Big cats roaming the wilds of the British countryside isn’t a new idea. The Beast of Exmoor and the Bodmin Beast are just some of the phantom felines used to scare children into going to sleep at night and as an explanation for mysterious deaths of farmers’ cattle. Folklore and fantasy for sure, however, this past weekend I did spot something marauding around the hills and lanes of the Cotswolds, and during broad daylight no less. This particular beast had a 3.8-liter straight-six growl, four wheels, and was easy to see through the green undulations of hillside thanks to its dazzling red coat. The species of this animal? Jaguar, XK140 to be precise.
The XK140, introduced at the end of 1954, was the successor to the XK120 that had tasted success in its C-Type racing variant at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a fact that is proudly displayed on the 140’s grille badge. Similar, very similar, in design to the 120, but boasting upgraded telescopic suspension as well as further steering and engine improvements, in standard trim the XK140 squeezed 190bhp from its 3.4-liter six.
The SE variant however, which ran the aforementioned C-Type’s cylinder head, had another 20 ponies to play with. The eagle-eyed (or is that cat-eyed?) among you will have noticed a discrepancy in information within the first paragraphs, and have no doubt quite correctly pointed out that I have mixed up my capacities. Allow me to explain…
The 140 I have in my paws today, well, it isn’t exactly a standard model. It began its life padding around the streets of New York and no doubt looked fabulous in its original cream finish; a chic piece of Britain cutting a line through the yellow cabs and skyscrapers of the Big Apple. Somewhere around the turn of the millennium though, the Jag found its way back home to the green and pleasant, and thereupon began both its restoration and transformation. The engine was bored out to 3.8 liters and was fed through a new set of a triple SU carbs, with the intention to prepare it for racing use, as well as a conversion to right-hand drive, and of course a respray in that gorgeous red paint.
It looks the business, and whilst not original, it is exceptionally clean throughout. That large, art-deco grille and those sweeping lines make it look at once elegant and quick, and illuminated by the bright, summer sunshine today it’s hard to imagine the stereotypes of British-built roadsters down on power in the soggy grey landscapes that so many associate with the place.
The lack of bumpers up front are a hint, but turn the key and there is some immediate evidence as to the purpose of this car, as to what lies beneath the svelte exterior. The six-cylinder mill barks, settles, and fills your head with the Jaguar soundtrack once heard at race circuits all over the world, albeit housed in plenty of different chassis. It leaves you with no illusions about the intended use of this car too, and as it purrs on tick-over it thumps a sweet rhythm out of the pipes interrupted every so often with the odd dropped beat, that oddly comforting characteristic of carbureted engines at work.
Out on the road the motor snaps and surges with power, surprisingly so for a car of this vintage. Its responsiveness requires a delicate touch on the right pedal as we navigate the often-loose surface of the backroads we’re driving on on this beautiful June day. It’s great fun as the back tires kick about and scramble for traction, and that extra displacement has the machine up to speed quickly when you ask of it, and the whole show is set to that beautiful roaring XK6 soundtrack.
With the tiny windshields offering next to no shelter, I find myself buffeted about as we punch through the atmosphere, but for me it adds a certain vitality to the experience of being sat in something built in the ‘50s, although goggles and a hat come highly recommended!
While the backroads are quiet, and perfect for photo opportunities, the rough surface is playing havoc with the older suspension of the Jag. Somewhat stiffly sprung for competition and more “progressive” road use, she is struggling a little to track the pitted and scarred asphalt beneath us, so larger, smoother roads beckon. In this new environment the XK140 excels, the potential of the power plant and chassis finally being realized rather than coaxed along, and our progress along the highway is swift. Modern traffic is no problem, and in many cases, quickly disappears in the rear-view mirror.
Of course, any roadster on a warm summer’s day is going to be a delight regardless of its pace, but this car, in this trim, is a special experience for me. Sure, it isn’t original and probably not a machine for the purists with their tweed coats and patched jackets, but different strokes, right? For what it’s worth, I’m in total awe of it. Top Trumps stats aside, the emotion involved in driving (and I would imagine owning) this car is something that flies in the face of the stereotypes of staid and slow roadsters of this era and origin.
From the fanfare that detonates and carries through the tail pipes, to the primeval feeling of being knocked about by the wind while you’re in motion, and not forgetting the sheer beauty of the cars swept styling, any way in which you choose to enjoy this XK140 yields much reward. The people that stopped to look, touch, and ask questions during our morning with the big cat seemed to compound how I felt about it, seeing tangible and I suppose obvious evidence that I was not alone in my sentiments. The difference though, was that I was lucky enough to be blasting around the beautiful roads of the Cotswolds in it, if only for a few hours. I’d like to give thanks to the Classic Motor Hub for providing such an experience.