CONCORD, N.C. (May 23, 2000) Like a precocious child who can perform amazing feats of advanced mathematics in his head, British icon Jaguar has always been lauded for being ahead of its years — a distinction that will be illustrated with a special display of Jaguar’s finest automobiles at the Sept. 14-17 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
The origins of this style-conscious, racing-oriented company go back to the ’20s, when the Swallow Sidecar firm branched out to build bodies for Fiat and Morris. The name Jaguar was adopted following WWII, when the company stepped up efforts to build its own world-class performance cars.
The ’49 XK-120 roadster was Jaguar’s first world-class postwar car. Powered by a 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine that delivered 160 horsepower, the light XK was arguably the fastest production car in the world and yet it had a pleasant ride to offer. Because an early, aluminum-bodied version of the car had set a flying mile speed record of 132.6 miles per hour, the company modestly claimed its customers could expect the car to reach 120 mph — hence the model’s name. The car’s sporting pedigree was evident in the standard equipment, which included an aluminum head, hemispherical combustion chambers, double-overhead camshafts and seven main bearings. A grocery list of must-have options (especially popular with U.S. buyers) included high-lift camshafts, a higher compression ratio, dual exhausts, wire wheels, fender skirts and a racing clutch.
A coupe body joined the XK-120 lineup in ’51, as did a 200-horsepower competition model. Evolution for the XK number series was as swift and steady as the jungle cat after which Jaguar was named, with a faster XK-140 (introduced in ’55) and XK-150 (’58) filling in the family tree until the line was discontinued in ’61.
The silver ’57 XK-140 to be featured at AutoFair sports a dash plaque certifying that a similarly equipped model reached 141.51 miles an hour.
Contemporary with the sporty XK-120/140/150 series was Jaguar’s more conservative “Mark” line of sedans and coupes. An especially notable car making its debut at AutoFair is the ’49 Mark V sedan originally built for and owned by King Leopold III of Belgium. Featuring chassis number 527002, it is the second unit built of only 180 left-hand drive ’49 models and is powered by a 2.5-liter six-cylinder. It was the first year for the new Mark V body, which featured semi-integrated, sealed-beam headlights; independent front suspension; hydraulic brakes and doors with pushbutton handles and concealed hinges. King Leopold’s black-and-ivory sedan was used in several official ceremonies and driven by His Highness on several occasions. Today, Norman Parrish owns it, and it has been displayed it at more than 50 concours d’elegance.
For purposes of comparison to later models, the King’s ’49 Mark V will be displayed alongside a solid white ’59 Mark IX sedan.
The last of the XK number models gave way to the low-slung XK-E in ’61 that must now be the Official Car of the British Empire after its supporting role in two Austin Powers movies. Designed by an aerodynamics expert, the E-type (as it was known in Europe) was shaped like a missile on a mission. The roadster weighed 400 pounds less than the previous XK-150 and sported its high-performance, 265-horsepower/3.8-liter six-cylinder engine. Whether in roadster or coupe form, the XK-E’s sexy styling and awesome performance made it an instant hit with sports car fans around the world — an enthusiasm that was renewed in ’71 with the introduction of Jaguar’s all-aluminum 5.4-liter V-12 powerplant. The V-12 XK-E replaced the six-cylinder model in the United States until the end of E-type production in ’74.
There are three XK-Es scheduled to make an appearance in the AutoFair Pavilion: a ’69 six-cylinder roadster, a ’71 V-12 coupe and a modified coupe owned by Lowe’s Motor Speedway president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler and powered by a Ford Mustang 5.0-liter V-8.
The XJ-6, launched in 1968 with the XK-E’s powerful six-cylinder engine, proved that a four-door sedan could be quite beautiful and sporty without sacrificing creature comfort. In essence, the XJ-6 replaced the Mark series of sedans, but in practice the new line was light years ahead of its predecessor with standard equipment including power steering and four-wheel disc brakes. Popular American-market options included air conditioning, power windows, automatic transmission and heated rear glass. Still in production today, the XJ has seen a few redesigns but today’s supercharged XJR that manages to pull 370 horsepower from its 4.0-liter V-8 ensures Jaguar a place at the top of the sports sedan food chain.
In 1976, Jaguar replaced its E-series roadsters and coupes with a two-door sedan XJ-S powered by its massive V-12 engine that was largely unchanged until its last year of production in ’96. Car enthusiasts were initially skeptical of the new Jag’s ability to be “an XK-E for the ’70s and ’80s,” but 110,000 hardtops and convertibles later, the powerful four-seater has proven to be one of the company’s most popular models ever.
AutoFair will feature a ’79 XJ-S owned by three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip.
Jaguar introduced another visually stunning sports car in ’96 in the form of the XK-8. Powered by a 4.0-liter V-8 and available in coupe and convertible form, the XK-8 might just as well have been called “Son of XK-E.” In case the “standard” 290-horsepower version of the XK-8 isn’t enough to pique a driving enthusiast’s passion, there is always the 370-horsepower, supercharged XKR.
The company’s latest move to raise the bar for the competition is the four-door S-Type sedan introduced as a 2000 model. This mid-size sedan, the company’s first since the ’64-’68 model of the same name, has the “look-at-me” styling and performance (it’s available with a 3.0-liter V-6 or 4.0-liter V-8) that made the company’s name synonymous with driving passion.
A display of special Jaguar models at the Food Lion AutoFair will give spectators a feel for why this marque is held in such high regard by car enthusiasts worldwide.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $8 for adults; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit the website at www.gospeedway.com.