This XK 120 drophead coupe is number 266 of just 294 right-hand-drive examples (out of 1,769 DHC cars) produced. The drophead model run was from April 1953 to August 1954. Equipped with the "SE" option package and C-type cylinder head, this example sports the 3/8-inch lift cams, lightened flywheel and damper, dual exhausts, and wire wheels. These options boosted the base model by 50 hp, with Jaguar claiming 210 hp at 5,750 rpm. The car is supplied with Jaguar Production Trace Certificate and was completed May 26, 1954. Ownership succession is fully documented, and in 1989 the car was then subject to a full engine and gearbox rebuild by marque specialist Derek Bullmore and later to a complete frame-off, 2,700-hour restoration by Classic Coachbuilders of Sittingbourne, Kent. It was later featured in a London Times article by Lord Montague of Beaulieu in May 1995. This 1954 Jaguar XK 120SE Drophead was last sold for $81,117, including buyer's premium, at the Brooks Olympia auction of February 22, 1997 (SCM# 19040). It has been part of a large private collection since then and used sparingly.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Jaguar XK 120 SE drophead coupe
Number Produced:1,769
Original List Price:$4,099
Tune Up Cost:$650
Distributor Caps:$45
Chassis Number Location:Front of left-hand chassis side member
Engine Number Location:Right-hand side of cylinder block above oil filter
Club Info:Jaguar Clubs of North America 234 Buckland Trace Louisville, KY 40245
Investment Grade:C

This car sold for $96,487, including buyer’s premium, at H&H’s Haynes Museum Auction in Sparkford, England, on October 29, 2009.

The vintage Jaguar market has shown exceptional resilience as other marques slumped, and the record sale price of $221,500 for a 1953 XK 120SE roadster at Bonhams & Butterfields last August in Carmel Valley raised some eyebrows, as did the $195k Gooding & Company achieved for a low-mileage SE roadster.

It’s difficult to appreciate today what a sensation the XK 120 roadster created in war-weary Britain in 1948. The car was hurried to the Earls Court Motor Show after only a few months of development. The outer panels were hand-bucked aluminum on a Mk V saloon chassis shortened 18 inches. The XK was meant to be a limited-run sports car, the showpiece for the new XK DOHC 6-cylinder engine, which was destined for the massive Mk VII saloon.

But with orders flooding in, Jaguar revised its plans, eventually delivering 240 alloy-bodied cars. No two were identical, and these will always remain the most desirable and expensive. Later 120s retained the alloy hood, trunk lid, and doors, but the remaining panels were done in steel.

This Jaguar XK 120SE drophead coupe is another example of William Lyons’s design mantra of “Grace, Space, and Pace.” So when the original roadster was marketed as “the fastest production sports car in the world,” the obvious emphasis was on “Pace.” The second version, introduced in March 1951, was the fixed-head coupe. This featured stunning lines but virtually identical mechanicals. Walnut woodwork and roll-up windows placed that car’s emphasis smartly on “Grace.”

The DHC was the third and final model of the 120 family, intended to give the car a bit more life before the introduction of its replacement, the XK 140 of 1954. The DHC combined some of the best features of both preceding models. Compared to the roadster, the DHC had much better weather protection, with the fully lined top, and it had a beautiful cockpit reminiscent of the FHC, but not so claustrophobic.

Early examples plagued with overheating

Is it all wine and roses owning a 120? Not quite. Most early examples were plagued with overheating-of the engine, of the drum brakes, of the occupants-excessive oil consumption and leaks, heavy steering, and various electrical gremlins. Many people just can’t fit comfortably in one; the seats are low, the footwell is flat, and the steering wheel quite close to the driver’s chest.

The XK 140 rectified issues with the steering and awkward seating position, thanks to the advent of rack-and-pinion steering gear and some clever re-engineering. Styling was tailored to 1950s U.S. market trends, with heavier brightwork and the option of an overdrive or automatic gearbox. It wasn’t until the XK 150 of 1958 that disc brakes resolved most of the complaints in the stopping department.

Fortunately, most XK 120 faults were corrected by Jaguar during production, and today there is a huge aftermarket industry to support these cars. Parts availability and prices are a bargain, compared to almost any other period exotic. Many upgrades are available to rectify the original faults. There is a wealth of choices-you can stay stock, with most original parts being reproduced, or modify and upgrade to your heart’s (or wallet’s) content. Billet crankshafts, 5-speed gearboxes, and disc brakes are available now. Expect prices to be more than your respective Mustang bits, but nowhere near as dear as Aston Martin or Ferrari parts.

Finding competent local mechanical help can sometimes be another story. Many of the troubles Jaguar owners have suffered are directly the result of faulty diagnoses or shoddy workmanship. The XK 120SE Drophead running gear is mostly conventional, durable, and straightforward to work on. The problems usually start when the engine or ancillaries require work.

Properly cared for, they’ll go 100k miles

The weak spot for any XK is overheating. A single episode can easily end up as a blown head gasket repair at the least, and a complete engine rebuild at the worst. The latter repair can top $10k. But properly cared for, an XK engine will reliably exceed 100,000 miles.

The SU carburetor, one of the simplest and most elegant designs, remains a great mystery to many contemporary mechanics; find one who understands them. The Lucas electrics have been much maligned and are antiquated, but of good quality for the era.

Bodywork issues should prove the least trouble, but they can also prove the most expensive. The panels are thick compared to many cars and, unless badly stretched or rusted, simple to repair. The most common mistake is not to finish the metalwork properly before painting. If the doors stick out at the bottom or the rocker line isn’t quite straight, you’ll have to redo the entire job to fix it.
Common areas to find body rot are the sill boxes, door-shut pillars, and spare tire well. Look for damage (in the open models especially) where there is body wood. The soldered-on front side lights of the later steel cars (’52 on) can also be moisture traps. Check for rot in the lower portions of the frame where dirt and sand collect, especially where the front suspension bolts up and the top sections of the rear as it sweeps over the rear axle.

This DHC has many of the attributes to look for if you are contemplating an Jaguar XK 120 Drophead Coupe. Relative rarity, a fairly continuous history, and a first-class restoration in an attractive color combination are all big pluses. However, the right-hand drive would put off most U.S. buyers.

Stylistically, the DHC is a grand tourer at the end of the model run, while the original roadster has the greatest sex appeal. The FHC has a loyal following, but by virtue of being a closed car, will always lag behind in value. Investment potential remains greatest with the first alloy cars, but the high values will deter much use.

Collectible Jaguars are increasing in value, relative to recently overheated segments of the market. And while the sales of the 120s last August were a bit of irrational exuberance, I’d say that in terms of today’s market, this car was fairly sold and bought.

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