GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our Jaguar XKSS Re-creation Film Shoot
Derived from the Le Mans-winning D-Type, and the basic idea that William Lyons had in mind for the XKSS was to milk the US’s appetite for European sports cars, an appetite that had been growing quite large by the mid 1950s thanks to importers like Max Hoffman, a strong economy, and a renewed urgency to spend on material and otherwise fanciful goods.
The primary reason it exists though was a function of Jaguar deciding what to do with its defunct race cars. After the factory team had pulled out of sports car racing at the end of 1956, and with regulatory changes coming to Le Mans that would make the D-Type obsolete for the remaining privateers like Ecurie Ecosse, Jaguar was left with a pile of unused or else partially built D-Type chassis. To recoup the cost of developing that car, the solution was to build these leftover D-Types into street legal variants to be sold as the finless XKSS models with the same mechanicals.
Besides ditching the iconic fin, not much else was modified to make them eligible for public roads; a second seat was fitted, a few windows and bumper pieces now adorned the exterior, and a rudimentary foldaway roof was included along with windscreen wipers and some basic trim in the cockpit. The planned production run of 25 examples came to a halt at 16 though after a fire burned down the Browns Lane factory and the remaining D-Type/XKSS chassis housed inside in 1957. As you may know, in recent years Jaguar’s gone and built what they are calling “continuation” models of cars like the D-Type and XKSS, which brings us to this car.
The owner of the XKSS replica shown here, James Chen, views the question of authenticity from a pragmatic standpoint. “I looked in my left pocket—don’t have that kind of money—but it’s not a matter of owning the genuine article,” he says, adding “the feeling is the same.” He also goes on to distinguish his answer to the inevitable question he gets whenever someone recognizes the car: “Is it a real one?” No, he says, but he makes sure to elaborate. Chen isn’t pretending, but he knows his car isn’t on the same level as a Fiero dressed up like a Ferrari. In his case, the car is driven by a motor stamped with “Jaguar,” it was bodied by one of the best in the business, and at the heart of the matter, it’s still a truly vintage driving experience—bias-ply tires and a chassis from 1964 (its underpinnings are borrowed from an E-Type), kind of make that part inevitable.
But how did he come to land on such an obscure car? Chen knew he wanted something vintage and specifically without a roof, but the car also had to be able to keep up with modern traffic, so that ruled out pretty much everything with an MG badge for starters, and eventually he found this XKSS recreation near San Francisco. The car’s owner had raced D-Types in the period, and he’d wanted to bring some of that experience to the street without attaching the exorbitant value of a genuine D-Type or XKSS to the experience, so he commissioned Ram Engineering to build this instead, seeing as the company specializes in re-bodying Jags to look like C and D-Types as well as XKSSes. It has authentic D-Type wheels with the spline drives to really complete the look, but the car is based on a ’64 E-Type so it has a 3.8-liter straight-six under the clamshell hood, as well as the E-Type’s independent rear suspension that was absent on the genuine XKSS.
The real function of this car then isn’t to own something unobtainable, and he’d rather have something that’s capable of being enjoyed for its mechanical abilities rather than its potential to increase in value as it sits motionless and climate-controlled. He shares the car with his son especially, but he hopes the car will inspire other young enthusiasts who still value the analog nature of driving cars like these. What’s not to love?