The first major car show I attended was the 1971 L.A. Auto Expo. As a wide-eyed nine-year-old, everything seemed special. Bright colors, racy shapes, and a handful of pretty ladies (still a few years away from becoming a distraction from cars) the event was largely dominated by the final year of muscle cars, full-sized sedans and a smattering of economy cars. It was exciting, but it wasn’t ground breaking. The most impressive exhibit to me was a small segment of “Classic Cars.” It was there that I laid eyes on my first Jaguar XK120. Small and low, it captured my attention just as it had others 23 years earlier, when Jaguar unveiled the most impressive production sports car ever conceived; a ground-breaking car that would change not only the future of Jaguar, it would change the future of all sports cars to come.
It is difficult to encapsulate the enthusiasm that greeted Jaguar when, in 1948, they revealed the XK 120 to the British public and, eventually, the world. Even for the largely demure Brits, emerging from economic austerity following World War II, the XK120 caused quite a stir. The shocking and newly conceived XK 120 was nothing short of an earth-shattering revelation. The all-new Jaguar not only boosted morale among the weary UK population, it demonstrated to the world that Britain had both the technical capacity and passion to deliver a sensual and emotionally engaging sports car. Gone were the stiff upright grilles, teetering headlamps, and buckboard seating position. Although originally intended to be a concept car showcasing Jaguar’s remarkable new twin-cam, inline six-cylinder engine, the breathtaking styling and genuine 120-mph performance, coupled with an affordable price, captured the imagination of the world. In short order, the largely hand-built aluminum-bodied car was scuttled into limited production as orders came flooding in from all over the world. With time and delivery pressures growing, Jaguar immediately realized they needed to reengineer the car for mass production, and thus quickly developed steel body tooling capable of producing thousands of cars in an effort to meet growing demand. And, while collectors today favor the rare, aluminum, hand-built XK120, both variants are exceptional expressions of advanced design, surprising everyone, including Jaguar themselves, nearly 70 years ago.
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