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Jaguar XKE History

Jaguar XK-SS

The Jaguar XK-SS was a bridge between Jaguar's racing world and what would become the roadgoing Jaguar XKE. Such a product as the Jaguar XK-SS had been on the collective company mind for about as long as the D-Type itself had been in existence.

1957 Jaguar XK-SS
©2007 Jaguar Cars and Wieck Media Services, Inc.
The Jaguar XK-SS of 1957 was a road version of the
D-Type racer and a stepping stone to the XKE.

Sometime during 1954, Jaguar's resident aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer, had sculpted a lump of modeling clay into a miniature roadster that strongly hinted of both the XK-SS and XKE to come.

The job of making racing D-Type into roadgoing XK-SS was done as thoroughly as possible within the constraints inevitable when starting with a purpose-built machine.

The center of the monocoque underwent some surgery, having its shoulder width opened up and its central brace between the seats removed, as well as a passenger door cut into the left side. Also shorn was the driver's headrest and its fairing, leaving the previously concealed quick-action fuel cap exposed.

The low plastic windscreen was replaced with a tall, rather upright one made of glass in a steel frame, and wipers were added. So were a sketchy folding top with detachable side-screens and flimsy quarter-bumpers attached directly to the fragile fenders.

The only place to hang a muffler turned out to be along the left side, under the rocker panel. The only place to accommodate luggage was a rack plunked atop the tail.

Installing some cockpit upholstery, turn signals, and trim rings around the plastic headlight covers completed the transformation of wild racing beast into a demure, if perhaps overdressed, street beauty.

Nevertheless, the XK-SS retained the full racing powertrain as supplied on customer D-Types. This meant a 3.4-liter inline six-cylinder with dry-sump oiling system -- the regular wet-sump engine wouldn't fit under the low "bonnet" anyway -- and a trio of Weber carburetors.

Output was unchanged at 242 pounds/feet of torque at 4,000-4,500 rpm and 250 horsepower at 5,750. Performance thus stood to be shattering, as the dual-purpose car weighed only about 100 pounds more than the pure racer.

To help move the necessary 100 copies, U.S. price was set artificially low: just under $7,000 -- nearly $3,000 less than a pure D-Type. Possibly the bargain of the decade.

Announced on January 21, 1957, the XK-SS attracted the two types of customers Jaguar had hoped it would. There were indeed people for whom it represented automotive nirvana.

One was Hollywood action man Steve McQueen, who is known to have been delighted with his. But several others were purchased by less famous folk who used them for both racing and vivid road driving.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

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  • New Jaguars: Reviews, ratings, prices, and specifications on the current Jaguar lineup from the auto editors of Consumer Guide.
  • Used Jaguars: Reviews, recalls, trouble spots, and more on pre-owned Jaguars starting with the 1990 model year. From the auto editors of Consumer Guide.