A Jaguar XK120 Roadster was judged Best in Class in the Postwar Sports Open category at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held Sunday, August 19th on the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
While winning Best in Class makes this particular XK120 significant on its own merit, it also stands above the others because its first owner was Hollywood icon Clark Gable, a devoted Jaguar enthusiast. Gable’s XK120, chassis No. 670003, is owned by Jeff Lotman, of Los Angeles and was restored and prepared for the Pebble Beach Concours by Derek Hood of JD Classics in Maldon, Essex in the U.K.
Gable was a self-admitted “car nut,” who was already the proud owner of a Jaguar Mark IV Drop Head Coupe. When the XK120 was announced, Gable said that, “he wanted it like a child wants candy!” A friend of West Coast Jaguar distributor Charles Hornburg, Gable went to International Motors on Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood and insisted that he be sold the very first XK120 to arrive on the West Coast.
Gable was initially disappointed as the very first XK120 delivered to International Motors was for display purposes only and could not be driven or sold. In fact, the 3.4 liter XK engine in the car did not even have a crankshaft.
The cars were at a premium after their unveiling at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in 1948. In fact, as would later happen again with the Jaguar E-Type a decade later, Jaguar thought they could probably sell 250 of the new cars. But demand was so high, 240 hand-beaten aluminum bodied cars were made to fill some of the outstanding orders until the actual production tooling for steel bodied cars could be installed.
While most of the early aluminum-bodied XK120s were intended for racing, this XK120 was the first customer car to leave the Holbrook Lane production line in June 1949. Built as a left-hand drive car, Gable’s XK120 was exported to California in September 1949 to Charles Hornburg’s Los Angeles distributorship before finally reaching International Motors, the Hollywood dealership of Roger Barlow.
Originally painted Suede Green, the car was re-sprayed to Gable’s specifications. Its unique color is known as ‘Gable Grey’ and it was actually mixed by Roger Barlow and Clark Gable. During the restoration process, UK classic car specialist JD Classics then recreated the color as part of its painstaking 17-month restoration of the vehicle.
While researching this car, JD Classics discovered a feature article written by Clark Gable himself in the March 1950 issue of Road & Track magazine. In it, he mentions his attempt on one of Southern California’s dry lakes to reach the XK120’s official 132 mph top speed, which was a world record at the time for standard production vehicles. He managed to 124 mph in his completely stock and unmodified car.
Derek Hood, the driving force behind JD Classics, found Gable’s XK120 outside of Dallas, Texas, where its then owner had disassembled the car and had parts in baskets, scattered between three sheds. At that point, chassis No. 670003 had been “lost” for many years. It is the only one of the three XK120s Clark Gable owned to be found and verified as one he had owned.
The XK120 still has Clark’s Automobile Club de L’lle de France, Auto Club de Suisse and Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus badges as fitted during his ownership.