Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Jaguar XK

Published: 28th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XK
Jaguar XK
Jaguar XK
Jaguar XK
Jaguar XK

Model In Depth...

Jaguar XK
Jaguar XK
Jaguar XK

Buyer Beware

  • To properly restore an XK will cost upwards of £60,000 so unless you are highly experienced in mechanics and bodywork it is best to buy a car that has already been restored.
  • Chassis rust could mean a real money pit. Crawl underneath and check the suspension mountings and along the frame. Floor rot is very common too.Wired edges of the wings can hold mud and headlight housings are prone to rot as are the flat areas behind the front wheel arches.
  • The rear is even worse and in restoration is more often than not replaced as a complete entity. The doors are heavy and as a result prone to door-drop.
  • Still in use in the 1980s the XK this is a great engine and if properly maintained will go on forever. Oil consumption will be up to 200 miles per pint and old fashioned blended oils are recommended with changes at least every 3000 miles if you want to keep the oil pressure healthy (40lbft) at full temp.
  • Usual XK trouble spots are over-silent tappets (suggested they have closed up and require re-shimming – a major job), rattly timing chains and weeping rear crankshaft oil seals. An engine can be completely re-built by a specialist for £3000-£5000 and for £6000 plus you can have a rousing 300bhp road/race tune unit.
  • The cooling system has always been marginal even from new. Expect to find sludging and rusting coking up the works. A re-cored radiator, with good quality anti-freeze and perhaps an electric cooling fan works wonders. Watch it! Early XK engines fitted to these cars feature the thermostat set in the rad’s header: leaving this out won’t help cooling – in fact it will make it much worse…
  • The old Moss gearbox is rugged although slow in use. Replacement parts have become difficult although there are rumours that a specialist is about to start re-manufacturing critical components. If originality is not an issue, many successful gearbox transplants are offered. The overdrive fitted to 140/150 is generally robust and reliable.
  • The drum brakes on the 120/140 models – if kept correctly adjusted (the self adjusters on later cars are unreliable) – work well enough around town but are really not up to modern high-speed traffic. The all-disc set-up of the 150s is much better although handbrakes are not very effective at all – but that goes for many older Jags to be fair.
  • Steering wheel wobble on the XK120 is pretty common and hard to dial out. Check the ride height: if low at the front, then the torsion bar suspension can be reset.Wishbone wear means a new replacement but a lot of slop in the XK120’s steering can be successfully adjusted out by Jaguar specialists.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Old fashioned but very satisfying. S is E-type fast plus has overdrive

  • Usability: 3/5

    Depends upon the model but the 150 is on par with the E-type

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Parts and spares are not an issue and the mechanics are simple

  • Owning: 3/5

    Not much dearer than a MK2 to run but some repairs are costlier

  • Value: 4/5

    Given the prices of top E-types, the XK looks a good long term bet

Magazine Subscription

The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Cars For Sale Magazine and save over 25%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

The XK was Jaguar’s first real GT and it’s as speedy and satisfying as the more expensive E-type reckons owner Robert Couldwell

The fact that the car which started one of the most wonderful sports car dynasties ever was actually an accident is quite amazing. The original XK 120 was developed simply as a means of promoting Jaguar’s new twincam saloon car engine as well as the company’s first to be manufactured in-house. The ground-breaking 120 was developed over 12 years through 140 and 150 versions to the final and most practical XK150 3.8 S which had the same engine as the subsequent E-type and performed nearly as well and, with the benefit of an overdrive not available on the E-type, is more relaxed. The car came about as the new MkVll saloon was not ready and Lyons lashed together a prototype sports car which he thought would sell a few and act as a customer test-bed for the new engine. Such was the response at Earls Court that Jaguar had to set up for volume production. The 120mph max was purely an estimate as there had been no time to run the car and in fact when it was timed after the show it could barely touch 100mph and rapid development saw a recordbreaking 132 mph achieved (although road cars couldn’t beat 120mph). Thanks to post war austerity and the export drive, steel would only be supplied to exporters and the XK120 became Jaguar’s first to be available with left-hand-drive. Lyons stormed the USA and never looked back with the result that 83 per cent of XK production was exported.

Which model to buy?

