By Andrew Newton
Featured in this classified ad from Road & Track‘s June 1964 issue is an example of one of the most exclusive, desirable, and drop dead gorgeous sports cars to have ever graced this earth. Just sixteen Jaguar XK Super Sports, or XKSS’s, were built in Coventry during a short production run in 1957.
These days, the XKSS is near the top of everybody’s dream car wish list. Meanwhile, their rarity means that their value sits well into the millions and they almost never come up for public sale. Back in 1957, though, Jaguar wasn’t trying to create the world’s most sought after car or even to capitalize on the racing success of the D-Type by making a street version. Instead they were simply trying to solve the practical problem of what to do with all of their unsold D-Types, and what resulted was almost like a reverse-homologation special.
Although the D-Type duly earned itself icon status by winning Le Mans three times, even in 1956, Jaguar, who withdrew from factory racing that year, found the car hard to sell. In November 1956 there were 29 D-Types in stock at the factory. And with racing car technology evolving at its ceaseless pace, there was no way all of the cars were going to find buyers. There wasn’t a clear solution to the problem, but a suggestion from the United States (possibly importer Johannes Eerdmans) led Jaguar to believe that a road-going sports car based on the D-Type could be an easy sell in the all-important North American market.
The process of making a D-Type into an XKSS was remarkably simple. So simple, in fact, that the prototype, Chassis XKSS701, is said to have taken only three days to get together. What Jaguar took off of the D-Type were the metal spine running between the seats as well as the headrest, while what they added for the XKSS were a curved windscreen with two wipers and a rear-view mirror, a folding top, a passenger door, a perforated panel over the side pipe, and minimalist chrome bumpers. To give at least some degree of utility, a luggage rack was also fitted to the back of the trunkless Jaguar.
Everything else was all D-Type. From the 3,442 XK motor fitted with three 45mm Webers to the 37 gallon fuel tank and 12.75 inch Dunlop disc brakes, the XKSS was exactly what it was supposed to be, a racing car for the street. The initial price was $6,9000 (the XKSS was intended for North America and never officially listed in the UK), but this price was later reduced.
There were never going to be very many XKSS’s, but an incident on February 12, 1957, cut production even shorter. After most of the staff had gone home, a fire broke out on the north end of the factory, and parts of the assembly line as well as part of the service department suffered serious damage. Around 300 cars in total were written off, including the XKSS’s that were under construction in the service department. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was the death knell for the XKSS. In the end, only sixteen cars left Browns Lane before the end of 1957. In all, two cars went to Canada, one to Hong Kong, and the rest to the United States, where among the well-heeled owners was actor Steve McQueen, who used XKSS713 all around Los Angeles. He nicknamed his car the “Green Rat” and even had upholsterer Tony Nancy and pin-striper Von Dutch add personal flare to the interior.
This XKSS featured in the classified ad has a somewhat less storied past than McQueen’s car, but it is almost certainly XKSS769, formerly D-Type Chassis 550, and therefore the very last XKSS sold. XKSS769 left Coventry in November of 1957, and before long it was painted maroon and modified for racing in the SCCA’s C-Modified class. Its best results with a driver named Tossie Alex seem to be a podium finish at Road America in 1959 and at Wilmot in 1960. The car was raced sporadically into the 1960s, but it wasn’t getting any more competitive, possibly explaining this 1964 sale. It is unclear, however, what exactly is meant by “fully restored”. The car wasn’t even seven years old yet. XKSS769 led a fairly quiet life before being bought by Gerald Nell of Wisconsin in 1991. He used the priceless car in numerous historic events over the next eighteen years, surely enjoying every second behind the wheel. In 2009, the car joined a private collection in the UK. Its last major appearance to speak of was at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2010.
The price in this classified is a staggering $6,000. In 2013 dollars, that comes to about $44,500. Today, collectors would probably be tripping over each other to pay a hundred times that. At one time just an obsolete racer and now one of the most lusted after things on four wheels, the change in attitudes towards this and indeed all other XKSS’s is indeed a remarkable one.
[Source: Road & Track]
By Andrew Newton
Interesting to see my old XKSS #769, indeed it was the last car built, I owned it for quite a few yrs, (before vintage racing started). Used to drive it to Hershey PA from Chicago for the big fall swap meet. Would just park it on the street like any old Jaguar back then. I undertook a total rebuild some yrs later, by that time XKSSs were moving up fast in price, finally sold the car and was able to retire. They say I am a lucky guy and I guess I am. I bought the car because I liked it not thinking it ever would be worth a lots of money, prices have gone thru the roof after my sale, but I had great fun. Anyone want to buy a 1953 Kaiser? Its the next big thing!!!
