In the postwar era, Jaguar's people, from the top down, demonstrated a drive, a fervor to get going again, that was not present in the rest of the struggling industry. Materials were short, power was expensive and petrol was hard to get, but Jaguar had big plans, including a new engine, a new sedan, a new sports car and a new race car.
The XK engine, as it came to be called, started out as a four-cylinder dohc design, not a six. It was an engineering collaboration between racers and engineers, the team including longtime engineering boss Bill Heynes, racer Wally Hassan, engineer Claude Baily, driver-builder Dick Oats and the now famous Harry Weslake.
In September 1948, a finished version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder Jag engine, installed in a streamliner built especially for the stunt, ran across a section of Belgian autoroute in Jabbeke at a speed in excess of 176 mph without the other two cylinders.
A few days later, on October 1, Jaguar announced the Mark Five sedan and drophead coupe, with full hydraulic brakes and independent front suspension, in either 2.7- or 3.5-liter versions. And a few days after that, Jaguar showed a car that would live forever, the brand-new XK 120 with its dohc six-cylinder. It was nothing short of sensational. The car was shown in the U.S. for the first time at the New York Auto Show in early 1949, under the watchful eye of legendary importer Max Hoffman, who had the Jaguar franchise. Another sensational introduction on foreign soil assured Sir William Lyons and his staff that the sports car was on its way.
Late in May 1949, with the success in New York still reverberating, Jaguar ran the car privately on yet another section of Belgian motorway and easily exceeded 120 mph in completely stock trim. In fact, it exceeded 130 mph! A planeload of British, ink-stained wretches from The Motor and Autocar and the London and provincial papers was flown over to watch the car do 120 officially. A plot was hatched to race the car for the first time ever at a 1-hour sprint at Silverstone in August of 1949.
Team Jaguar showed up with one red car, one white car and one blue car, the colors of the British flag, for the first postwar production car race in England: Leslie Johnson finished first in the white car, Peter Walker second in the red car and Prince Birabongse of Thailand (racing name, B. Bira) taking a DNF after a shunt and a blown tire. First and second, first time out!
The first time a Jaguar XK 120 came to America to race was in January 1950, when Leslie Johnson led a contingent of three cars to the SCCA race in Palm Beach, Fla., shortly after New Year's Day. In rain and high winds, the Jaguar finished fourth in a race that included three giants of American sports-car racing-Briggs Cunningham in a Cadillac-Healey, second; Phil Walters in a Healey, fifth; and Miles Collier in a Riley-Ford, sixth. Sam Collier finished eighth in one of the XK 120s, and Bill Spear DNF'ed with no brakes in the third car. All the drivers agreed the fitted drum brakes were not optimal and that something should be done about them.
Jacked up by its initial good showings in Britain and America, Jaguar financed a five-car team for the 1950 Mille Miglia, but only one of the five cars, Leslie Johnson's, had a good result, a fifth place. The engineers were quickly finding the weak spots in the XK 120 and fixing them, including rear springs, connecting rods and, of course, weak brakes. The racing program, and everything at Jaguar, was complicated in 1950 by the move from Swallow Road to the new million-sq-ft facility at Brown's Lane, which, in completely redone form, is still in use today as a Jaguar production site.
An XK 120 finally won a race outside Britain when a privateer, Alfonso Mena, slaughtered the weak competition in a race in Cuba in February 1950. But shooting fish in a barrel was not the British idea of open competition. Le Mans was. So three fresh cars went to The Big Race in 1950, only to be trounced by Briggs Cunningham's Cadillacs. Leslie Johnson ran as high as second during the middle portion of the race, but, in order to save brake wear, he kept downshifting the transmission at high speeds and eventually blew the clutch, which prompted the substitution of a solid-disc clutch plate from then on.
Two months went by and Jaguar loaned out Tommy Wisdom's Mille Miglia race car to run in the most famous race in Ireland, the Tourist Trophy event that ran between Belfast and Lough Neagh through the green hills and dales. In pouring rain, the new driver hung it all the way out and won. His name was Stirling Moss, and shortly after the TT victory Moss and Johnson did a pre-Le Mans 24-hour test at the Montlhery circuit in France in Johnson's race car.
And, to top off what was already a landmark year in the history of Jaguar racing, another young racer, operating out of International Motors in Hollywood, Calif., won the prestigious sports-car race at Pebble Beach in November, the first Jaguar victory on American soil by an American driver. That man was Phil Hill.
To end the year, Jaguar took another new car, the Mark Seven sedan, to the London Motor Show and to a reception at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
All of this success in the salesrooms and on the race, rally, cross-country and endurance courses of Europe and America was prelude to the introduction of the XK 120C or C-Type, Jaguar's first, pure race machine of the postwar era, in 1951.
With a reliable engine in the house, a sorted suspension and running gear, two things were needed for a successful XK 120C, the C for Competition. Although the sinuous, voluptuous body of the standard 120 was a sales sensation, it wasn't all that good at high speeds, creating a lot of drag without a lot of downforce. So William Lyons and his gang turned Malcolm Sayer loose on the problem, and he came up with a flat-topped body with slab sides and a shortened XK 120 grille. The C version or C-Type had a one-piece flipover hood and fender setup with two sets of exhaust louvers, top and side at the rear end and leather hold-down straps augmenting the side-mounted release levers. The car's midsection and rear fenders bore little or no resemblance to any Jaguar of recent vintage, but they sure worked with the rest of the package in the wind tunnel. The headlamps were covered, the taillamps were vestigial, and there were no bumpers, front or rear, to interrupt the flow of air up and over the broad, flat expanses of front end. All of the early factory cars used a single flip-up Brooklands windshield.
