1949-1961 Jaguar XK Sports Cars

The Jaguar XK-120MC

A 1954 example of the costlier, more powerful XK-120MC in drophead (convertible) form, here with disc wheels.
A 1954 example of the costlier, more powerful XK-120MC in drophead (convertible) form, here with disc wheels.

Jaguar obliged drivers who wanted even more speed with the XK-120MC. Priced at $800 above the standard offering, this "special equipment" model boasted a high-lift camshaft and dual exhausts that raised rated output to 190 horsepower at 5,500 rpm. Though about 50 pounds heavier than the normal XK-120, the MC could breeze through the 0-60 mph dash in 8.6 seconds, and its quarter-mile acceleration came down to 16.8 seconds. The MC was supplied without the distinctive rear wheel spats usually found on 120s, but this allowed you to show off the standard wire wheels with Rudge-Whitworth knock-off hubs. Stiffer front torsion bars completed the package.

If the brilliant twincam six delivered the goods on the road, how would it fare in the heat of international competition? Given its long-time interest in racing, it was only natural that Jaguar would want to find out, and in early 1950 it decided to field a special car built around XK-120 components for the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans. The result was the legendary C-type, one of the most memorable competition sports cars in history. Built around a lightweight tubular steel chassis on a shortened 96-inch wheel-base, it was powered by what was a mildly modified version of the production engine. Changes comprised special cylinder head with straight inlet ports, high-contour camshaft profile, big horizontal carburetors, special free-flow exhaust system, and lightened flywheel. Rated power jumped to 210 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, and maximum torque soared to 220 lbs/ft at 4,000 rpm.

Running on a beefed-up stock suspension, the C-type was clothed in smooth aluminum-alloy bodywork that held its race-ready weight to around 2,175 pounds. Naturally the car was competitive, and it had the necessary staying power. Jaguar won Le Mans 1951 outright, and went on to score firsts at Silverstone, Spa, and other circuits in 1952. The following year, C-types came home first and fourth in the Rheims 12-hour contest; placed first, second, and fourth at Le Mans; and finished 1-2 at the Nürburgring (where XK-120s took fourth and fifth overall). In 1954, the C-types and a gaggle of production Jaguars again won at Spa, at Zandvoort in the Dutch Grand Prix, and at Le Mans, where the new D-type was overall runner-up.

In all, 11 factory-sponsored C-types were completed, along with another 43 units built for sale on the "open market" at a nominal price of $6,000 each. Today, you can multiply that figure by a factor of at least seven for even a barely restorable example of this rare and ferocious feline.

Go to the next page to read about the follow-up models to the XK-120, the Jaguar XK-140 and XK-150.

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