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California Cat: 1953 Jaguar XK120 SE OTS

Once again we confront a barn find Jaguar awaiting its Prince Charming. Here on craigslist is a 1953 Jaguar XK120 SE open two-seater, with an asking price of $55,000. Reviewing the assignment, I thought the ad sounded vaguely familiar, mentioning as it did that the JDHT certificate indicates the car was Lavendar Gray over red from the factory. Sure enough, this is round three for this Jag on Barn Finds, with coverage back on 8/23/22 by yours truly, and once again by Jeff Lavery on 8/30/22. The previous asking price was just shy of eighty grand, so at least that’s moving in the right direction. The car remains, as it was months ago, in Napa, California. Gunter Kramer found this tip for us – thanks, Gunter! This car is a special equipment (SE) car. The SE variation came in three flavors: a 180 bhp version included twin exhaust pipes and a higher lift camshaft; 210 bhp resulted from the larger SUs coupled with a C-type head; and 220 bhp was possible thanks to Webers rather than SUs. Any of these was an improvement over the base configuration at 160 bhp. Still, even the base model was stunningly fast for its time, not to mention beautiful. The effect of its arrival on the sports car scene in 1948 can hardly be overstated.

That said, the arrival of this car in the craigslist roster once again does not thrill. The seller has not made any attempt, other than decreasing the price, to give this poor car a better shot at finding an owner. One photo shows the trunk lid with a red panel protecting its underside; I’ve never seen that before so I’ll give a nod to the seller for including it in the listing this time. The car also retains its side curtain stowage bags. I’m not sure what a buyer is supposed to do with these bits, however. The car will likely head for a full restoration, which means the original items would be renovated or tossed. This is the conundrum around originality – if it’s too ratty, it almost doesn’t count.

This is a 3.4-liter twin overhead cam six-cylinder XK motor deriving from Jaguar’s experimentation in the early 1940s with a four-cylinder that it called the XF. This car, as noted, is an SE, but it’s the mildest version, with twin exhausts and a higher camshaft lift, good for 180 bhp. The motor turns but does not run.

Here’s another photo I don’t recall from the first ad, reminding us that age will bring rust. Virtually every part of this car will require someone’s skills or plenty of money. Reviewing prices for derelict XK120s suggests that the seller is still asking too much. In fact, given the scope of the work, a buyer ought to ask whether a project is even feasible when driver-quality cars sell for around $70k. What do you think?


  1. RayT Member

    This would be a pretty nice proposition, albeit one that would probably set the new owner back probably $100K in restoration costs on top of the asking price. You’d be underwater.

    But maybe you’d be happy, too. These are pretty nice for anyone who appreciates the strengths and foibles of traditional Brit sports cars. I do, but I also know that modest performance by modern standards, drum brakes, a somewhat awkward driving position and the non-synchro first in the Moss gearbox may cool some people’s ardor.

    Michelle, I may be wrong but that piece in the trunk lid appears to be a finish panel installed at the factory. Just another piece that would need repair/replacement.

    I hope the seller is willing to negotiate. Can’t imagine many — or any — willing to spend that kind of money, and the deterioration won’t stop by itself.

    Like 2
    • bobhess bobhess Member

      You and Michelle hit on it RayT. Could explain why it’s still for sale. Seller must not be in the mood to negotiate or the car would be gone by now.

      Like 2
      • Michelle Rand Staff

        I believe this car has waltzed through many a venue, not just craigslist, over the months. I saw it covered and/or advertised in other places while researching it. It’s a bit shopworn by now.

        Like 0
      • Gary

        To be charitable, the owner doesn’t know their market. I certainly hope it’s not a case of someone looking for a fool to sell to.

        Like 2
  2. Yblocker

    Wow! $55,000 for a trashed out Jag, guess they’re trying to compete with Porche, although a Porche in this fine condition, would command much more.

    Like 1
  3. gippy

    At 20-25K it would be a decent project if it is matching numbers. The guy was on LSD at 85K and has come down to Mescaline at 55K- he needs to get into re-hab to sell it.

    Like 8
  4. Kurt Member

    Having seen fully restored versions and the receipts for work done the asking price is way high, no “meat on the bone” as they say.would be fun to restore but so much would have to be farmed out (e.g. the leather work) the seller is going to have to bite the bullet.

    Like 2
  5. Jaker76

    Seller isnt doing himself or the car any favors and needs to check reality on his limited photos and pricing. As far as SE cars, these came as SE or non, not sure if the writer really know his jaguar info…

    Like 0
  6. V12MECH

    Another British car heap, I mean project, where reality is setting in, these are wonderful cars, driver or restored correctly, desirable options, but not at that price point, not even close.

    Like 1
  7. 'George.Birth

    This guy seems to think this is a bargain @$55K.Goes to show he needs more research if he really wants to sell it. $5K TO $8 K would be closer to value today.

    Like 0

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