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Jaguar XK

X Marks The Spot Published: 4th Oct 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XK

Fast Facts

  • Best model: XK140 DHC
  • Worst model: XK120 FHC
  • Budget buy: XK150 FHC
  • OK for unleaded?: No problem; inserts are already fitted
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4267xW1549mm
  • Spares situation: Very good, some repro stuff is poor though
  • DIY ease?: Maintenance yes, restoration – not so much
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes and rapidly
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Predecessor to the E-type but just as stylish and capable in its own right. Good performance with enjoyable vintage-style handling and values are rising nicely

HISTORY

1948 The XK120 makes its debut at the Earls Court Motor Show in October, with an all new 3442cc twin-cam straight-six – the now-legendary XK engine. The first XKs were bodied in aluminium, Jaguar having needed to save money when creating the production tooling.

1950 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 with steel panelling. As a result, after 242 have been made with aluminium panels, there’s a move to steel instead.

1951 Production of the Fixed-Head Coupé starts in July, and there’s also now a Special Equipment (SE) option which brings a highlift camshaft, lightened flywheel, uprated valve spring, high-compression pistons, stiffer torsion bars and rear leaf springs,

wire wheels and a twin exhaust system. The result is an increase in power from 160bhp to 180bhp. A heater (not a Jag strong point) is standard.

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

1954 The XK120 is superseded by the XK140 (see box out), which features more cabin space, thicker bumpers and the adoption of rack-and-pinion steering.

Indicators are now fitted; the XK120 did without. The FHC is also six inches longer than before and the roof is an inch higher to provide space for a 2+2 seating configuration. There’s also now 180bhp on tap, while the SE of 1955 gets 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 diff ratio.

1957 The XK150 replaces the XK140, with 190bhp for the regular model and 250bhp in S form. The XK150 features a single-piece windscreen, disc brakes all round (with a servo) and a broader grille. Most XK140s came in 210bhp SE form. 1959 An engine capacity increase to 3781cc boosts power to 220bhp, while the uprated S model could now boast an E-type level 265bhp peak power output.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

No XK is at all modern to drive – and that’s no bad thing because the vintage feel is one of the things that makes this machine so engaging and endearing. However, the XK120 really does feel very old-fashioned to pilot; an E-type is light years away for example and an XK150 feels a bit newer.

However, while the brakes, steering and ride are from another era, the XK120 feels very sprightly; one of the great things about this car is its pace, which is still up to modern standards. Tipping the scales at just 1295kg, the XK120 isn’t perhaps quite as light as you might expect, but with such a spread of torque on tap you never have to row it along on the gears – it’s the same for the later models.

In period, the XK’s performance was nothing short of astounding. Autocar didn’t get to test the car until August 1950, by which point it was still having to tell onlookers that this was a regular production car and not a race machine. 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!” Despite the fact that the XK120 was capable of over 120mph (the magazine couldn’t get more than 115mph in the space available), it could be driven at 10mph in top gear, such is its tractability.

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 mild-mannered saloon”.

When Autocar reviewed the XK150 in 1958 it found that its top speed was a little below that of the XK120, but it was significantly quicker through the gears – while also being more usable thanks to the increased cabin space.

Autocar’s testers were still knocked out by the Jag’s impressive performance, not least of all the tractability. To demonstrate the powertrain’s brilliance, the XK150 was launched from a standing start to 100mph in 36.4 seconds – using only top gear throughout. It was this flexibility which added to the driving experience; a lack of need to swap from one gear to another to maintain progress made piloting the XK150 a very relaxed affair – so much so that the magazine boasted that “on one journey in England 57 miles were covered in the hour”. Quite impressive stuff even today…

PRICES

You should always go for the best XK you can afford, as restoration costs can be incredibly steep, and even with values currently fairly high there’s a good chance you won’t get your money back for a while yet. As a result, if you’re on a budget you’ll almost certainly have to go for a coupé, as these are worth significantly less than an equivalent open-topped XK. As a result, you’ll get a better car for your money if you take the fixed-head route rather than buying one of the convertibles.

It’s the Drophead Coupé which is worth the most, while the Fixed Head Coupé is worth the least – but there’s no such thing as a cheap XK. Ian Mills has specialised in Jaguar XKs for more than 20 years, with his highly respected company Twyford Moor.

He comments: “We’ve seen no sharp rises in XK values; there’s just been a steady climb, which we hope will continue. That will enable these cars to be restored costeffectively; already our customers who had their XKs rebuilt a decade ago are now getting their money back”.

Ian continues: “The most sought after of all the models is the XK140 DHC, followed by the XK150 DHC; the best examples of these cars are now touching £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 – will fetch £50-60,000. However, not all XKs are so valuable; the XK150 FHC is the most affordable of the breed, with projects priced at around £30,000, but really good cars worth only around double this figure”.

