1952 Jaguar XK120 C-Type could sell for $7.5M at Amelia Island 2020

If, at first, you don’t succeed… Clearly, that was Jaguar chief William Lyons’ motto when it came to the XK120 and its success on the racetrack—or the lack of it. Although Lyons and his team were widely praised when the XK120 rolled out in 1948, the sleek roadster would require some tweaking to become the race car they imagined it could be.

Enter the C-Type.

Unveiled at the 1948 London Motor Show and put into production shortly thereafter, the gorgeous XK120 was a gem. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1950, however, the best the Jag could do was 12th—definitely not good enough for Lyons, who decided that further work on the chassis would be necessary if the car was to be truly competitive.

The new-and-improved C-Type (C stands for competition) kept the XK120’s running gear but wore a lightweight tubular space-frame chassis with an aerodynamic aluminum body. Its XK120 engine—a 3.4-liter, twin-cam, straight-six that normally produced 160–180 horsepower—was tuned to 205 hp. The results were immediate and impressive: the C-Type won in its Le Man debut in 1951 and then again in ’53.

In all, 53 C-Types (or 54, depending on the source) were built from 1951–53, with the vast majority going to private owners in the U.S. That includes this 1952 example (#XKC 014), which will cross the block at Bonhams’ Amelia Island Auction later this week. Presale estimate is $6.5M–$7.5M

“The C-Type was a breakthrough car for Jaguar, given its two Le Mans wins—the first of seven for Jaguar,” says Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton. “And given its pioneering use of disc brakes, it was a breakthrough car for racing in general. It is also extremely rare and stood out as a drop-dead gorgeous car even in a golden age of racing that was packed with graceful racing machinery.”

1952 Jaguar XK120 C-Type front detail
1952 Jaguar XK120 C-Type tachometer

1952 Jaguar XK120 C-Type speedometer
1952 Jaguar XK120 C-Type wheel detail

1952 Jaguar XK120 C-Type engine

XKC #014 was shipped to Commander John “Jack” Rutherford in Florida in October 1952, through legendary foreign car dealer Max Hoffman. Rutherford raced it at Daytona Speed Week in February 1953, reaching a top speed of 134.07 mph—a feat that resulted in the Jag’s appearance in Car World and Car Life magazines. The car was later registered in the UK before being purchased by Skip Barber in 2002; it has resided in several other American collections since.

Newton says that although this C-Type lacks a significant victory or top-three finish, its value is enhanced because its original bodywork survived. It’s an odd juxtaposition; the most sought-after race cars have on-track success as well as their original bodywork, but the longer a car competed (and won), the less chance it escaped its career crash free.

“A lot of the value in classic race cars is tied up in race history and provenance, and this one is no different,” Newton says. “Other C-Types have sold for more [than this car’s pre-sale estimate], but they had race wins with famous drivers at the wheel. Having its original body is certainly a big plus.”

A 1953 Jaguar C-Type Works Lightweight (#XKC 052) that finished fourth overall at Le Mans in ’53 sold for $13.2M at RM Sotheby’s Monterey Auction in 2015. Jaguar nearly finished 1-2-3 that year, but Briggs Cunningham’s CR-5 took third. That C-Type, one of the final examples built, continued to race in England (and win) throughout the 1950s before its good fortune ran out and it was involved in a moderate crash in 1959.

Perhaps the car at Bonhams’ Amelia Island Auction will benefit from such a spotless accident record.

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