Epitome of Postwar English Design: The Jaguar XK140

Mar 14, 2014

The XK140 is the second generation of the legendary XK 120. Like many second generation cars, it is not as pure or as clean or as famous as its progenitor, but there is no denying it was all around an improved car to drive and own, and that’s saying something.

When Jaguar launched the XK120 roadster in 1948, it caused an immediate sensation. All of a sudden, there was a sports car with top level performance and spectacular looks within reach of the working professional.

The XK120 was the epitome of postwar English design when it was unveiled, but drew heavily on prewar influences such as the Bugatti T57 Atlantic, as well as the BMW 328 racing cars of the late 1930s.  Not only was the new Jaguar a success in England, but it found an eager audience in the newly affluent American market as well.

With a more ample cockpit space, an improved rear suspension, and 190 hp on tap in standard form, the XK140 is a slightly more advanced version of its older sibling, but with similar looks. The easiest way to tell a 120 from a 140 at a glance is that the XK 120 has two small bumperettes mounted on its nose, but the 140 has a solid chrome front bumper that crosses the entire front of the car.

The first thing you notice when you get into the XK140 is how exposed you feel. The seat backs come up just below your shoulder blades, and the cockpit sides drop away below your elbows giving you plenty of room to steer the large wheel. In front of you is a leather dashboard and what feels like miles and miles of hood. The front of the XK140 is incredibly long, which somewhat impairs your ability to sight the apex of a corner. The handling is somewhat truck-like by modern standards, and you really must lean into the corner as you turn, in order to counteract the forces making your body slide across the leather seat.

But what the Jag lacks in precise handling, it makes up for in brute power. The torque generated by the straight six is so great that you can even pull away from a stop in 4th gear! While 190hp is a very modest amount by today’s steroidal standards, in 1955 this car could outrun pretty much anything on the road, and certainly was faster than any car in its price range. And so while it doesn’t corner on rails, it will simply pull away on a straight. Add to that the Disc brakes, with which Jaguar was the first company to win a race, and you have a very competitive package. It’s no wonder that Jaguar won Le Mans 5 times in the 1950s. All the technology that brought these victories went straight into the road cars, and that is what makes any vintage Jaguar so truly special: It really is race-bred technology for the road.

Words by: Bradley Pricea New York-based designer, car nut, racing history buff.  He founded the Autodromo brand in 2011, and divides his spare time between his stable of vintage Italian cars and running the car blog Automobiliac.

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