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Jaguar Roadster Review

by Bob Hagin

January 8, 2001

I recently received a press release from Jaguar outlining a special display of the various roadsters it has offered to the public during its 60-some-odd years in the business. The display is at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, which runs January 6 to 18 and as far as I can tell, all Jaguar sports cars, past and present, will be there.

As most sports car aficionados know, Jaguar actually started in 1922 as the Swallow Side Car Co., a British business that made side cars for motorcycles. It evolved into a company that produced custom-built bodies for popular, but staid British passenger cars and then began to produce its own vehicle, the S.S.1 in 1931, no mean feat at the depth of The Depression. By 1934, S.S. Cars Ltd was on its way to becoming Jaguar.

Since most of our readers won't be able to attend the show (me including), I'll give a brief rundown on the show's features sportsters.

S.S.1 - The S.S.1 is the first car made by the company but it isn't a true roadster. In today's terms, it is a Grand Touring coupe with room in back for two "occasional" passengers. Its engine is a 2.0-liter six cylinder unit made by Standard Motor Co., as is the transmission. It isn't fast, nor is it a spectacular performer, but with its underslung chassis, long hood and rakish body, it was a favorite among the gay blades of England who wanted style on a budget.

S.S.90 - This car is the first real roadster produced by S.S. Cars Ltd. It is low and svelte, featuring cutaway doors, rudimentary weather equipment and long, clamshell front fenders. Unfortunately, its 60-horsepower, 2.6-liter six cylinder engine didn't match its dramatic body work and it lasted only one production year.

S.S.100 - On the other hand, the S.S.100 lived up to its looks. It carried the 2.6-liter pushrod Standard engine but it was redesigned by S.S. Cars to put out a bit over 102 horsepower. Its tall 19-inch wire wheels are almost as high as the hood and while the factory brochure indicated that the "100" in its title indicated a 100 mph top speed, it was actually good for 98 mph. In 1937, the car was also available with a 3.5-liter version of the same engine which could easily top 100 mph.

In those years, S.S. Cars also made a line of stylish sedans that were identified by the model name "Jaguar." They too were successful and at the end of World War II, S.S. Cars Ltd. became Jaguar Cars, Ltd.

XK120 - In order to get back into production after the war and to generate overseas income, Jaguar produced its pre-war four-door sedans and convertibles. But the company stunned the automotive world in 1949 when it introduced the XK120 windowless roadster. It is as long and "swoopy" as its predecessor, but as modern as the S.S.100 is vintage. Streamlined, with integrated front and rear fenders, its modern chassis made the rough-riding sports car image a thing of the past. Equally as spectacular was its twin-cam, 160 horsepower six-cylinder engine, which propelled a stock version to a timed speed of 132 mph. Clark Gable owned one and authored an enthusiastic article about it for Motor Trend magazine. Eventually, the XK120 was offered as a coupe and a "drophead" convertible with roll-up windows.

XK140 - By 1954, the XK120 was getting long in the tooth (old stuff) and Jaguar introduced the XK140. In truth, a casual observer can hardly spot the difference between the two. The twin-cam engine received a boost in power and the car was "refined" by the addition of some chrome piping, chassis refinements and an optional automatic transmission. It too could be had as a coupe or a drophead.

XK150 - The first major body redesign occurred in 1957. The XK150 is bigger, has a higher waistline and a more oval grill, very much on the order of today's S-Type sedan. The engine size was increased a bit and the power was raised to 265 in the special S version.

XKE - It's official name is the Jaguar E-Type but Americans were still in love with the XK designation so here it was known as the XKE. Introduced in 1961, it carried an entirely new "envelope" body that to this day is still a traffic-stopper. There are three different "types" of XK-Es, culminating with a rather large version that carried a V12 engine. It was never a true roadster since it came with roll-up windows, even on the open models. The XK-E ended in 1974.

XJS - Not really a sports car either, but more of a GT coupe and convertible, the XJS valiantly carried Jaguar through the Harsh Days of the British auto industry. Quality control at the factory was very bad and there were rumors that the company would fold.

XK8 - When Ford bought Jaguar in 1989, it infused the British company with enthusiasm, respect for tradition and best of all, plenty of research and development money. One result was the XK8, a two-seater that still isn't a true roadster, but these days, few Jag buyers would put up with snap-in side curtains. The car is still in production, of course, and the powerplant is one of Ford's "modular" V8s that uses twin cams and puts out 290 horses.

All of these cars were at the L.A. Car Show, including the little- know XKSS, a street version of the Le Mans-winning D-Type Jaguar race car of the mid-'50s. The C-Type racer of the early '50s was there too.

I'm told that the Jaguar collection at the show was impressive. Now if we could only get them to take the show on the road.