Ask this question of ten Jaguar enthusiasts for 10 different answers. Like many series of sports cars the first is probably the most pure and the last the most sophisticated and practical. It took Jaguar 18 months to productionise the XK120 and in the meantime around 180 left-hand-drive and 80 right were built in aluminium and the survivors are now extremely valuable. Production of the steel-bodied opentop- sports started in April 1950, the fixedhead coupé following in 1951and the special equipment model in 1952 which included a high-lift camshaft, lightened flywheel, uprated valve springs, high compression pistons, stiffer torsion bars and rear leaf springs, wire wheels and a twin exhaust system. This took power up from 160 to 180bhp with a useful increase in torque. The drophead coupé came in 1953, less elegant than the opentop- sports but far more practical. Purists love the XK120 with Lyonsstyling at its very best but owing to the speed with which it was cobbled together there was a major shortcoming, the length of the pedal box meaning any driver over 5’ 7” was uncomfortable. The XK140 was launched in October 1954 in all three versions and addressed many of the 120’s problems particularly the shortage of leg room. The engine with power increased to 190bhp was moved forward three inches with a new close-ratio gearbox and overdrive became an option. The 120’s re-circulating ball steering was replaced by rack and pinion and firmer suspension was fitted. The only exterior changes were chrome strips on bonnet and boot and more substantial bumpers. Practicality was improved with the removal of the spare wheel to a compartment under a hinged boot floor and a folding bulkhead which could be used to increase luggage space now that the twin six-volt batteries had been replaced by a single 12-volter in a front wheel arch. The fixedhead coupé had more substantial changes with a considerably longer coach house which allowed 2+2 seating but looked rather cumbersome. An SE version of all models was available with 210bhp. By 1957 the split-screen XK140 looked dated and so the biggest change yet was made to produce the XK150. Still available as fixed-head, drophead and opentop- sports, the bodywork was changed completely producing a much more modern shape. While the standard cars retained the 140’s 190bhp few of these cars were made most being the SE with 210 bhp, wire wheels and the very desirable overdrive on top gear. In 1958 the ‘S’ model was introduced with 250bhp, in 1959 a 3.8-litre with 220 bhp or a stirring 265 bhp in ‘S’ form. There are two real decisions; 120,140 or 150 and fixedhead, drophead or opentop- sports (known as OTS). There is a huge industry in upgrading XKs and unusually if correctly and carefully undertaken these upgrades increase values. Disc brakes can be fitted to 120s and 140s either from the 150 or MK1 or from proprietary suppliers such as Coopercraft. Rack and pinion steering can be fitted to 120s and power assistance kits also are available for all models. Suspension can be upgraded and overheating problems can be solved. Engines can be modified to provide anything up to 350bhp and there are various gearbox upgrades including five-speed Getrag conversions. Price obviously plays a major part in the decision and XK values are hardening with restorable cars starting from £30,000 and fully restored cars fetching anything up to £150,000 from specialists such as JD Classics and Twyford Moors. Rarity plays a part as the most prolific XK, the 150 fixedhead coupé only totalled 1367 in right-hand-drive and the rarest, the 140 open-top-sports just 73. There are varying opinions about which models are most valuable: equivalent condition Roadsters and dropheads are generally worth 80-100 per cent more than fixedheads and 120s (apart from the rare early aluminium cars are worth the least. The great debate surrounds the 140 and 150 and what’s the better car. While many say that the 140 is better looking than the 150 and the Roadster is more desirable than the drophead; in the end it comes down to useability. XK enthusiasts are beginning to realise that a 150 is more practical than a 140 and the beautifully engineered lined hood on the DHC is much more practical than the flimsy effort found on the Roadster. Any ‘complete’ FHC will fetch £10,000 at least, a usable car £18,000 -£35,000 and a properly sorted condition one car £40,000 minimum. Roadsters and DHCs will fetch around £14,000 if rough, £25,000 to £35,000 if useable and £50,000+ if properly sorted. Alloy bodied XK120s are usually worth around £15-20,000 over steel cars while S spec cars are valued around £5-8000 above standard models according to condition.

Behind the wheel?