Great story. Thank you very much for sharing, and for keeping #769 alive and well.
My Dad owned and raced #757 in the far East. he won the Macau GP in 1960 with it. It is evidently in the hands of a British collector, no doubt under a dust cover, such a shame for such a beautiful car.
I am shopping for a XKSS. If there is any interest party, pls. send me some details and offer.
was pleased to hear from u about XK SS Jaguar, is a great car but very expensive now.Not many offered for sale but might be able to get u one, those who have them dont want part with them. It probably would take several millions to but one today out of the 16 they built, Let me know if u want me to find one for u, all the best, Frank Opalka
My Dad’s old car was , I believe, on the market for $13M within the last year.
There are only 16 cars in the world, and the location of each is now, probably, well known. Indeed one was entered into a celebrity/charity even run by the BBC and broadcast to 60M potential buyers this week. So why would anyone need the services of Frank Opalka to find one for you.
If you have $13M I’ll contact the seller of #757 and negotiate the deal for you free, all I ask is that I’m allowed to drive the car for an hour. Assuming, of course, it’s not already sold.
Please contact me if you are still seriously in the market for an XKSS.
310 463 8220
I PURCHASED XKSS 710 IN 1961 FROM BOB GROSSMAN OF FOREIGN CARS OF NYACK,NY TRADING A 1957 MB 300SL ROADSTER FOR IT, DROVE IT BACK TO TOEDO,OHIO THROUGH A BLIZZARD. RACED IT IN C MODIFIED WINNING THE SCCA CHAMPIONSHIP AT IRP IN 1961 (the year the track opened). RACED IT IN THE PAYERS 200 AT MOSPORT IN 1961 PLUS NUMEROUS OTHER VENUES. DROVE IT ON THE STREET AS AN EVERYDAY CAR ,IT WAS VERY RELIABLE AND EASY TO DRIVE . LOVED THE CAR,PRESENTLY IT IS OWNED BY A COLLECTOR LN PHOENIX,AZ.
Glad to hear from a fellow XKSS owner, I found mine apart after it had a long racing career, It was the last one made, chassis #xkss769, drove it for many yrs, restored it and sold it back to Uk, wonderful car.
I remember that car sitting in your old garage in Evanston before you restored it. I have wonderful memories of visiting your shop … it was always full of interesting things.
I put the XKSS together from many parts in sellers garage. First trip was to Hershey PA for the big car show/swap meet. Raining like hell but no one passed me! Arrived on main st in Hershey and met a car collector from CA who wanted to buy the car. I quoted him $20,000 and he said he would never pay that much for and old Jaguar. Wonder how he feels now.
Frank, I guess it was you I met at the JCNA dinner at Phoenix 2005 at the golf and country club. We were two Jaguar journalists and fans from the UK and sat at the same table. Much enjoyed our conversation. I’ll never afford a real one, but I have had a Lynx for some years now.
Tony: Good to hear from u, I had a great time with the XKSS, 769, last one made. Lynx makes fine xkss and have done business with them over the yrs, they provided lots of parts for my xkss during the rebuild, visited them when they were in Rye. I also provided trans parts they needed, Us D type owners have to stick together, I hear my old car is somewhere in Wales, I have lots of orginal worn out parts from my car, Let me know how to contact them if u know, all the best, Frank
PITY JAGUAR LOST IT WITH BL FIASCO,AND THE COMMENT ABOUT THE RELIABILITY OF THE XKSS JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT TODAY JAGUAR IS STILL TRYING TO GET THAT V.IMPORTANT QUALITY BACK!! WHAT FOOLS WE BRITS HAVE BEEN TO LET THE COMPETITION (ESPECIALLY THE GERMANS) DOMINATE THE MARKET.I HAVE A VERY IMPORTANT 1:43 SCALE COLLECTION OF JAGS SO AT LEAST I CAN DROOL OVER THEM!!!!!
I saw the Tossie Alex XK-SS at Road America in 1963. Recalling that it was painted white at the time. Also saw the red at RA and the white one at auction PB about 14 years ago. Never made the PB reunion, but seeing 5 or 6 out of 16 still major events for a dedicated Jaguar lover
My father in law owned 716 in the late 50’s, raced and won at Harewood Raceway in Ontario. an expat Brit he lost it in one of his many bankruptcies. Boy I would love to drive it. He also raced an AH 100M.