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Jaguar XK

Jaguar XK Published: 6th May 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: XK140 DHC
  • Worst model: XK120 FHC
  • Budget buy: XK150 FHC
  • OK for unleaded?: No problem; inserts already fitted
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4267 x W 1549mm
  • Spares situation: Fine, but some repro stuff is poor
  • DIY ease?: Maintenance yes, restoration no
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes and pretty rapidly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Hugely desirable, but good examples are rarer than you might think
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Vintage in looks and feel but as speedy and as satisfying, Jaguar’s first GT has an entirely different character to the E-type. Interest has never been greater leading to soaring values of late but there’s also a lot of mangy cats on sale

If there had never been the E-type, Jaguar’s first sports car, the XK, would be held in even higher esteem. It was William Lyon’s original GT that put his company on the map as well as introducing the iconic and long serving XK twincam engine that served Jaguar well into the 1980s. The XK also set the tone for all future cars providing top drawer driving pleasure and amazing value for money.

There would be three distinct generations of XK and a trio of different body styles, spanning a production run of 13 years. Not bad for a concept car that was never meant to reach the road at all, such was the interest it caused.
XKs still do, and it’s hard to think of a better 1950’s sports car although the days of picking one up for a pittance are long gone. But, if you don’t fulfil that desire to own one now then XKs will go the same way as E-types and become just a dream.


1948 The XK120 makes its debut at the Earls Court motor show in October, with a 3442cc twin-cam straight-six that we know now as the XK engine. The first models were bodied in aluminium, Jaguar having needed to save money when creating the tooling.

1950 Even at just £1263, Jaguar didn’t expect the XK120 to create quite such a storm; taken aback by demand for its sports car it commits to creating tooling to make the car but now with less expensive steel panelling. As a result, the 242 alloy-bodied XKs can now be worth double that of a steel-bodied alternative!

1951 Production of the FHC Fixedhead Coupé starts in July, and there’s also now a Special Equipment (SE) option which brings a high-lift camshaft, lightened flywheel, uprated valve spring, highcompression pistons, stiffer suspension torsion bars and rear leaf springs, wire wheels and a twin exhaust system. The net result is an increase in power from 160bhp to 180bhp. And a heater is now standard – luxury indeed!

1953 In January, production of the DHC Drophead Coupé begins. This new model gets winding windows and a heavily lined hood for decent refinement when cruising.

1954 After just over 7600 sales, the XK120 is superseded by the XK140 (no XK130), which is a much better developed car, featuring more cabin space, and the adoption of rack-andpinion steering for a more precise drive. Indicators are now fitted – the XK120 did without – as well as thicker bumpers. The most fundamental change is to the car’s character as the FHC evolves into a larger, taller 2+2 with 180bhp becoming the norm, while the SE of 1955 is uprated to 210bhp, thanks to the fitment of a C-type cylinder head. Overdrive is also now optional on cars fitted with a 3.54:1 or 4.09:1 differential ratio. Most XK140s came in 210bhp SE form.

1957 XK150 replaces the XK140, with 190bhp for the regular model and 250bhp in top S form. The XK150 further features a single-piece windscreen, disc brakes all round (with a servo) and a broader grille treatment.

1959 An engine capacity increase to 3781cc boosts power to 220bhp, while the uprated S model could now boast a 265bhp peak power output and became the choice tune for the E-type which arrives in 1961.


No XK can be called ‘modern’ to drive – but that’s no bad thing because this Jag’s vintage feel is one of the things that makes this sportster so engaging and endearing compared to the E-type.

Brakes, steering and ride are from another era, but for all that XKs feel very sprightly. In period, the XK’s performance was nothing short of astounding and even today are nice and brisk. Despite having the least power, the XK120 feels the most thoroughbred of the range but it really does feel very old-fashioned to pilot later cars are less arduous and an E-type feels from another era. But you don’t have to put up with it as there’s a host of clubapproved upgrades to raise performance and driveability but without hurting its 50’s character.

