Open Season: Jaguar XK120

I should not be doing this. A vaguely grimy car park, an old brick wall, a grey January day and a shabby happy-snapper digital camera just does not do the beauty of this Jaguar XK120 justice.

This car deserves some sort of epic art deco architecture on the French Riviera as a back-drop, - all palm trees and bold geometric architecture as a backdrop - and a cameraman and camera that's way better than Yours Truly.

But despite the shabby surroundings, this deep-black XK120 just seems to ooze glamour, and that's just what PH Open Season is about - putting some shine on an otherwise grey and cold motoring season with a spot of roof-down motoring.

Our little trip to the Coys showroom in south west London to sample some classic open-top motoring had originally been set to culminate in a spin in a gorgeous silver 1958 Ferrari 250 GT, but since that's a good £2m-worth of car, the owner understandably declined to let somebody with no hope of actually buying the thing to take it for a test drive.

Next Coys offered us a buzz in an AC Ace that had been retro-fitted with the same HiPo Ford V8 that full-on Cobras got...but that developed a fuel leak, and if there's one thing you don't want spraying all over your rapidly warming V8, it's unburnt fuel...This left the XK120 - hardly a bad 'consolation prize', especially with no fuel leak and worth a far less terrifying £75k.

With its massive unassisted steering wheel and no synchromesh on the four-speed gearbox, the XK does feel like a bit of an old-stager, but then this particular car has been around for 60 years, and the model itself is close to being able to draw a state pension.

Back in 1951, though, the XK120 must have felt - and looked - like something from another planet. Indeed, when most other cars on the road would struggle to maintain 50mph, the XK120, courtesy of its twin carb-fed 3.4-litre 160bhp straight six, could hit 60mph in just 10.0secs and 126mph flat-out. In fact, the proud first owner of this car could have cruised through the countryside smug in the knowledge that a car not too dissimilar to it (the C-type) had just won Le Mans - not bad for a car costing around a quarter the price of a V12 Ferrari.

You wouldn't want to try La Sarthe-style driving in modern urban traffic, mind. Juggling the gearchange, brakes and steering is quite enough of a challenge. It is a deeply satisfying one, however, and it makes even the most mundane of trundles feel genuinely special. If you did the same journey as us in a modern car - an automatic Mercedes, say - you would be bored within minutes.

And that's the key to the appeal of a car like the XK120 - its interactive, even recalcitrant nature makes it fun, a challenge and encourages a connection between driver and machine that you just don't get in modern cars. It elevates driving beyond the robotic nature of so many modern a-to-b journeys and reminds you that it is more than just a way of getting from one place to another in convenience and comfort, that it can be just as much about enjoyment and involvement as it is about simple, mechanical transport.

If you're at all jaded about modern motoring, with its traffic jams and ever-increasing fuel prices, do everything you can to wangle a spin in a Jaguar XK120 - it's as fine a tonic as there is, whether you're in Richmond or the Riviera.





P.H. O'meter

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Comments (41) Join the discussion on the forum

  • ess 27 Jan 2011

    If only £75k was burning a hole.....
    An object of absolute beauty

  • dinkel 27 Jan 2011

    Beautifull car. Jarrah Venerables raced this JD Classics at Spa last year:

  • Alicatt1 27 Jan 2011

    Ah fond memories, my fathers friend back in the 1970s had a concourse condition blue XK120 coupe reg no. was JAG 120, and another had a race bred XK120 roadster with 350+ hp on tap and a short geared rear axle for hill climbs. It was fun to go to races in them the roadster was hairy and spent most of it's time sideways smile it took the class record at the Rumster Hill Climb in 1976. There is a picture of the car on the front page of this web site

  • RichB 27 Jan 2011

    Pistonheads said:
    Our little trip to the Coys showroom in south west London to sample some classic open-top motoring had originally been set to culminate in a spin in a gorgeous silver 1958 Ferrari 250 GT
    Personally I'd take both the AC and the XK120 over a Ferrari any day. Especially if this was the one, look at those blinged-up over-riders hehe

  • Rusty-C 27 Jan 2011

    I'm loving the look of that old school Jag, why do so few cars have semi enclosed rear wheels these days? Surely it would helps with aerodynamics and subsequently fuel economy - as seen in the Honda Insight.

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