The C-Type package was tidy, with an overall length of 157 in., a 96-in. wheelbase, 51-in. front and rear track, an overall height of just 38.5 in., with a scant 5.5 in. of ground clearance. The factory specs said the car would do 150 mph, accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8.1 sec., and achieve nearly 12 mpg at its power-to-weight ratio of only 9.9 lb/hp. The lightweight aluminum skin of the new race car was stretched out over a triangulated, drilled tubular steel chassis with subframes carrying the engine and modified standard front and rear suspension systems taken from the road car. All up, it weighed only 2,100 lb, lighter than the standard car, but not as light as some of the competition even in 1951. The only thing that interrupted or disturbed the fore-aft flow of this lissome bodyshell was the over-and-under header and muffler combination that was tucked up underneath the left-side door, keeping the heat away from the drivers, who all sat on the right side.
The XK 120C engine was a modified 3.4-liter version of the street engine, rated at 210 bhp at 5800 rpm (an otherwise authoritative Jaguar reference book says the engine made a staggering total of 233 hp per liter, when in fact the number was only 61.7; a simple conversion mistake, we'd venture). It was designed with 9.1:1 compression, an aluminum head and cast-iron block, a seven-main-bearing crankshaft design, and chain drive to its twin overhead camshafts. The original cars were fitted with twin 1-3/4-in.-bore SU carburetors, but later models used 2.0-in. carburetors, and still later ones switched to Weber carburetors. The engine was backed by a three-disc Borg & Beck racing clutch (they had learned their lesson), a four-speed synchromesh racing transmission, and a choice of a 3.31:1 or 3.54:1 rear-end ratio.
The suspension used upper and lower wishbones and torsion bar springing media with tubular shock absorbers, and the rear end suspended the live axle with torsion bars and tubular shocks as well. The original specification for the 1951 car called for 12-in. drum brakes front and rear, a 60-gal. fuel tank for endurance racing, and skinny little 6.50x16 tires on knockoff spoked wheels.
During the 1951 season, the C-Type team won Le Mans, with Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead driving, while the other two entries DNF'ed due to lubrication problems that were fixed immediately by substituting steel oil delivery tubes for the original soft copper ones. The three-car team went to Ireland for the TT and took first, second and fourth. Moss, who won the TT race, won two more races at Goodwood.
Jaguar went into series production with customer cars in 1952. For its own efforts, Jaguar built a radically restyled long-nose, long-tail car for the 1952 Le Mans race, and all three cars entered failed to finish, owing to cooling problems caused by the low nose. But a C-Type with Dunlop disc brakes had run third before DNF'ing at the Mille Miglia, and Moss drove a disc-brake C-Type to a win at Rheims that year. Ecurie Ecosse, the famous Scottish racing team, finished third with a standard XK 120.
For 1953, the new Jaguar competition department reorganized the effort, went back to the original body design, fitted all the cars with Dunlop disc brakes and three Weber carburetors instead of the earlier SUs. The engines, though down a full point of compression, were up to 220 bhp, and the brakes would enable all the drivers to carry more speed into the corners and out of the corners, as well as stop far fewer times during the 24 hours for friction pad replacements. The tallish Brooklands screen was replaced by an integrated screen, much lower, like the one on the 1952 car.
Well, it all came together like a dream. Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton finished first overall, with Peter Walker and Stirling Moss second, Peter Whitehead and Ian Stewart fourth, and a Belgian-entered 1951 car, drum brakes and SU carburetors, ninth. It was the first time in the history of the event that the winning car had averaged more than 100 mph for the duration-105.841 mph, to be exact. Rolt and Hamilton also set a new distance record for the 24 hours as well.
The factory had one more trick up its sleeve for the C-Type. Malcolm Sayer came in once more in 1953 to do a new body for a record car, a car that turned out to be the 54th and last C-Type ever built. With the slick record body and a plastic canopy on it, the so-called C-Type Series II went back to Jabbeke, Belgium, and with test driver Norman Dewis in the saddle, cracked off a run of 179.817 mph. And that was it. Jaguar's competition department turned its entire attention to the D-Type, which would go to Le Mans, kick ass and take names in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
The absolutely glorious restoration you see here is chassis XKC 014, sent from the factory on October 7, 1952, in cream with a green suede interior to Max Hoffman in New York, who sold it to the fortunate Mr. John Rutherford (not Johnny Rutherford the USAC/CART driver). Rutherford ran it at Daytona Speed Week, hitting 134.07 mph with it on the sand.
A lunatic we will not name bought the car in 1960, ripped the engine out and put in a Plymouth Valiant Slant Six engine, Buick brakes and a Borg-Warner transmission, and raced it for years. It was sold on to a third owner for $2,000 during the late '60s and sold back across the pond to a German named Burkhard von Schenk. Von Schenk had it restored in England by Peter Jaye and RS Panels, and after some time it was transferred to its new owner in Connecticut, racer and racing school impresario Skip Barber, who has shown it frequently since he's owned it. Was there ever a more beautiful British race car than this?
Thanks to the late historian Andrew Whyte and to Terry Lawson, without whose exhaustive research and his new book, "The C-Type Register," I couldn't have done this story. To get your copy, contact Terry Lawson at (480) 984-8501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.