Jaguar XK120’s speed-record run to be honored at Amelia Island

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Clark Gable and Sir William Lyons at MGM Studios with Gable's first XK120 | Jaguar archive photo

Editor’s note: The ClassicCars.com Journal is your source for Amelia Island news – from collector car auctions and shows to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Read more of our coverage on our dedicated page.


On May 30, 1949, a Jaguar roadster hurtled along a highway in Jabbeke, Belgium, to set a top-speed record for production cars and, in doing so, earned its “XK120” designation.

With its top up and windshield in place, the XK reached a record 126.448 mph. In another run with top and windshield removed, the Jag hit 132.6 mph.

That was quite a feat for the lusciously styled sports car that debuted just a year earlier at the Earls Court Motor Show with a competition-bred twin-cam straight-6 under its hood.

Gable’s second XK120 was lightly customized by George Barris | Hyman Ltd. photo

Seventy years later, the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance will celebrate Jaguar’s first speed record with a special Jaguar XK120 class.

Highlighted in the class commemorating “the world’s fastest production car” will be a real Hollywood star, a custom XK120 originally owned by legendary movie actor Clark Gable.   Gable bought the first XK120 to arrive in the United States, and later bought another, this time having the car personalized by southern California customizer George Barris.

The Barris-customized Jaguar XK will be joined in the display by a number of famed XK120s from the world of motorsports, including one that in 1954 won a NASCAR race at the Linden, New Jersey, airport.

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XK120s lining up for the 1954 NASCAR race at the Linden Airport | Jaguar archive

The lure of the groundbreaking XK120 goes well beyond its sports and racing prowess, its evocative design and innovative engineering making it one of the most desirable sport cars of the 1950s.  Best of all, the Jaguar was relatively affordable, especially compared with the performance sports car competition from the Continent.

When he purchased his first XK120, Gable reputedly told Jaguar chief William Lyons that he wanted the sports car “like a child wants candy.”

“Jaguar’s XK120 is a landmark car; it was the first sports car I ever rode in,” Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, said in a news release. “I was just a kid but the smell of the leather and the wood has stayed with me. The XK120 is simply unforgettable.”

One of the most-highly esteemed automotive events in the U.S., the 24th Annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for March 7-10 on the 10th and 18th fairways of The Golf Club of Amelia Island adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Resort. For information, visit the concours website.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

6 COMMENTS

    • Hi, I believe there were two cars dedicated to try and break this record the second of which I can say with some conviction is here in Australia and is owned by one of our members of the Grafton Sporting Car Club. On its transmission tunnel is an engraved plate inscribed with ‘car no. 2’ and a description f the purpose of the car ie to break the speed record!

      • @ Phil that will be cool to hear! Jaguar Roadter is a remarkable car, another one deserves to break the previous record.

      • My cars all have names, and hers is "Beautiful Girl". ‘Born’ on 15 May 1950, she is #670276. Sadly, I am downsizing; and she will have a new home sometime soon…

          • Yes – hard to let go; but at the same time… it’s time. Most of us face that time – whether ready to accept it, or not. Hoping the generations to come will have the same fascination and endearment to both preserve and adore the truly timeless masterpieces that have long been cared for with loving respect.

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