(first posted 1/15/2015) The text of the email was brief: Got a good car for an article. Call me. Knowing my co-worker Rand would not tell me about just any car, he had me intrigued. When he disclosed it was a 1960 Jaguar, along with the owner’s name and phone number, I called immediately.
Her name is Theresa, and her 1960 Jaguar XK-150S has quite the story.
Theresa’s father purchased this Jaguar in 1962 from the Jaguar dealer in Kansas City. For reasons she has never fully determined, Theresa’s father, a machinist and farmer, developed a very strong affinity for British automobiles during his time in Panama, even bringing an MG back with him.
The family car was a Riley, seen on the right. It was a 1.5 liter car, based upon the Morris Minor. On the left is an MG, specifically an MGA fixed-head coupe, that was the last body-on-frame MG and produced from 1955 to 1962.
Perhaps such a combination was typical in some places, but Theresa grew up near the small town of Clinton, on the western side of Missouri, about an hour south-southeast of Kansas City. Let’s just say this area wasn’t exactly a hotbed for British cars.
Yet Theresa’s father loved this second of his Jaguars, keeping it parked in a corrugated steel garage, further protected from the elements by flannel blankets tied down with pink bows. He drove it sparingly, limiting it to Sunday drives and making runs to the local Dairy Queen on Friday’s during hay season. He did, however, drive it to Indianapolis one year with his brother and a mutual friend to watch the Indianapolis 500.
Indeed, a grown man rode in this compartment behind the seat. The friend was of a smaller stature and he rode there crossways. It was not a short trip, as the distance between Clinton and Indianapolis is 475 miles.
The collection of British cars Theresa’s father would ultimately amass contained the Riley, a Jaguar XK 120 (seen here), two MG’s, and our featured car. Later in his life, Theresa’s father turned his attention away from British cars and toward something closer to home – John Deere tractors.
Upon her father’s death, Theresa and her sister were faced with quite a formidable amount of iron to address, one item of which was a Cadillac V16 engine that had originally been in a car owned by the Pendergast family in Kansas City – yes, it was the family of political boss Tom Pendergast. That engine was sold to someone in Australia.
The only item Theresa was truly interested in was this XK-150S. Theresa obviously has very good taste; she is also a very generous woman. How so? Theresa let me drive her Jaguar, but we will get to that shortly. We haven’t discussed any specifics about the car.
This XK-150S is powered by a 250 horsepower dual overhead cam 3.4 liter straight six with three SU carburetors. Theresa tells me it also has two fuel pumps and two batteries. She has had some mechanical refurbishment performed on the car and nearly everything is working seamlessly. This car is entirely original, save for the headliner, windshield, and a few miscellaneous rubber parts.
Painted in what appears to be Cornish Grey, this fixed head coupe is equipped with the Laycock De Normanville overdrive, which likely aided the XK-150S in reaching its reported 136 mph top speed. Jaguar introduced this series of XK in 1958 and it ran until 1961. There were only 199 fixed head coupes built during that time powered by the triple-carb 3.4 liter S engine like this one has. From our conversation, Theresa said she has been told only fourteen of these were exported to the United States. This is one of them.
In our emails, Rand had warned me this was a very cold-blooded car; Theresa reiterated this prior to our meeting and added it is very cold-blooded even on a summer day. She’s been around the car for nearly 53 years, so she knows a thing or two about this Jaguar.
On the day of our visit, it was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Theresa had put a heated dipstick into the engine to warm the oil for easier starting as she said the car has no choke on any of the carburetors. I knew getting it started would be an adventure.
This is what the Jaguar sounded like while trying to warm up. Like most people, it wasn’t happy about being awakened on a cold, January day. To acquire outside pictures, Theresa encouraged me to pull it out of the garage.
Getting to the street, Theresa suggested parking it in front a house for pictures. With the reverse gear in the Jaguar being a bit cantankerous, Theresa suggested going to the next street and taking the alley back around. That was a great idea, although in my excitement of piloting this Jaguar solo, I moseyed past the alley and over the crest of a very steep hill. I quickly got myself into an undesirable predicament: Turn around in a driveway and risk using the reverse gear or drive over the ice at the bottom of the hill caused by a burst water line. Choosing the ice, I looped around another side street to get back toward the alley – and necessitating a second jaunt over the ice.
After taking these pictures, Theresa said the Jaguar needed some exercise and suggested driving toward the downtown and state capital building area, ultimately going to my house on the far end of town, nine miles away. Firing up the Jag, we took off.
Driving this car is a wonderful mixture of old, contemporary, and unique. The four-speed transmission shifts delightfully easy, with first and second gear requiring a longer travel from neutral than does third or fourth. The shifter is very close, almost touching my knee, and its movement, while not buttery smooth, is amazing given the era this car was built.
The XK-150S is equipped with four-wheel disc brakes that are as good as any I’ve ever experienced. The overall response is quite contemporary and it belies the age of the car.
I am not one to hoon somebody else’s car, especially one this old and rare. However, the 3.4 liter straight six in this Jaguar practically begs to be driven hard. In our drive around city streets it was perfectly content in first and second gear, with longer stretches using third gear. The car wasn’t ready for fourth gear until about 40 mph. We did not use the overdrive.
Once up to speed, the Jaguar rode beautifully with only a few expected air leaks. The initially awkward driving position of having my legs nearly straight out in front of me seemed to evaporate. The steering was tight and the XK tracked as straight as can be. Theresa has quite a wonderful car in this Jaguar. After some exposure, I’m starting to see what her father saw in these cars as the smell of incompletely burned gasoline, old leather, and the melodious tones of a DOHC Jaguar straight-six are highly intoxicating. I have always like British sports cars, but always from a distance. This car, after driving it, can easily make one look past the triple carburetors, the Lucas electronics, and all the other eclectic features.
This is not the only thoroughbred in Theresa’s stable; she also has two Corvettes. Her daily driver is a new Honda CRV, a vehicle she says is indescribably different from her other three, but only it can succeed in getting out of her steep driveway in the winter.
Theresa has experienced some life altering events over the past year. During our visit, she talked about the possibility of needing to adjust her fleet size, but each of her three stallions has significant meaning to her which makes any decision quite tough.
Whatever decision Theresa comes to will be the right one, as her statement upon our departure will long stick in my memory. As I thanked her for her time and generosity, she responded by saying treasures are meant to be shared.
Automotive History: Jaguar and Sir William Lyons by Roger Carr