Re-Acquaintance with an XK120

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The Editor Drives Again the kind of Jaguar He first sampled 37 Years Ago

In the late 1940s the Jaguar XK120 was an exceeding exciting new sports-car and most of us were avid to try one. In fact, I seem to remember that, for some reason, critical MOTOR SPORT waited longer than most for the priviledge. But at last the day came when I was summonsed to Henly’s at the top of Gt Portland Street, the place where all the used cars deemed to gravitate racing cars among them, and was dispatched in a new XK120 (Reg No KHP 30 — and where is that one, today?) by “Lofty” England himself. As I had expected, I was impressed, even though, used hard, the brakes faded into utter oblivion, my wife was rendered car-sick for the first time in her life due to the roll on corners when the XK was driven fast along the twisting road from Odiham to Alton, and after I had donned Sidcot suit and flying-helmet and was enjoying a dice round Brands Hatch, the new wonder-car was whipped away from me for filming by the Shell Film Unit, with Stirling Moss at the wheel. I never saw it again and, apart from a short spell with the Ian Appleyard Alpine Rally XK laid on forr Jenks and me by Andrew White some years ago. I have not driven one of these sleek and still very attractive Jaguars since.

Reverting to that road-test of 37 years ago, the car had the 3.64 to 1 axle-ratio and achieved 120 mph in top, 90 in third gear, and I see that its 0 to 60 mph acceleration figure was only half-a-second slower than that of the Ford Sierra XR4x4 in which I drove to the Midland Motor Museum at Bridgnorth to try again a Jaguar XK120. This car (Reg No PPE 101) belongs to Michael Barker, Director of the Museum, and is also a 1951 model. A very handsome example, finished in the expected Jaguar white, it was supplied to a Mrs Grant-Norton by Weybridge Autos, who had got it from Henly’s in London. That was in March 1951 and it was not until 1959 that the car went to its second owner, Mr A. M. Preston, from whom Mike bought it in February 1974.

In its formative years it had done the 1951 Alpine Rally in the hands of W. Grant-Norton and D. Loader, finishing 5th in class, the 1952 London Rally, driven by Grant-Norton, sharing the Team Prize with Sears and Richardson, that year’s Brighton Rally, and the 1953 RAC Rally, in which Grant-Norton again shared the Team Prize, with Appleyard and Coombes. Since then Mike Barker has rallied the car and used it for Jaguar OC races, etc, but he was too modest to list his performances. In fact, they include the following between 1983 and 1985: JDC Rally, Telford / Bridgenorth Cavalcade, Display at “MOTEC”, JDC Race Meeting, Silverstone, Press demos at HSCC Day Donington, XK Day at Hagley Hall, MMM Stand at Burwarton Show, JDC Concours — 2nd Sports Class, JDC Anniversary Rally Stratford, 1st & 2nd in driving tests MHB & GB. Wolverhampton / Bridgenorth Cavalcade, BMW Meeting at Newtown, Welsh Rally Demo Cardiff, XK Day at Hagley Hall, JDC Rally. “Coronation” Rally Best Mixed Crew, Demo for film on Shropshire, Parade at Coventry, RAC Rally Demo Sutton Park, Second Demo for film on Shropshire

This XK120, chassis no 660643, is virtually a standard car It has 2″ carburetters, now has a B-series cylinder head, and standard gearbox and drum brakes, although the engine has been mildly “souped” by changing the valve-seat angles and things of that kind. The one-time Cinturato tyres have given place to 600 x 16 Dunlop Racing covers, and these tyres are run at 24/26 lb. sq. in. The present axle-ratio is 3.77 to 1, useful for road motoring. Driven as Balker drives, fuel thirst is around 15 mpg, which was about what I got in 1951, but oil consumption is a bit fierce (as the scraper-rings were removed from the pistons to gain a bit more power), about 50 mpp, and Newtons HD40 Special lubricant is specified for the straight-six twin-cam, 3,442 cc engine. In 1951 you could buy a brand-new XK120 for just over £1,263 including purchase-tax — we insured the MMM car for £20,600…

I enjoyed my two-day drive in showery May weather in the car, although there is no hood. It handles well once one is used to it, and there is no scuttle-shake, or dithering of the long tapering bonnet. The big steering-wheel has grips for one’s fingers and while it exhibits some free movement and is heavy for hauling the car round sharp corners, and things’ become somewhat lively if you allow the big tyres to ride the cat’s-eyes, the Jag was always under control. Moreover, the excessive cornering-roll I remembered has been eliminated, and because wire wheels are fitted, brake fade is experienced only under racing conditions, and is not then final, I am assured. They are certainly well up to fast road sorties, but pulled a bit when applied hard, reminding one of a spirited horse.

The leather-covered separate seats are comfortable without being in any way squidgy, the typical XK120 windscreen obviates the need for goggles, and the controls delight. For example, the fly-off centre hand brake could not be more convenient and to the left of it, the rigid little gear lever is exactly to hand. The synchro-mesh on the three upper forward gears can be over-ridden if one is too hurried, but a double-declutch between 3rd, and top obviates this and downward changes with normal double-declutching are a joy, except for the 2nd speed slot being a bit elusive in the narrow gate at first stab, and considerable revving being called for to get smoothly into this gear. Reverse, beyond 1st, presents no problems.

I found that the Jaguar would cruise unconcernedly at almost any speed within its compass, accompanied by a crisp rasp from the twin exhaust tail pipes. There is little need to play outside the 2,500 to 3,000 rev-band in top gear, in ordinary motoring, and for the lazy the engine will pull away from very pedestrian rotational speeds in the higher gears. Indeed, the legal pace came up almost everywhere and I was distinctly impressed when well over the ton was attained up hill, but then I remembered that the owner had told me the speedometer reads fast….

It seems sensible that the big Smiths tachometer in which there is a little clock, is in front of the driver, red-marked from 5,200 rpm, whereas the matching speedometer is for the passenger’s interest. The sober leather-trimmed fascia carries the instruments that were on the car from new, with an oil-thermometer added on the extreme right .This said 90 deg C but if you were racing and it showed 120 it would be wise to come in… Water-heat was normally at around 60-deg.. oil pressure 50 Ib/sq in.. in the combined Smiths dial and the ammeter was working. Instrumentation is completed by a petrol-gauge incorporating a sump-level oil-gauge. The engine starts at once after the ignition has been turned on with the detachable key and a plated button on the dash has been pressed. Four-star fuel is put in through a lock flap on the top of the tail, with no filler-cap and another key unlocks the boot, which is full of 15-gallon petrol tank the spare wheel and the tools.

So here is an immaculate 37-year-old Jaguar XK120 able to provide enjoyable open-air touring (and certainly not hold up modern traffic!) and yet be useable in Club racing and other forms of competition driving. It brought back memories for me, and it fits in well with MOTOR SPORT’s new Classic concept, indeed. It had just returned from representing its Museum at a Classic Car Show at the NEC in Birmingham. — W.B.

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