Jaguar XKSS. Photos courtesy Jaguar Land Rover.
On February 12, 1957, a fire began in a tire storage area of Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant in Coventry, England, consuming much of the assembly area before being brought under control. Among the cars destroyed by the conflagration were nine XKSS (for XK Super Sport) models, the road-going variant of the legendary Jaguar D-Type, along with the assembly jigs needed to build the cars. Now, nearly six decades later, Jaguar Classic will finish production of the XKSS, completing nine continuation cars for a “select group of established collectors and customers.”
In late 1956, Jaguar temporarily suspended its factory racing efforts, leaving the company with an inventory of 25 D-Types. Looking for a way to take the car racing in SCCA competition, it was American Briggs Cunningham that approached Jaguar with the idea of turning the remaining D-Types (plus 25 more needed to reach the minimum homologation quantity of 50) into a road-going automobile, and the XKSS was born.
To convert the D-Type into the XKSS, Jaguar’s staff added a taller windscreen with a chrome frame, chrome bumpers, a passenger door, turn signals, side windows, larger taillamps, and a crude folding top, and some examples were even fitted with a chrome luggage rack. Workers also removed the chassis brace between driver and passenger seat, along with the dorsal fin that ran down the driver’s side aft of the cockpit. The D-Type’s 3.4-liter inline six, rated at 250 horsepower and mated to a fully synchronized four-speed transmission, carried over intact, giving the XKSS a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 146 MPH. Thankfully for owners, the D-Types disc brakes were retained as well.
Shown for the first time at the 1957 New York Auto Show (held in December 1956), the XKSS carried a price tag of $7,000, making it comparable in price to an Aston Martin DB 2/4 (or, as much as a pair of Chevrolet Corvettes). Despite this, the factory quickly booked orders for the 25 initial cars.
At the time of the Browns Lane fire, Jaguar had completed 16 XKSS models, and two D-Types would later be sent to Coventry for conversion into XKSS models. Construction of XKSS models may have resumed had the damage to the Brown’s Lane factory not been so extensive, but with production of its mainstay cars at stake, Jaguar had no choice but to turn its back on a sideline project.
Today, however, the automaker can afford to build boutique continuation cars at its Jaguar Classic Experimental Shop in Warwick, England. The facility is the same one that finished the production of six Lightweight E-Types after a five-decade delay, so its craftsmen are well-versed in the art of hand-building automobiles. In the words of Tim Hannig, director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic,
The XKSS occupies a unique place in Jaguar’s history and is a car coveted by collectors the world over for its exclusivity and unmistakable design. Jaguar Classic’s highly skilled team of engineers and technicians will draw on decades of knowledge to ensure each of the nine cars is completely authentic and crafted to the highest quality. Our continuation XKSS reaffirms our commitment to nurture the passion and enthusiasm for Jaguar’s illustrious past by offering exceptional cars, services, parts and experiences.
Each of the nine continuation models will be constructed to the exact specifications as the originals, and while a final price was not listed, Jaguar expects each car to cost “in excess of” £1,000,000, roughly $1.41 million at current exchange rates. Deliveries are expected to begin in early 2017.
The XKSS continuation project will be the first completed under the new Jaguar Classic banner. The group, previously known as Jaguar Heritage, announced the name change on March 17, and sister brand Land Rover has also followed suit. The revision, according to the company, better reflects Jaguar Land Rover’s capabilities and expertise.