Monday, 12 December 2011
Four Great Jaguars
Not many people in the 1960s ran to more than one Jaguar. A day at Oulton Park with four of them was a heady prospect, especially when they were all such landmarks in Jaguar history. This Autocar jacket celebrated Jaguar’s first post-war sports car, first Le Mans winner, TKF 9 Jim Clark’s Border Reivers’ D-type, and the latest E-type.
Bryan Corser of Shrewsbury had an XK120, a C-Type, D-Type and a 420G, replaced with an E-Type for a memorable test day. Archetypal Jaguar PRO, the matchless Andrew Whyte arranged it. Corser’s enthusiasm was boundless and Andrew knew he would trust us with his cars for a day, so long as he could join us. Corser, I wrote, was not collecting Jaguars for profit. Not then anyway. “Selling them never entered his head. You don’t expect to make a profit from your Hardy rod or Purdey gun or Dunhill pipe. You expect to fish with it, shoot with it, or smoke it*. Bryan Corser’s pleasure in his Jaguars came from driving them. They were all taxed and used on the road, the XK most often.”
From the original Autocar feature of 20 June 1968, reproduced in Sports Car Classics Vol2:
Each (of Corser’s cars was) in keen mechanical trim, faultlessly maintained and polished to the hilt – everything is polished, burnished, painted or chromed. Even the hydraulic piping on the D and the screen wash jar top gleam with chrome. But the cars are no museum pieces.
The XK 120 is, if you can apply the words to a car in such superb condition, a perfectly ordinary XK 120. Its only divergence from standard is 2in SU carburettors instead of 1½in, and XK150 tail lamps which are slightly too big. Otherwise it is much like the original XK 120, introduced 20 years ago to test public reaction to a twin-overhead-camshaft 6-cylinder engine. Jaguar thought this might be a useful engine for their Mark VII if people liked it. The sports car was to gauge reaction but created such a sensation that the initial plan to run off a modest 200 was quickly abandoned. The first cars had aluminium bodies but Pressed Steel was quickly recruited to make lots of steel bodies for the orthodox box section chassis. It seems almost a quaint idea now that you could remove an XK’s body, laying bare a sturdy frame that kicked up over the live back axle. The front independent is by torsion bars and the steering Burman recirculating ball.
The heart of the XK 120 is the thread that holds this Jaguar story together - the XK engine. Six cylinders, twin-overhead cams, a seven bearing crankshaft, 83 mm x 106 mm and a curious stroke-bore ratio of 1.28:1. This was probably on account of the change from the original XJ design, which suffered from poor low speed torque as a 3.2litre and had the stroke summarily lengthened. Capacity was 3442cc, the bhp 160 at 5200 rpm and you could specify 7:1 or 8:1 compression. It was a sophisticated power unit for Pool petrol. Rationing was still in force when it appeared. Polished cam covers came only on racing cars and125 mph was for aeroplanes; yet here these were on sale at £988.
Nine hundred and eighty-eight pounds. If you could reintroduce it as a reproduction antique today, you might be in business.
Memorable moment: The author drives TKF 9 for Autocar's feature.
Re-registered SVM 972, Bryan Corser’s XK120 was built in the early part of 1953. He is the fourth owner and has fitted a brake servo, modified the cooling system, overhauled the suspension, rewired it and “tidied” the engine “with a little chrome”.
Climb aboard the XK and you are surprised to find such a low car really has quite a high floor. One is unaccustomed nowadays to sitting on top of a chassis, with your legs stretching forward horizontally to long thin pedals on stalks, which come up through the toe-board. The enormous wheel is close to the chest, the right arm overflows the cutaway door and one realizes what a revolution the unitary hull has created. By contrast, the hump for the gearbox seems modest, because most of it is decently buried in the chassis. The shallow boot is testimony to Jaguar’s indifference to the baggage needs of sports car owners, which persists even with the open E-type. Here the reason is different, the rear axle of an XK needs space to bump up and down; it is the bulky independent rear on the E that steals the volume.
When you think that the XK120 was conceived half a generation ago, it is chastening to reflect that you can almost reach the limit of speed laid down by our legislators, without getting out of second gear. Third is good for 90mph (144.8kph), which came up easily on the back straight at Oulton. The acceleration is progressive rather than swift. A contemporary magazine’s 0-100mph time on a new XK120 was 27.3sec, its top speed 124mph (199.6kph), and standing quarter-mile 17sec.
At Oulton the steering felt heavy. You were almost glad about the closeness of the wheel so that you could pull from the shoulders and there was some kick-back reaction from the road. Elegant “long arm” driving positions arrived only with much lighter steering than this. Likewise the brakes need a firm push although they pulled the car up well. The axle is firmly located—it doesn’t jiggle over bumps. Even accelerating hard in second round Esso Bend, it sticks to the ground without spinning the inside wheel. There is little body roll, perhaps emphasised by the (for a sports car) comparatively high driving position. With such basic understeer, you can poke the back round with the throttle, although it is not the sensitive modern sort of car you can set sliding and catch when you want to. The borderline between keeping on the rails and a sharp, rapid breakaway was close. The ride is firm but fairly level; there is very little pitching, and the structure feels stiff with hardly a suggestion of scuttle shake.
Mercifully, the old gearbox has been abandoned. Drive an XK and you wonder how it survived for so long. You need the old Jaguar ‘pause-one-two’ between changes to prevent clashing the gears. Not because the mechanism was worn but because the constant-load synchromesh was never very strong. The clutch helps compensate, with a light, short travel. Drum brakes may have been a weakness of the car and the addition of a servo seems to have helped matters. They stood up well to some fairly brisk work at Oulton; smelt a bit, but that could have been due to the linings having recently been renewed.
Start up the XK 120 and there is no mistaking what it is. The characteristic ‘thrum’ must have helped create the Jaguar mystique. It is not high-revving and in XK 120 form the power won’t jerk your head back, but it does produce energy all the way up the range.
The XK 120 was a classic. Elegant and gentlemanly, the flowing lines were spoiled with the XK 140. The 150 restored some of the panache although the crisp silhouette had gone. It was well mannered, docile and quite, quite unlike the car that really established Jaguar as a racing marque, the XK120C.
Bryan Corser’s was the last production C-type to leave the factory. It has chassis number XKC 050 and (like the 120) was completed in 1953, to be followed only by the 1953 Le Mans cars. With 220bhp and those historic disc brakes Rolt and Hamilton won, raising the race record by 9mph and making the first ever 100mph race average. Moss and Walker were second, Whitehead and Jimmy Stewart (Jackie’s brother) fourth behind a Cunningham… Continued in Sports Car Classics, a full length reproduction in Part 2; Jaguar to Yamaha
Kindle ISBN 978-0-9569533-1-5. £4.80
Ebook ISBN 978-0-9569533-2-2. £4.80
*Hardy, Purdey and Dunhill appeared in an advertisement for the AC Ace in 1961, under a heading, “Yes, there’s a best in everything.” It declared “He smokes a Dunhill pipe, fishes with a Hardy rod, shoots with a Purdey gun and drives an AC car.” The implication was that an AC was suitable for nobility and gentlemen of impeccable taste. I used the phrase again later, changing “Purdey” to “Holland and Holland” on Jackie Stewart’s say-so.