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Jaguar XK

The X Factor Published: 4th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Graceful style has worn well - looks like a MK2 cabrio - but they rot like mad Graceful style has worn well - looks like a MK2 cabrio - but they rot like mad
Cabin looks simple but a pro resto is dear. LHD common; converting to RHD can be done Cabin looks simple but a pro resto is dear. LHD common; converting to RHD can be done
XK oily bits are simple and easy to upgrade XK oily bits are simple and easy to upgrade
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This pre-E-Type sports classic was also one of Jaguar’s finest cars and 60 years on, is one of the best 1950s sportsters around. Is it time to get the X(K) factor?

Pros & Cons

Style, character, spares and support
Rising prices, many bodged cars around
£10,000 - 50,000+

Jaguar’s XK120 was probably the most impor tant spor ts car in the post-war period. It was developed extremely quickly and almost by accident, as a means of promoting Jaguar’s new twin-cam saloon car engine, the fi rst to be manufactured in house. The ground breaking 120 was carefully developed over 12 years through the 140 versions to the fi nal and most practical XK150 3.8 S which had the same engine as the subsequent E-Type and performed nearly as well. Now 60 years on, XKs are hot property due to their unique bend of style and speed together with a character that was sadly lost when the E-Type came along.


Although the XK range lasted for 13 years, the car evolved considerably during the 1950s - so much so that it’s best to take each model separately.

Having rapidly developed the 120 for the 1948 Motor Show, Jaguar improved it over the next five years. The fi rst major changes came in 1951 when a steel body replaced the original aluminium, the use of which had purely been to save time in creating tooling for production. In that same year the Fixed-Head Coupe (FHC) was offered alongside the Open-Two-Seater (OTS) and a heater became standard, together with footwell ventilators and a better, lengthened hood.

In 1952 self-adjusting front (drum) brakes were fitted and a Special Equipment model was introduced which included a higherlift camshaft, lightened flywheel, uprated valve springs, high compression pistons, stiffer torsion bars and rear leaf springs, wire wheels and a twin exhaust system -raising the original car’s 160bhp to 180bhp, which was exceptional stuff for its time. A Drophead Coupe was introduced in April 1953, but the XK120 has numerous shortcomings, which only a totally revised car could cure. Enter the XK140.

A problem with the 120 had been restricted driver legroom which was remedied in the 140 (launched 1954 - strangely no mention is made of an XK130) by moving the bulkhead forward three inches. In addition, many other improvements were made including rack and pinion steering, heavier bumpers, more chrome and a single 12 volt battery mounted within a front wing instead of two six-volters located behind the seats.
The changes to the FHC were more major with a six inches longer and an inch higher roof to accommodate occasional rear seats, making the car a fairly accommodating 2+2. The windscreen was also moved forward four inches (along with the engine’s location) making the 140 FHC look somewhat cumbersome compared with its svelte predecessor. Power was increased to 190bhp, with an SE version (boasting even better breathing) at 210bhp. That’s pretty big horsepower in those days so the chassis was tuned using SE torsion bars and telescopic (instead of lever arm) dampers.

By 1957 the XK140 with its split screen was beginning to look a touch dated and so the biggest change yet was made to produce the XK150 - the last generation of the fast-aging XK series. Still available as FHC, DHC and Roadster (OTS), 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 210bhp, wire wheels and the very desirable overdrive. In 1958 the ‘S’ model was introduced with 250bhp and in 1959 a 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 dignifi ed XK was gradually put out to graze.


The XKs became progressively faster as the power was increased from 0-60 in 11.2 seconds and a top speed of 115mph for the original 120 Roadster (steel body) to 7.6 seconds and 136mph for the final XK150S 3.8, but they all share the same great vintage feel. It should be borne in mind that these power fi gures use the rather optimistic SAE standard and in today’s fi gures 265bhp would equal about 190. The differences in power and straight line performance are not refl ected in cross country speeds as the early cars were probably more chuckable through the corners, and a well driven 120 would keep up with most 150s on give-and-take-roads, we reckon and all are capable of swift and civilised cruising.

The real difference is in refi nement; while a 120 Roadster is a joy over the Snake Pass on a Sunday morning, a 3.8 150S really is the sort of car in which to “do the Riviera”. The drum brakes on the 120, while excellent 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. As far as driving pleasure is concerned, these cars can all be carefully upgraded with multi-pot callipers and suspension and improved steering ratios. Many 120s and 140s have their drums replaced by either the Dunlop discs from the 150 or even more powerful proprietary systems such as Coopercraft.The rack and pinion steering on the 140s and 150s is much better than the re-circulating ball system on the 120 and is actually quite pleasant to use, only being heavy when parking and when it weighs up in hard cornering. Excellent power steering conversions are available as well as fi ve-speed gearboxes from Getrag, Borg Warner and later Jaguars. The old Moss ‘box is certainly slow to use, but some may say it is part of the magic. Drivers who are used to cars of this era will have no diffi culty changing gear, but people buying their fi rst classic will have to adapt to a complete new driving style. 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 twoseater Mk1 saloon.