In essence an XK feels not unlike a two-seater MK1 saloon

The XK became progressively faster from 0-60 in 11.2 seconds and a top speed of 115 mph for the original 120 open-top-sports (steel body) to 7.6 seconds and 136 mph for the final XK150S 3.8. The differences in performance are not reflected in cross country speeds as the early cars were probably more ‘chuckable’ and a well driven 120would keep up with most 150s on ‘give-and-take’ roads. The difference is in refinement; while a 120 Roadster is a joy over the Snake pass on a Sunday morning, a 3.8 150 S really is the sort of car in which to ‘do the Riviera’. The drum brakes on the 120 while just about adequate in their day really are hard work when keeping up any sort of pace whereas the all-disc set up of the 150s are much closer to a modern feel. The rack and pinion steering on the 140s and 150s is much better than the re-circulating ball system on the 120 and is very effective, only being heavy when parking. The Moss box is certainly slow to use but some may say it is all part of the magic. The XK is a lot roomier and practical than the sexier E-type and is better suited to family jaunts. In essence an XK feels not unlike a two-seater MK1 saloon.

The Daily Option?

The only inhibitor to daily driving is road salt. These cars cost anything up to £100,000 to restore and unfortunately have a very complicated rust-prone structure. Once the car is properly sorted it will start first time every time and give comfortable, reliable service. There is no doubt that the open top-sports are the most beautiful but the hoods can only be described as ‘rod and stick’ and therefore the most sought after is the drophead coupé. Economy could also be an issue at between 17 and 23 mpg.

Ease of Ownership?

Any problems with the XK are structure related as the mechanicals are rugged and well-proven. If the structure is rust free at purchase and kept well Waxoyled on a regular basis there is no problem. The good news is that almost all parts are available but the bad news is that many of them are poorly manufactured so it is worth searching autojumbles for original parts for future use – it is amazing how many ‘new’ fifty year old XK parts are still in circulation. With such high potential restoration costs it is best to buy a car that has already been restored. Finding a usable unrestored car is probably impossible and restored cars have the benefit of modern materials in hoses, cables, electrical, steering and suspension components. While the Jaguar XKs are highly desirable classic icons they are actually very practical to use with very reasonable running costs. Any improvements and mods have to be balanced against spoiling the original design and the car’s provenance although many mods are accepted by the owners clubs as they make the car more useable on modern roads such as uprated cooling systems, electronic ignition, better brakes and so on. The XJ6 MOD ‘box is a good move or you can go for a specialist five-speed set up (or use an S3 XJ6 ‘box). So long as the car can be reverted back to standard then there’s no real concern.



XK120 launched, with the now classic 3.4-litre 160bhp XK twin cam engine. Initially body is made in aluminium of which 240 were made; all based upon an abbreviated MK V saloon chassis with a Moss four-speed gearbox and drum brakes all round.


Fixedhead coupe is launched as steel bodies came on stream. High-powered 180bhp tune optional but the heater is now made standard together with footwell ventilators and a better, lengthened hood. Self adjusting brakes and drophead coupe by ‘53.


Larger, more civilised XK140 launched with much needed added cockpit space. Other changes were rack and pinion steering telescopic rear dampers, 12 volt battery and a better cabin. SE tune now rated at 190bhp. FHC model now designated as a 2+2.


XK140 SE introduced with wire wheels and front fog lamps. One of the options was a 210bhp 3.4 engine care of the C-type cylinder head and higher lift camshafts. Overdrive optional on all XK140s with 3.54 or 4.09 final drive ratios.


XK150 launched as FHC, DHC and Roadster (OTS) but the body was changed giving a more modern shape. While the standard cars were 190bhp few were made most being 210bhp SE. Automatic transmission now optional but disc brakes standard.


‘S’ model introduced with third carburettor and straight port cylinder head for 250bhp. Manual with overdrive transmission only. Roadster versions gained wind up windows over old side screens but came without wood finish cabin.


Full blown 3.8-litre version was added with 220bhp or a stirring 265bhp in ‘S’ form. By 1961 the sexy looking E-type was the new darling for the swinging sixties and so the dignified XK was gradually put out to graze.

We Reckon...

The XKs have their own special character and you can’t really compare one to an E-type; it’s different strokes (of the cat) for different folks. What the earlier breed offers is a classier nature and style and a more vintage feel. The XK120 is for the purist; the later 140s are better suited for most enthusiasts who, judging by the raising prices, reckon that the Jag sportster that came before the iconic E-type is the one with the X-factor.

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today

Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Cars For Sale Magazine and save over 25%