XK’s became progressively faster from 0-60 in 11.2 seconds and a top speed of 115mph for the original 120 open-top-sports (steel body) to 7.6 seconds and 136mph for the final XK150S 3.8. The differences in performance are not reflected in cross country speeds, however, and a well driven 120 would keep up with later XKs 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 150S really is the sort of car in which to ‘do the Riviera’.

The drum brakes fitted on the 120, while just about adequate in their day, are now really pretty hard work whereas the all-disc set up of the 150s are much closer to a modern feel. Ditto the rack and pinion steering fitted to 140s and 150s is also much prefered.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.

Autocar didn’t get to test the XK until August 1950, by which point it was still having to tell onlookers that this was a regular production car and not a racer. The magazine’s testers were bowled over by the available performance, stating “there is a temptation to draw from the motoring vocabulary every adjective in the superlative concerning the performance, and to call upon the devices of italics and even the capital letter!”

The magazine summed it up nicely, with: “Nothing like the XK120, and at its price, has been previously achieved – a car of tremendous performance and yet displaying the flexibility, and even the silkiness and smoothness of a mildmannered saloon”.

When Autocar reviewed the XK150 in 1958 it was still knocked out by the Jag’s impressive performance, not least of all the tractability. This, in fact, is the XK that legend Normal Dewis would go for. Speaking to us at teh recent Jaguar Spares Day, he says this last of the line feels much more modern and useable than the XK140 althoug is a different animal to the E-type he also developed.


You should always go for the best you can afford, as restoration costs can be incredibly steep, and even with values currently high there’s a chance you won’t get your money back for a fair while yet. As a result, if you’re on a budget you’ll almost certainly have to go for a FHC, as these are worth the least and as a result, you’ll get a better car for your money. Rarity plays a major role as well. The most prolific XK, the 150 only totalled 1367 cars in right-hand-drive and the rarest, the 140 OTS (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; in the end it possibly comes down to useability.

XK Engineering used to be deeply involved in them but the past couple of years has seen E-types take over. What’s the better car? Well, the XK is the more classical and traditional looking but the E-type is unquestionably the lighter, easier car to drive (even after accepted mods such as better brakes and electric power steering) and this is what he tells clients pondering over what to run.

Drophead Coupés are worth the most, while the Fixed Head Coupé (FHC) is worth the least – but there’s no such thing as a cheap XK anymore. The most sought after of all the models is arguably the XK140 DHC, followed by the XK150 DHC; the best examples of these cars are now exceeding £100,000 – which is about half the cost of buying a project and having it fully restored. Even a usable car that needs work – a rolling restoration – is likely to fetch £70,000 with projects around the £25-£30,000 mark.

If you’re lucky enough to find a genuine XK150S you can expect to pay £15-20,000 extra for it over a regular XK150 while a genuine 3.8-litre car carries another £10,000 premium – which means for a really superb XK150S 3.8 OTS or DHC you can easily pay more than £100,000. While these values may seem steep, they’re nothing compared with those of the aluminium-bodied cars.

These rarely come up for sale; when they do, if in mint condition they can easily fetch more than £200,000 although, by and large, the metal-bodied XK120s don’t command a premium despite being the XK in its purist form.

Bristol Classic and Sports Cars is perhaps the most prolific XK specialist and says good cars are becoming harder to find but it always buys any roadster if offered because that’s what the market wants. Out of the range, the XK150 is regarded as the best care of disc brakes and a roomier cockpit but, adds the company, the XK140 is a nice good value all rounder that’s made even better with sensible upgrades; in fact this specialist only knows of a handful of totally standard specimens as virtually all sport some sort of improvement.

It all boils down to budgets etc but Bristol Classic and Sports Cars says unless you know the car, on the vast majority, it’s probably better to buy a project to have restored properly which will actually save money in the long run.


