Two years after building six Lightweight E-Type continuation cars, Jaguar Classic is back with fresh metal. The Jaguar XKSS is back after almost 60 years, marked by the unveiling of a one-off prototype that previews a production run of nine hand-built XKSS vehicles.
The nine-vehicle run represents the nine vehicles in 1957 intended for shipment to North America, which were sadly lost in a fire at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory. As a result, only 16 XKSS units were built in total.
Known for its then-supercar performance and street-cred as the road-legal version of the Jaguar D-Type (built 1954-1956), the XKSS will be brought back to life in exact 1957 specifications. Jaguar Classic used both original drawings as well as high-tech digital scans of extant XKSS vehicles to develop its “New Original” line. Hand-wheeled magnesium alloy bodies will be formed over a new styling buck, which has been recreated based on the original 1950s design. All nine vehicles will have period-correct chassis numbers from the original XKSS ledger.
The one-off vehicle you see here, which makes its debut at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A., is apparently the result of 18 months of research that will “be used as a blueprint” for the nine upcoming examples. Painted in a gorgeous Sherwood Green color, the one-off XKSS is powered by a 3.4-liter straight-six, making 262 hp. The engine incorporates new cast iron blocks, new cast cylinder heads, and three Weber DC03 carburetors. Just as in 1957, the XKSS uses Dunlop disc brakes at all four wheels, a Plessey pump, and Dunlop rubber wrapped around two-piece magnesium wheels.
Other than changes to improve safety, as well as modifications to make use of modern fuel, the XKSS continuation car is a true blast from the past. Jaguar even says it’s estimated that 10,000 man-hours will be required to create each vehicle.
“The XKSS is one of the most important cars in Jaguar’s history, and we are committed to making the ‘new original’ version absolutely faithful to the period car in every way,” said Jaguar Classic engineering manager Kev Riches, in a statement. “From the number, type and position of all the rivets used – there are more than 2,000 in total – to the Smiths gauges on the dashboard, everything is the same as the original cars, because that is the way it should be.”
Each of the nine future XKSS models will be sold for an estimated price well north of $1 million a pop, and of course, they’re all already spoken for.
Given the success of the Lightweight E-Type models and the birth of the XKSS continuation cars, as well as Jaguar Classic’s announcement of a £7.5 million global headquarters to open in Coventry in 2017, there’s lots of good to come from Jag’s history books.
The Tale of the Flames
On the evening of February 12, 1957, a tragedy occurred at Jaguar’s Browns Lane facility in England. At about 5:45 p.m., just when many of the plant’s 4,000 workers were heading home, the alarm sounded: The factory was on fire.
The ancient building was no match for the blaze. It spread across the roof, dropping bits of burning roofing onto the factory floor, starting smaller fires as it raged. Within 20 minutes, all the men and equipment available from the Coventry Fire Brigade had arrived, and they essentially saved half the factory.
They, and a group of brave employees who tried to push nearly finished cars to safety, couldn’t save 300 of them.
Sadly, there would be no more models built of what was quickly – or “quickly,” by 1957 standards, when there was no internet and only a few car magazines that reported on global development – becoming a genuine Jaguar icon: The gorgeous, very fast Jaguar XKSS.
Jaguar had built only 16 examples. Nine uncompleted cars, as well as the jigs, bucks, and other tooling needed to build more, were destroyed. Jaguar would not be able to make the 150 cars required to qualify the XKSS for production-class racing, which may have spearheaded a return to motorsports after Jaguar bowed out in 1956. The existing XKSS models were delegated to “relic” status, the ultimate collector’s item, because Jaguar could build no more even if it wanted to.
Initially a dozen of the cars came to the U.S. Actor Hugh O’Brien (of the TV series “Wyatt Earp”) got one. In 1958, actor Steve McQueen bought an XKSS that had already changed hands twice for $5,000, slightly less than the original sticker price.
And, for the next 15 years, the XKSS was often photographed and intractably associated with McQueen, arguably the coolest man on earth, who could probably have made a Trabant appealing to the masses if he had so chosen.
– Steven Cole Smith