Aug 5 2008 Mike Torpey
AUSTRALIAN Neville Martin stepped out of his gleaming Jaguar XK 120, gazed back at the convoy of classic cars behind him and remarked: “This is the trip of a lifetime.”
Martin, a 58-year-old from Perth, is in the UK with wife Diane to join celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the iconic XK engine.
Over the past fortnight the pair have driven 1,200 miles of spectacular and largely unspoiled British countryside as part of the XK 60 Diamond Tour, put on by Jaguar XK Club founder Phil Porter.
The tour is a celebration of all things XK and, appropriately, comprises 60 cars driven by members from 15 countries and ranging from the earliest XK 120 models, through XK 140 and 150 up to the latest XK8 models.
It all started at Oulton Hall near Leeds at the beginning of last week and via scenic routes through the Yorkshire Dales, Peak District, the Cotswolds and Welsh Marches, the entourage arrives on the south coast this weekend for the tour’s highlight based at the time-warp Goodwood Circuit.
Here an incredible collection of classics like C, D and E-Types plus Lister Jaguars and 600 XKs – worth in excess of £150 million – will be on show, many performing parade laps at the racetrack and watched by motorsport luminaries like Sir Stirling Moss.
Porter, himself proud owner of a white 1950 XK 120 roadster, explained the event’s significance: “The XK 120 was launched in 1948 at the London Motor Show as an experiment to show off the XK engine.
“Jaguar didn’t expect the sensational reaction that followed and the engine went on to power not only cars but also boats and military vehicles and wasn’t superceded until 1986.
“It is practical, usable and has acceptable performance even by modern standards. It even looks stylish, and is arguably the greatest engine of all time.
“The XK120 name referred to the car’s impressive 120mph top speed and at the time of its launch it was the fastest standard production car in the world.”
Of the 12,000 XK 120s built in the six years up to 1954, when the model was replaced by the XK 140, many are still run regularly by their owners worldwide.
Neville Martin owns the fourth car to leave the factory, a shining aluminium model that he admits to buying for 450 Australian pounds in 1962.
“This has been a fantastic car for us as a family,” he says. “It isn’t just locked away in a garage. We have used it for collecting kids from school and picking up shopping; all sorts of things,” he says.
So keen were the Martins to join the Diamond tour that along with nine other couples from various parts of Australia and the same number from the USA, they had the car packed up in a container and shipped over – at considerable expense.
I joined the tour in an XK8 for two days of the Cotswold section and was able to appreciate the devotion and respect these enthusiasts have for their cars, their history and each other too.
The tour was able to visit Wappenbury Hall, the home of Jaguar’s late founder Sir William Lyons and at a separate country house view memorablila owned by the family of his engineering director Bill Heynes.
And a trip to Jaguar’s Castle Bromwich HQ provided a glimpse to the future as XK chief designer Giles Taylor revealed that although the next model is fully five years away, the first drawings have already been laid down.
The XK experience has proved a successful and high speed ride for the Big Cat – it shows no sign of slowing down.