Photos of XKSS 716 by Brian Henniker, copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company.
In 1956, near the peak of the D-Type’s success in international sports car racing, Jaguar made the corporate decision to withdraw from motorsports and focus on its road car business. That left 25 D-Types potentially without buyers, but Sir William Lyons had a brilliant idea: With a few modifications, the D-Type became the road-and-track-ready XKSS, targeted to buyers in the United States. Just 16 were completed before a fire destroyed the remaining inventory, and on March 10, chassis XKSS 716 will cross the auction block in Florida, where bidding could top $16 million before the hammer falls.
The XKSS was officially announced on January 21, 1957, with a press release proclaiming,
Jaguar are to produce a new 2-seater sports-racing car as a result of the increasing demand from America for a type of vehicle equally suitable for normal road use and sports car racing. The new model which, initially, will be for export only, will be based on the already famous Le Mans type Jaguars and will be known as the Jaguar XK ‘SS’ type.
Converting the D-Type to an XKSS required the addition of a conventional windshield, a folding hood, a passenger-side door, complete instrumentation, plusher seating, a luggage rack (on most examples), bumpers, directional signals and other bits necessary to comply with safety standards of the day. Power came from the same 3.4-liter, double-overhead camshaft, inline-six used in the D-Type, which produced 250 horsepower when fed by a trio of Weber 45DCO3 carburetors and came mated to a four-speed fully synchronized manual transmission.
Performance was impressive by standards of the day. As Road & Track reported in its August 1957 issue, the XKSS dashed from 0 – 60 MPH in 5.2 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 149 MPH. The run from 0-100 MPH took 13.6 seconds, and the quarter mile flew by in 13.9 seconds. Describing the model as a “thinly disguised road racing machine,” the magazine stated it would “delight the enthusiast.” That is, any enthusiast then capable of paying the XKSS’s $6,900 price of admission, at a time when a new Corvette priced at $3,465 and a Porsche Carrera cabriolet stickered for $5,915.
Chassis XKSS 716 began life as a D-Type, originally carrying chassis tag XKD 575, and was counted in Jaguar’s November 1956 inventory report. In early 1957, the Brown’s Lane factory converted the car into an XKSS, and it became one of just two examples shipped new to Canada. Of the 14 remaining XKSS models originally built, 12 came to the United States, one went to Hong Kong and one remained in England.
The example to be offered at Amelia Island was shipped to Jaguar of Eastern Canada in May 1957, then sold to its first owner, Stanley C. McRobert of Montreal, Quebec, on June 12. McRobert wasted little time in breaking in the car, entering it at a race in St. Eugene on June 29, where the XKSS earned its first victory. Under his ownership, the Jaguar would post an impressive racing record, delivering nine more wins and a single second-place in just one-and a half seasons of competition.
In mid-1958, XKSS 716 was sold to its second owner, Don Stewart, who campaigned the car in just three events (finishing fourth, third and first) before selling it to Ray Carter late in the 1958 season. Carter raced the Jaguar five times from 1958 through 1960, and in June of 1961, XKSS 716 was acquired by Nat Adams, its last Canadian owner. Adams drove the car in five events at Mosport during the 1961 season, and in January of 1962 the aging race car was sold to a dentist from Ohio. It’s here that the XKSS’s in-period competition history ends.
From 1962 through about 1980, the car remained in the United States, in the care of several owners, before being bought by collector John Harper in England. Harper was also a racer, and entrusted marque specialist Lynx Motors to convert XKSS 716 back to a D-Type for vintage racing. Understanding the value of the original XKSS parts, Harper took care to save and preserve the components for future owners of the car.
After vintage racing his D-Type conversion in 1981 and 1982, Harper sold the car to John Pearson in 1982. Pearson was the founder of Pearsons Engineering, a Northamptonshire shop that specializes in the preservation and restoration of competition Jaguars and Ferraris. Pearson also vintage raced the Jaguar during the 1983 and 1984 season, and kept the car in his collection until 1993.
Racing legend Brian Redman helped to broker the deal for the car’s sale in 1993, and once again XKSS 716 made the trip to this side of the Atlantic. Buyer Don Marsh kept the car in D-Type guise, selling it to the consignor in 2000. Circa 2007, the car was shipped to Pearsons Engineering for a comprehensive restoration, including a conversion back to XKSS specifications.
Since then, the Jaguar has participated in the 2007 Monterey Historics, and has been shown at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and at the 2011 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. It has also participated in tours in Europe and North America, yet remains “in superb cosmetic and mechanical condition” according to its catalog description.
Chassis XKSS 716 is described by Gooding & Company as the first XKSS available at auction in a decade, and its in-period competition history and originality (including the frame, body, engine block and cylinder head) will almost certainly enhance the car’s value. Given this, the auction house predicts a selling price between $16 million and $18 million when XKSS 716 crosses the auction stage in Amelia Island next month.
For additional details on the Amelia Island sale, visit GoodingCo.com.