Total Production: 12,078
The Jaguar XK120 was designed to be a prestigious vehicle and produced in low numbers. The designation '120' represented the vehicle's top speed of 120 miles-per-hour. At the time, it was the fastest production car in the world.
The British automotive industry was greatly influenced by World War II. Many manufacturers went out of business due to the lack of funds, fuel and supply shortages, or their factories had been destroyed during the war. In order to stay in business, a solid production line was required that could compete with its class of vehicles. William Lyons, the owner of Jaguar, did so by creating a new class - one that was faster, more reliable, stylish, and cheaper than any other vehicle on the market.
To gain industry recognition, Lyons knew that he needed a show car that was revolutionary and bold. Lyons handled the styling while his chief engineer, William Heynes, was tasked with designing the mechanical components. When the vehicle was displayed at Earls Court, the reaction was overwhelming. Originally, Lyons planned to make between 100 and 200 examples. After the public reaction to the car and to keep up with demand, he decided to change the body from hand-formed aluminum to all-steel construction.
The body of the car was reminiscent of the 'French Curves' produced by manufacturers such as Bugatti and Delahaye of the early 1930's and 1940's. They were created in three different body styles, roadster, fixed head, and drop head (convertible).
The vehicle was powered by a 160 horsepower, 3.4 liter, inline-six-cylinder engine. Peak horsepower was achieved at 5000 RPM. The 120-mph was the promised speed, the top speed of the vehicle was around 126-132 mph depending on the trim of the vehicle.
The vehicle was designed as a touring car. However, many of the vehicles were raced. Their main weaknesses were their drum brakes which wore quickly, and their steering which was heavy and less responsive when compared to other purpose-built racing vehicles.
In 1951, Jaguar entered the grueling 24-hour of Le Mans endurance race. Three XK120C, the 'C' representing 'competition', was entered. One of the three entrants won the event.
In 1952, an XK120 was driven continuously for seven days and nights around a track located in Montlhery, France. After more than 16,000 miles in one week, the vehicle once again proved its endurance capabilities.
In 1954 production ceased. Over 12,000 examples were produced.By Daniel Vaughan | May 2008