of several European tours; superb condition throughout
Jaguar's first post-war sports car, the XK120 Roadster was conceived and designed in a matter of months, primarily to act as a showcase for the marque's new XK engine.
Shown at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show in the dark days of rationing, it caused such a sensation that William Lyons was forced to put it into production right away. Arrestingly beautiful, the first cars had hand-built aluminium bodies on an ash frame, but by 1950 a more mass production version with a pressed steel body with alloy doors, bonnet and boot had been developed. A fixed head version was launched in 1951, followed by a drop head in 1953.
The chassis was a strong box-section affair with independent torsion-bar front suspension, a leaf-sprung 'live' rear axle and hydraulic drum brakes. Power came from the magnificent XK twin-overhead cam 3.4-litre straight-six engine, developing 160bhp and giving the car a genuine 120mph top speed, making it the fastest production car of its day (hence the XK120 name).
However, an XK120 fitted with a racing windscreen was timed at 133.2mph on the Ostend-Jabekke motorway in May 1949, while Norman Dewis later hit 141mph with a special undertray fitted, eventually hitting a scarcely believable 172.4 mph with the cockpit enclosed by a glider aircraft canopy, the headlights faired in and various other tweaks.
In 1952 Stirling Moss and three other drivers famously drove a virtually standard XK120 around the banked track at Montlhery for seven days and nights on end, clocking up almost 17,000 miles at an average speed of 100.31mph, before driving the car back to London with no problems whatsoever.
Costing £1,263 at launch, just 12,055 XK120s were produced in total before it was replaced by the XK140 in October 1954, the vast majority in left-hand drive for the booming North American market, of which 7,612 were roadsters.
As the Heritage Certificate confirms, this XK120 SE Roadster was built in March 1954 for the export market. Despatched new to Hoffman, California, it was originally finished in Cream with a Red interior and a Sand soft top. Imported back to the UK in the 1990s and registered here as CAS 474, it was acquired by our vendor in 1999.
Aided by a friend who was a retired motor engineer, he set about a total nut-and-bolt restoration which was to take over five years to complete and resulted in the magnificent specimen you see today. The full extent of the work carried out is far too detailed to list in full here but is amply documented in many invoices on file. It included various choice upgrades to make the car into a fast and reliable tourer and the attention to detail is superb throughout.
The bodywork was entrusted to Hightone Restorations of Enstone and included the special green paintwork (similar to Aston Martin Sage Green) which cost over £9,700 in labour alone, another £7,800 being spent on panels including new alloy doors and boot lid. The brightwork was completely renewed or refurbished too – all this work being done 22 years ago so you can imagine how much more it would cost today. Hightone certainly did a fantastic job and the bodywork still looks wonderful two decades and many miles later.
The original 3.4 engine was found to be in excellent condition and needed nothing more than new gaskets and a rebuilt cylinder head with new valves, valve seats and springs, camshaft bearings etc. Electronic ignition was also fitted along with race HT leads, alloy radiator expansion tank and all new ancillaries as required.
The original Moss gearbox was ditched in favour of a Broad Sport 5-speed Cosworth box which cost £1,845. The propshaft and axle were rebuilt, along with the steering (now RHD) and suspension with Spax shock absorbers. The front brakes were converted from drum to disc using an upgrade kit supplied by Fosseway Way Performance which cost £1,544.
The wheels were hand-built by Turrino Wire Wheels at a cost of £2,444 with alloy rims, stainless steel spokes and chrome centres. These are typically around 4kg lighter than steel equivalents, giving a total weight saving of around 16kg which has the same effect on acceleration as lightening the car by 80kg-160kg due to the reduced rotational moment of inertia. (The rule of thumb is that each 1kg saved at the rim equates to 5kg-10kg of static car weight depending on the radius/diameter of the wheel – but you already knew that, didn’t you?) Oh, and they look good too.
The interior was retrimmed in the finest Connolly hide by ex-Brown’s Lane trimmer Mick Turley of Suffolk & Turley fame; even the door cards are leather. A new hood and side screens were also fitted and all the instruments were rebuilt by Vintage Restorations of Tunbridge Wells, including the lovely Jaeger 8 days clock.
Since the restoration was completed the car has been used as its makers intended, covering several thousand miles including three trips to the Le Mans Classic, a tour round Germany and regular visits to Goodwood.
Very little used in recent years due to illness, we are told that it has been started and run regularly to keep everything free. Fitted with new batteries shortly before the auction, it has certainly been starting promptly and running well as we have moved it around on site with good 40psi oil pressure (the noise you can here in the video is merely wind noise, nothing mechanical). Currently registered as JLC 237, this number is to be retained by the vendor and the car will revert to CAS 474 prior to the sale.
Quite the nicest XK120 we have seen, it now only needs an enthusiastic new owner who can continue to enjoy and pamper it in the manner to which it has become accustomed.
This is one of nine Lots entered from the Tresham Collection.
For more information contact James on 07970 309907 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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