Thornley Kelham’s Jaguar XK “European” was penned by a McLaren designer
Another day, another megabucks restomod. Yesterday it was a fascinating $500,000 Healey, and this time it comes in the form of a classic Jaguar XK remodeled for the modern era by Thornley Kelham, with the aid of the designer of the McLaren P1.
Based in Britain’s sleepily beautiful Cotswolds the firm which previously coachbuilt the glorious Lancia Aurelia Outlaw takes a basket case donor XK and turns it into a high-performance lightweight that stays true to Jaguar’s ethos while adding a host of modern features to improve its pace and grace.
Known as the XK European, the design is by Paul Howse, who has a decade of experience at McLaren, and a delightful side hustle in car watercolors. Howse’s goal was to echo the approach Jaguar took to the E-type Lightweight, only with its predecessor. Job one was to lower the roof line which serves to accentuate the car’s proportions and improve aerodynamics. Howse added more sculptural curves to the profile with enlarged wheel arches and a Coke-bottle style wider rear to the aluminum body. Almost every trace of chrome was removed and, instead, there’s a subtle crease in the hood and over the roof. Modern lighting is embedded front and back for a super clean look, while wire wheels help root the car firmly in the 1950s.
The interior is redesigned and updated with a body-colored aluminum dashboard featuring electronic gauges and luxury touches include electric windows, air conditioning and a choice of high-end in-car entertainment. Most noticeably the seats are significantly lower so that the chopped roof doesn’t impact headroom and the driving position is racier than the original.
Jaguar’s 3.8-liter aluminum straight-six engine remains at the heart of the XK but Thornely Kelham’s in house experts have used their racing know-how to push its performance far beyond what Sir William Lyons could have imagined. Direct injection, rebored cylinders and a bespoke camshaft raise power up to 340 hp. A new five-speed transmission and limited slip differential handle power delivery.
Double-wishbone suspension is installed at each corner with Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs—a major improvement on the car’s original rear leaf springs. The XK120 was a pioneer of disc brakes, but the four-piston vented discs now fitted provide significantly more stopping power.
“With our concours-winning restoration heritage and our years of experience in perfecting our bespoke Lancia Aurelia ‘Outlaw’ project, we have developed a team perfectly placed to design and engineer a car that reimagines automotive icons authentically, in intricate detail and with a fastidious attention to quality,” says Simon Thornley, co-founder of Thornley Kelham. “The Jaguar XK European is, to our eyes, the most beautiful car yet in the restomod sector, backed up with expertise and experience in developing cars that aren’t just perfect in their finish, but thrilling to own and drive.”
Thornley Kelham says there’s 5000 hours of labour in every XK European, with 800 alone going into the paint process. For some, that handmade touch to develop an utterly unique Jag might well justify the £550,000 ($716,000)—plus donor car—price tag.