The XK120 Fathered the British Supercar
One hundred and twenty miles per hour isn’t all that impressive a top speed in 2013, really, It wasn’t even all that impressive 20 years ago. Today, even bare-bones economy trolleys are usually capable of this speed, as I may or may not have recently confirmed through abuse of a rented Chevy Sonic. In late 1940s England, however, the only way one could travel at two miles a minute while remaining on the ground was by land speed record steam locomotive, as typical day-to-day cars of the era were lucky to touch 80 MPH downhill and with a stiff tailwind. Things would change very soon.
Designed in the thick of WWII, Jaguar’s XK series straight six was literally drafted in between bomb fire watching shifts, the engineers responsible for its advanced design also tasked with keeping an eye out for incoming German bombers. Initially displacing 3,442 CCs and developing a healthy 160 horsepower, the XK was among the first production engines built with both dual overhead cams and hemispherical combustions chambers. Autocratic managing director Sir William Lyons dictated that this new motor “must look good” as well, and as a man who was used to having his way, we can’t imagine he was disappointed with the end results—the XK remains one of the prettiest engines of any configuration ever sold. They sound flipping excellent too, and the fact they remained in production for more than 40 years is a testament to its inherit “rightness” of design and construction.