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Car Tales: the Jaguar icons and the XK gene

Jaguar can be considered the British Lion of UK's automotive industry. It most certainly holds the distinction of being one of those manufacturers which were able to wear proudly the British Racing Green in the racing fields all across the World.

After the WWII, Jaguar became one of those few car Companies that were able to produce a series of cars able to cause a massive stir among motoring enthusiasts and the wider public as well. After 1945, founder William Lyons wanted to focus in producing lucrative volume luxury saloons, yet he recognized that the market was in need for a brand-new flagship sportscar to be sold on the market. The War never gave the chance to Lyons and his chief engineer Bill Haynes to further develop the venerable SS100 engine which went out of production in 1940. Simply by evolving this existing design, they were able to create a brand-new motorcar, widely considered to be Jaguar's first masterpiece.

Introduced in two original variants at the 1948 London Motorshow as a non-functioning prototype, the new Jaguar Super Sports XK100 and XK120 were able to cause the interest William Lyons was looking for: the svelte and flowing lines looked like nothing else on the road at that time and put even more attention on Jaguar than ever before. With the XK100 project being left behind due to problems in balancing the engine, the final version of the XK120 was presented in London in 1949.

In order to defend the Company's distinctive sporting reputation, Bill Haynes developed the old 2.5 litre unit into the wonderful 3.4 litre "XK" engine. Boasing an aluminium head with hemispherical chambers and twin SU carbs, this engine made the 120mph (200 kph) dream come true, hence the name of this new motorcar: XK 120.

A proper British character, the 120 boasts a unique lively feeling while driving it. The massive torque available from below the rev range give the whole car a very civilized mannerism which is a perfect match with its brilliant handling characteristics. Will it do 120 mph today? Who are we to judge this, but if we have to see for ourselves, it feels that it'll do that magic number any day. The 3.4 litre six mumbles at idle and screams at high rpm: the whole car is just a joy to drive.

The XK120 has been a true British hero, an icon, a sensation and the forefather of all Jag's sportscars. Without it there would not be Jaguar as we know it today and cars like the F-Type wouldn't exist. This tête-à-tête between these two great cars is a proper journey through 70 years of history to discover the real XK gene.

The F-Type can be considered as the last iteration of the great XK120. Surely, it doesn't share anything vaguely in common with its grandmother, but it still has the same lively spirit. Although it was born as a successor of the famed E-Type (or XKE as it was known in the U.S.A.) the "F" is the descendant of the original XK's. Fabulous in its Ian Callum-designed body shell, it is a very well equilibrated "Jag": fast, agile, very easy to drive and usable every day the F-Type still holds the line as a fine British sportscar.

Our lives would definitely be dull and less interesting without these cars. The fact that 70 years apart we can still experience a glimpse of Jag's past is definitely exciting and will keep enthusiast lusting over the Marque for many years to come.

Words: Jacopo Villa, contributor
Photos: Sajin Park
Cars: courtesy of

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