As the first of the breed and with its pure design, it’s surprising that the XK120 isn’t more sought after, but as Ian asserts, the cars just aren’t usable enough. The key issue is the cramped cabin, which potential buyers can’t fit into. As a result, because there’s a shortage of the later models, some people are buying an XK120 OTS or DHC and converting it to XK140 spec, including modifying the pedal box so they can fit in – such a conversion costs £8-10,000.

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 – that’s Aston DB prices!

IMPROVEMENTS

If you’re aiming to use your XK a lot, you can make your life easier by installing a few upgrades. There are some XK purists out there, but as Twyford Moors’ Ian Mills states, 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; you’ll pay £600 and £750 respectively to have them fitted. An alternator conversion is also a good move; it’ll lighten your wallet by around £700. Electric power steering is another piece of kit that’s nice to have these days and while the £4000 cost of fitting it isn’t peanuts, it is good value. The same goes for a five-speed automatic gearbox conversion, but this can breach the £5000 barrier if you get a specialist to do all the work; the parts alone are around £2500.

The XK engine still has plenty of potential for more power with head and cam work although up to E-type spec (150S) may be ample for most. Period Jag tuning gear is available which may add to value. As the XK is a popular racer still, the handling can be transformed with dampers and springs plus poly bushing. The XK120 can be converted to later telescopic dampers for around £1800, about what a general suspension upgrade would cost. By all means convert to discs but Mills recommends leaving the rears as they are.

What To Look For

BODY AND CHASSIS

  • 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 (four) outriggers and A-posts. Penny to a pound that the bottom of the front wings will have been repaired.
  • The chassis is reasonably robust, but the anti-roll bar mounts rot away and repairs are surprisingly costly (up to £700). The front mounts for the rear leaf springs easily cost £1300 per side.
  • Brightwork is dear: £900 for bumpers and £50 for headlamp ‘rings’. Replica parts are sometimes of low quality and don’t fit right.
  • 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.

ENGINE

  • 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, the latter to prevent overheating.
  • A worn XK engine gives the classic signs of needing a rebuild; blue smoke from the exhaust and low oil pressure; there should be at least 40psi at 3000rpm – although oil pressure gauges are notoriously unreliable. A known leaker at crank rear oil seal.

RUNNING GEAR

  • Most XKs are fitted with a manual gearbox. It’s a Moss unit that’s tough, but layshafts and roller bearings wear out; can be replaced but bill can easily run to over £2500. Three-speed auto available on the XK140 and XK150 is strong but wears out eventually, so check for tardiness from second to third shift.
  • 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. At the front, check the usual culprits for wear. There’s inherently more slop in the Xk120’s steering (later cars rack and pinion).

GENERAL

  • The XK140’s bulkhead was moved forward three inches, which makes 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 XK120 without too much discomfort.
  • Much like with the E-type, evolution of the species meant a bigger, heavier bodyshell and a morphing from sports car 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.
  • Most XKs were sold to the US, so the steering wheel was on the left. Many have since returned to the UK, converted to right-hand drive. Don’t pay genuine RHD money if it’s been converted; genuine cars will always be worth a bit more.

Three Of A Kind

AC ACE & ACECA
AC ACE & ACECA
It carried a 50 per cent premium when new, and it still carries at least that, six decades on. Fast and beautiful, the AC can’t keep up with the Jag in terms of outright performance, but it’s more delicate to drive and makes a brilliant – but expensive – tool for historic motorsport.
ASTON MARTIN DB2/4 & MKIII
ASTON MARTIN DB2/4 & MKIII
Even more costly when new, these Astons have yet to take off in the same way that their successors have. However, while they’re cheaper, they’re still more costly to buy than the XK, and once again they’re superb for classic racing. It’ll be a great investment but the Jag is more fun.
AUSTIN HEALEY 100 & 3000
AUSTIN HEALEY 100 & 3000
In this company the Big Healey is the budget option, but you can still easily spend £60k on a superb car, so they’re not cheap. don’t assume the six-cylinder car is automatically the one you must have; the four-pot is lighter and better balanced – and it’s still very quick too.

Verdict

It’s no surprise XK values are rising; this is one of the most desirable classics out there, with a cast-iron pedigree. The fact that values are high and are likely to only continue to go up means you’ll need deep pockets to buy a good one – but those high values also make it easier to justify sinking significant sums of money into the maintenance and restoration of mangy cats.

The problem is that there are more ropey examples about than you might think – but it’s not always possible to separate them, which is why if you’re in the fortunate position of being able to buy an XK, you need to buy one that’s worth owning. That’s harder than it sounds because owners of the best cars are often reluctant to sell, so even if your pockets are deep, be prepared to search to find the right car. And even then, you might not be able to get exactly the model you want.



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