In the sixties and seventies, XKs of all types could be picked up for peanuts and it was probably the Thatcher years that saw their prices take off to their peak in 1989 before the property crash. Despite the current fl at market, XKs are actually shooting up in value and there are no bargains around now. There are varying opinions about which models are most valuable: equivalent condition Roadsters/Drop Heads are generally worth 80-100 per cent more than fi xed heads and 120s (apart from the rare early aluminium cars) are worth the least. The great debate surrounds 140 v 150 and Drophead v Roadster. 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 usability. 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 fl imsy effort on the Roadster. If you can afford to buy an XK as an extra classic just to dash across the Cotswolds on a Saturday morning, go with your heart and buy a 120 Roadster; otherwise be sensible and go for the 150 Drophead. 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. Roadster 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. Tuned and modifi ed XKs, if done properly, are worth a fair bit more, too.


The fact that so many XKs are still used in competition shows the quality of the basic design, but any improvements and mods have to be balanced against spoiling the original design and the car’s provenance. Here’s some mild rather than wild suggestions! Chassis can be sharpened with sportier springs and dampers and poly bushing the suspension. Brakes can be uprated to discs, either with original Jag parts or by using kits developed by specialists, which can include vented discs with four-pot calipers. When it comes to the engine, it depends on how much speed you want. The E-Type/420 straight port head carbs and cams are a cost-effective upgrade, but really just ensuring the engine is in good tune plus electronic ignition can work wonders. As with all Jags, the cooling system needs to be kept tip-top and fitting an uprated radiator is always a wise policy. The XJ6 MOD ‘box is a good move or you can go for a specialist fi vespeed set up (or use an S3 XJ6 ‘box).

What To Look For

  • Potential buyers of an XK are lucky in having an excellent club dedicated to their model, ensuring excellent back up and technical help.
  • To properly restore an XK will cost upwards of £60,000, so unless you are highly experienced in mechanics and body work 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 benefi t of modern materials in hoses, cables, electrical, steering and suspension components.
  • 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.
  • The nature of the body design means lots of rust. If you can see any bubbles on top, the underneath will be much worse. Wired edges of the wings can hold mud and headlight housings are prone to rot, as are the fl at 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 if the hinges have not been properly lubricated, their pins can seize causing wear to the hinge plate and resulting in door-drop.
  • The XK bridged the separate chassis and monocoque eras and suffers as a result, with lots of places where water can collect and cause rust. While engine oil leaks over the years will have saved many a chassis(!), the rear chassis legs are less substantial than the rest and can corrode badly if left to the elements.
  • 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 (they always liked a sup) and old fashioned-blended oils like Castrol Classic XL and Morris 20/50 are recommended, with changes at least every 3000 miles if you want to keep the oil pressure healthy (40lb.ft) at full temperature.
  • Usual XK trouble spots are over-silent tappets (suggesting they have closed up and requirere-shimming - a major job), rattly timing chains and weeping rear crankshaft oil seals (which you can live with, to be fair). An engine can be completely re-built by a specialist for £3000-£5000, and for £6000 plus you can have a 300bhp road/race tune unit.
  • Like the later E-Type, the cooling system has always been marginal even from new. Expect to fi nd 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 fi tted 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 diffi cult 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 fi tted to the 140/150 is generally robust and reliable, but check it works okay. 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 traffi c; it depends how hard a driver you are. The all-disc set-up of the 150s is much better, although it still requires care from high speed. The 150’s handbrake is not very effective at all – but that goes for many older Jags to be fair. There are many suppliers who offer kits to bring the braking up to modern standards.
  • Condition will always depend on standards of maintenance and the car’s suspension is a case in point. Look for sagging cart springs and leaking/worn lever-arm dampers. Big improvements in handling can be achieved with fairly simple modifi cations like a change to nylon bushes.
  • 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.
  • The Lucas electrical system gives no particular problems, although clocks rarely work consistently. If you are carrying out a major restoration then a rewire is worthwhile. It’s quite possible that an early XK engine will use a later distributor from the MK2/E-Type.
  • The interior looks simple, but is expensive to restore properly. Look for worn leather, tarnished/peeling wood and general decay. Look for a fat bill of almost fi ve fi gures to renovate it back to new standards… A new hood can also cost up to £2000. Door hinge wear is not unknown; it’s a crude design that can seize with ease
  • As you’ll discover, the XK is adorned with a lot of chrome and making the car like new will cost. On the other hand you may fi nd bumperless cars given a competition appearance, which also devalues the car.

Three Of A Kind

The Big Healey has much in common with the XK, not least in character and feel. Certainly not as rapid and more tail happy, Healeys are great fun and considerably cheaper to buy plus enjoy equally good support. The 3000 ‘sixes’ are considered to be the best all-rounders.
Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’
Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’
What the SP250 lacks in looks, it compensates with that cracking V8! Not as pleasing to drive as an XK (scuttle shake could cause the doors to fl y open) but still very good plus fi breglass body can’t rot. Later B and C spec cars are better developed.
Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
Has a lot in common with the XK, including 50s character but can also be as modern as they come. Searing pace and a great drive - if you can stomach the harsh ride. Still good value and spares are no problem, although restorations can be involved and expensive.


While XKs are highly desirable classic icons, they are actually very practical to use with reasonable running costs into the bargain. They are supported by three great owners clubs and a huge network of excellent specialists and parts suppliers, so very little is unavailable. If you can’t afford a good E-Type, have a look at the classical XK instead. You’ll be pleasantly surprised - especially with the much more rapid XK140/150s.

Classic Motoring

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