If you’re aiming to use your XK a lot, you can make your life easier by installing a few upgrades without affecting its originality and value. There are some XK purists out there, but it’s not easy finding buyers for a standard car; just about any upgrade will add to a car’s value and make it easier to sell. Electronic ignition and a Kenlowe fan are worthwhile on any model and worth the £600 and £750 respectively to have them fitted. An alternator conversion is a wise move.

The drum brakes on the 120/140 models – if kept correctly adjusted (the self adjusters on later cars are unreliable) – work reasonably well and can be okay even for mildly tuned car, it depends how hard a driver you are. But on fast XKs front discs are advised.

According to leading Jaguar specialist Guy Broad (http://www.guybroad., “you can’t reinvent the wheel with an XK”, meaning that tried and trusted tweaks remain the order of the day and it adds that owners shouldn’t ‘over do it’ and make the car worse than standard. According to the company, the secret of a good handling XK is “a loose rear end” so the car can handle neutral or oversteer at will. AVO dampers along with a 7/8in front anti roll bar to sharpen the front are recommended but warns against specifically stiffening the sturdy chassis further than standard as it will ruin the handling. The company markets its own Broadsport range of tuning parts encompassing engines, gearboxes, suspension, brakes and latterly even to creature comforts such as XK interiors, lighting and electrical upgrades. A 30 page colour Selection Catalogue and a XK Engine Catalogue are available.

Some experts argue over the worth of power steering but generally agree that having the geometry set up right (many aren’t, perhaps from new!) can be the best ‘modification’ of the lot as, along with approved tyres, it transforms the majority of cars out there.

When it comes to the engine, it depends on how much speed you want. Plus bear in mind that Browns Lane successfully did it for you during the XK’s production run, so just a simple ‘step up’ to 150 or E-type tune may well suffice.

What To Look For



  • Most XKs are fitted with a manual gearbox. It’s a Moss unit that’s certainly tough, but there’s no synchro on first gear – but there is synchromesh on the other gears. Because the synchro is part of the gear itself, and irreplaceable, once it’s worn you’ll just have to double declutch. The layshafts and roller bearings wear out too, but they can be replaced – although the bill can easily run to over £2,500 to do so. And that assumes you remove and replace the transmission yourself.

  • The three-speed auto optionally available on the XK140 and XK150 is strong but wears out eventually, so check for tardiness when moving from second to third, along with a loud scraping noise when accelerating. A rebuilt gearbox costs £2500 exhange, but removing and refitting is a big job that can add another £2000 to the bill.

  • All XKs have leaf springs at the rear, which sag with age – but it’s possible to get them retempered. There should be an inch between the top of the tyre and the wheelarch; if it’s less, expect to have to invest in some rebuilt springs soon.

  • The front suspension also gets tired after a while and it can be costly overhauling it all. Just to replace all the bushes with polyurethane items and replace the various joints and dampers (lever-arm on the XK120, telescopic on the XK140 and XK150) can cost up to £2500.

  • There’s little to worry about with the braking system as it’s all conventional so it’s just a question of making the usual checks for wear or a lack of maintenance. On cars with drum front brakes it’s worth moving up to discs, but only at the front – the handbrake works better with drums at the back, and the extra braking power isn’t really needed.

  • The drum brakes on the 120/140 models – if kept correctly adjusted (self adjusters on later cars are unreliable) – work reasonably well and can be okay even for mildly tuned cars - it depends how hard a driver you are. 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 slack in the XK120’s steering can be successfully adjusted out by XK specialists.



  • Don’t assume that an XK is sound just because it looks it. Front and rear wings rot (especially the lower portions), the sloping boot fills up with water and the sealing panel fails inside the rear wings, leading to rotten B-posts. The sills also dissolve, along with the outriggers and A-posts.

  • The chassis is a reasonably robust affair, but the anti-roll bar mounts rot away and repairs are surprisingly costly (up to £700). The front mounts for the rear leaf springs are even more expensive to repair; they can easily cost £1300 per side.

