GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our Jaguar XK120 Film Shoot
You can drive this Jaguar XK120 on the street today thanks to classic plates, but you might want to take owner William Foster’s advice and put on a helmet if you plan to do so with any pace. The diminutive wind deflector will only catch a few errant bugs, and after all, the car was built to race rather than putt-putt about town. One of the three XK120s that the Jaguar factory prepared and selectively doled out to private teams for the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans, this car was a pioneering piece of Jaguar’s dominance of the race in the decade to come. Giving way to the C- and D-Types that would earn five wins at Le Mans (two for the C-Type, a hat trick for the D-Type), this XK120 is a special piece of British racing history.
Part of the first batch of XK120s (242 cars before production switched to steel bodies in 1950) that were ash frames covered with aluminum bodywork, the released-in-1948 XK120 was the first cat to carry the big 3.4L straight-six that would power many subsequent XK road cars, as well as evolve into the Le Mans-winning motors that propelled the C- and D- and E-Types during Jaguar’s most fortuitous years in sports car racing.
This particular XK120 has even more Le Mans provenance, seeing as its first owner was none other than Peter Walker, one of the team owners that campaigned the first iteration of the XK120 at the French endurance race in 1950. The following year, driving a C-Type (a purpose-built evolution of the XK120) with Peter Whitehead, he would bring the Jaguar factory team its first overall victory at Le Mans.
Hugh Howarth bought the car from Walker less than two years later, with plans to trade up for a C-Type when they became available to customers. By the time they were however, he found he could no longer afford one. Consolation came in the form of a selection of C-Type parts that could be retrofitted to Howarth’s XK120, and with the help of Peter Walker and his ties to the factory, Howarth modified the car in period with a C-Type rear axle and suspension transplant on the chassis side of things, with C-Type-spec cylinder head and set of carbs souping up the powertrain element to produce a car that while not as quick as Jags first Le Mans-winner, was certainly able to outpace its former self.
Howarth did indeed find some competitive success in his newly-modified XK, but he didn’t hold onto it for ever, and the car was subsequently hosted in a few garages around Europe during its semi-retirement from motorsport (historic events have long been a part of its life) until it came into the Foster family through William’s father, a longtime Jag fan who purchased it in 1980. William and his father enjoyed racing the car together at historic events for a period of time that saw the two of them taking on hallowed European circuits like Spa-Francorchamps, Brands Hatch, Le Mans, and more.
This is a remarkably rare and pivotal piece of Jaguar’s relationship with what is arguably the most famous automobile race in the world, but to the Fosters, the time William was able to spend with his father in the car retracing some of its first competitive foray is at least as significant.