I often get asked about the difference between the XK models so I will try to untangle the mess of different variations, letters and numbers. Lets start with the XK120.
The XK120 was launched in 1948 at the Earls Court motor show. It’s sweeping lines and revolutionary twin-cam engine make the XK120 an instant hit; it was however only ever intended to be a limited production sports car for publicity purposes.
Sir William Lyons six cylinder twin-cam engine was originally destined to be launched in Jaguars new range of saloons. This new range wasn’t ready on time so a plan was hatched to build a limited production sports car. Lyons designed the body in a few weeks, a MK V saloon chassis was cut down and a 3.2 engine was fitted to create the XK120 prototype. The result was so popular that Jaguar couldn’t keep up with demand for “the fastest production car in the world” and the plan to produce 200 was thrown out of the window. The original design used an aluminium body over an ash and steel frame, which was in fact heavier than the later steel cars, but a redesign was necessary to keep up with the unanticipated levels of demand.
In May 1950 the first steel bodied XK120 rolled out of the factory and finally, after only building 96 cars in the first two years of production, Jaguar could keep up with demand for its now legendary sports car. This model was known as the OTS (Open Two Seater) but is commonly referred to as the "Roadster".
1951 saw the introduction of the XK120 FHC (Fixed Head Coupé). This made the XK120 a truly practical car with winding windows and a walnut veneered dashboard. The XK120 FHC was officially export only and there are therefore very few RHD (Right Hand Drive) XK120 FHCs. The reason for the majority of XKs being exported was two fold; first there was high overseas demand, particularly from the USA, for the XK120 and secondly in post-war England scarce resources were allocated to those companies that exported much of their production. The exportation of the XK meant that Jaguar not only lead the way in motor sport through the 1950s but also lead the way towards economic recovery for the UK.
Jaguar XK120 FHC SE (This car is know as "Charlie Jaguar" and has just covered over 10,000 on a tour across North America)
Also in 1951 the ‘SE’ spec was introduced. Jaguar took what they had learned from their success with the XK120 and ‘C’-Type in racing and rallying and applied it to road going XKs. Power was increased form 160bhp to 190bhp and wire wheels added to provide better cooling for the drum breaks. The optional ‘C’-Type head upped the power output even further to and estimated 210bhp. In the cold light of day over sixty years later Jaguar might have been exaggerating a little with these figures but that does not detract from the success they had with these cars.
The XK120s final incarnation came in 1953 with the addition of the DHC (Drop Head Coupé) to the range. This offered the practicality and luxury of the FHC with winding windows, walnut dash and a roof that would actually keep the rain off combined with the joy of open top driving offered by the OTS.
In 1954 the XK120 was replaced by the XK140 but in it’s 6-year production run the XK had already changed the automotive world. The XK120 saw success not just as a production sports car but also on track and was the catalyst that set Jaguar down the track to developing the C-Type, D-Type, XKSS, E-Type, XJ13 and ultimately you could draw that line all the way to the current F-Type. Of over 12,000 XK120s built less than 2,000 were right hand drive so if you have every wondered why right hand drive cars demand a price premium there you go.