The Jaguar XK150 is basking, roof-down in front of a Mayfair mews house, all voluptuous curves and glinting chrome.
Its a perfect London postcard – but not, it seems, for the well-spoken chap who walks into JD Classics Mount Street showroom. “My fantasy car is an E-Type,” he tells me, “preferably in red.”
Launched in 1961, the E-Type wowed the world with its seductive styling and 150mph top speed. Even Enzo Ferrari declared it “the most beautiful car ever made”. The XK has lived in the shadow of its successor ever since. Yet while the E-Type epitomises the swinging sixties, the stiff-upper-lip XK – as Ill discover – has a classic charm all of its own.
Except this car isnt quite as classic as it looks. Restored in-house to JD Sport specification 16 years ago, it has an uprated engine and suspension, five-speed manual gearbox, power steering and limited-slip differential. An aluminium radiator, electric fan, new wiring loom and retractable seatbelts boost reliability and safety, plus an iPod-compatible stereo and hand-made exhaust spice up its soundtrack. The result, according to JD Classics James Wheeler, is “a reliable car you can enjoy driving enthusiastically.”
Sadly, enthusiastic driving is off the menu, as Park Lane is gridlocked. No matter, there can be few finer ways to sit in traffic than this, ensconced in leather and burr walnut, under cloudless July skies. A cabbie nods his approval, van drivers toot their horns and tourists take photos. Even here, where the streets are littered with supercars, the Jaguar still turns heads.
My XK150 is a Drophead Coupe, with rear jump seats that would be cramped even for toddlers. In the front, though, its surprisingly spacious – the prettier, but pricier XK120 is a much tighter fit. You sit low, with legs outstretched, fingertips grasping a thin-rimmed wooden wheel. Press the starter button and the 3.8-litre engine ignites with rorty rasp. Release the fly-off chrome handbrake, give the stubby gear lever a deliberate shove and youre away: the road ahead ahead framed by those fulsome front wings.
I cut through Hyde Park, then dive into the back streets of Bayswater. The Jaguar feels earthy and unashamedly analogue, yet isnt coarse or difficult to drive. Unlike highly-strung Italian sports cars of the era, its brawny straight-six delivers a solid slug of torque from low revs, while the JD Classics box removes the need to double de-clutch. Ride comfort is decent, too, helped by tall tyres on those lustrous wire wheels.
Only the brakes betray the XK150s venerable vintage, despite a Motor Sport road test from 1958 describing the Dunlop discs as “one of the outstanding features of this outstanding car”. Today, in 2018 traffic, they require forward-planning and a careful recalibration of my right foot.
I long to flee the capital for a country pub in the Cotswolds, but my time with the XK is almost up. So, with the midday sun blazing, I pop open the side-mounted vents (nicknamed crotch coolers) and make tracks for Mayfair. Perhaps its the 30-degree heat, but this elegant, engaging sports car has really got under my skin. Its best-of-both-worlds mix of classic and contemporary is compelling, even if it wont please the purists.
I put this to Wheeler: surely the market prizes originality about all else? Not necessarily, he explains: “Some people want a classic that looks exactly how if left the factory, and original cars do generally command the highest prices. Equally, many owners want to drive their cars regularly, whether in cities or across Alpine passes.”
If I had the wherewithal to buy an XK150 – anything from £25,000 for a project to £250,000 for a car of Pebble Beach concours standard – Id be firmly in the drive it camp. So its an upgraded car for me, please. Preferably in British Racing Green.
This Jaguar XK150 is for sale with JD Classics (020 7125 1400). Tim Pitt works for motoringresearch.com