  • Most of the electrical items are available off the shelf as they’re also fitted to numerous other classics. However, some bits are costly and/or hard to find, such as fuel sender units – and these are also notoriously inaccurate. Also check the state of the wiring; the bullet connectors often play up while many looms are now getting old and brittle, even if they’ve already been replaced once.

  • Carry over parts from the MkIX (suspension wishbones) may feature while certain Mk1 parts are interchangable.

  • The XK140’s bulkhead was moved forward three inches, which makes quite a difference to cabin space – so if you’re a tall driver you might need to go for a later car. However, there are pedal box conversions available (for a price), so even tall drivers can pilot an XK without too much discomfort.

  • Much like with the E-type that superseded the XK in 1961, evolution of the species meant a bigger, heavier bodyshell and a morphing from sportscar to grand tourer. As a result, while the XK120 is a great point-to-point machine, the XK150 is better suited to long-distance drives.

  • There were two open-topped editions to choose from; the Open Two-Seater (OTS) and the Drophead Coupé (DHC). The former has the cleanest lines but it’s also the least practical as it has only rudimentary weather equipment – so while it’s fine for the sunny climes of California, it’s not so ideally suited to the UK.

  • Most XKs were sold to the US, so the steering wheel was on the left. Many of those cars have since returned to the UK, where many have been converted to right-hand drive. it’s a straightforward enough conversion, but it’s not always done properly, so check the quality of any work done and don’t pay genuine RHD money if it’s been converted; genuine cars will always be worth more than converted ones, even if the work has been done meticulously.

  • Most brightwork is available new, but costs can be high and fettling is often required to get a perfect fit. So check that everything is there and in good condition; you’re often better off reviving an original part than just buying new.

  • Parts supply is generally good but expert Ken Jenkins warsn against aftermarket leaf springs due to quality; he prefers sound OE items, even if second-hand.



  • The XK engine can easily last 200,000 miles if its properly maintained, but these big powerplants don’t like neglect, so check for evidence of regular oil changes and anti-freeze levels having been maintained.

  • A worn XK gives the classic signs of needing a rebuild; blue smoke from the exhaust and low oil pressure; there should be at least 50psi at 3000rpm – although the oil pressure gauges could be notoriously unreliable.

  • Even a good DIY rebuild of the XK engine will cost you around £2000 – opt for a professional overhaul and the bill will be closer to £6000. Thanks to poor access, getting the engine in and out is involved; outsource this and that could be another £2000 to add to the bill.

  • You can’t expect to get more than 10 years out of an XK radiator; by this point silting up is par for the course, and if something isn’t done about it the engine will overheat – which is when things start to get really expensive…

  • Is the engine standard? A fair majority will heve been uprated by now and it’s no bad thing if originality isn’t high on your list but don’t pay over the odds either.

Three Of A Kind

Even costlier new, these Astons have only recently taken off in the same way as their successors. Can be bought for similar prices and these Astons are a great investment but the Jag is more fun to drive.
In this exhalted company the Big Healey is the budget option, but you can still easily spend £60k on a superb car! Has much in common with XKs, not least in character and feel. Certainly not as rapid and more tail happy, the 3000 ‘sixes’ are best all-rounders.
What the SP250 lacks in looks, it compensates with that cracking V8! Not as pleasing to drive as an XK (the Daimlers scuttle shake could cause the doors to fly open) but it’s still very pleasant plus the fibreglass body can’t rot. Later B and C spec cars are better developed and there’s great specialist and club support.


It’s no surprise that XK values are rising steadily; this is one of the most desirable classics out there, with a cast-iron pedigree and a cultured, class style all of its own. The problem is that there are more ropey examples around than you might appreciate so get expert help if you are knew to XKs. Get a good one and we’d wager you wouldn’t give the brasher, flashier E-type a second glance.

Classic Motoring

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