1957 Jaguar XKSS May Set Auction Record for British Cars 

Billionaire spring breakers race to the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance to bid on road-going version of Jaguar's LeMans-winning D-Type.

The Jaguar E-Type is routinely ranked among history’s most beautiful cars. But even that Jaguar can’t touch the swoopy majesty of the XKSS.

If you agree, a cool $17 million or so might net you one of just 16 original XKSS’ ever built, via a Gooding & Company auction on March 10 at Florida’s Amelia Island Concours. If someone really, really agrees, the XKSS could top the $21.8 million paid for a 1955 Jaguar D-Type in Monterey last summer, an auction record for a Jaguar or any British car.

That D-Type racer dominated the 24 Hours of LeMans with three consecutive overall wins from 1955 to 1957. Yet at the height of the D-Type’s fame, Jaguar announced a temporary hiatus from racing to concentrate on production cars. Those included the XKSS, an ultra-rare roadgoing sports car based on the D-type. Jaguar built 16 of a planned 25 XKSS’ before a fire swept through the Browns Lane plant in February, 1957 and destroyed the nine unfinished chassis.

Jaguar’s sweetheart of Amelia Island is chassis number 716. Its seven-figure value aside, the car will honor the 60th anniversary of the D-Type’s last LeMans victory. Delivered when new to Montreal, the XKSS took several wins in Canadian sports-car events between 1957 and 1961. It’s powered by a 262-hp, 3.4-liter inline six that Road and Track, in its day, credited for a 149-mph top speed.

Brian Henniker, Gooding & Company

“That was pretty hot in 1957,” Jaguar spokesman Nathan Hoyt said. “It’s a car that’s completely analog, no power steering, no power brakes, just a lap belt inside.”

The Amelia Island car changed hands several times, and has been with its current owner for 20 years. After a full restoration by UK-based Jaguar specialist Pearsons Engineers, the XKSS had its coming out party at the Pebble Beach Concours in 2010, among a reunion class of 12 of the original 16 car. Those included actor Steve McQueen’s former car, now owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum. The last XKSS to break cover at a public auction was in 2005, when chassis number 704 fetched $1.9 million at Pebble Beach, a pittance compared with today’s estimated bid of $16 to $18 million.

Brian Henniker, Gooding & Company

Nine lucky buyers will soon own a genetically perfect piece of that history, and for a mere $1.3 million, plus the cost of spare wheels and other wear items: Jaguar’s Browns Lane Heritage Workshop will soon create modern versions of those nine stillborn, unfinished XKSS’, built in its factory to original specifications and using old-school processes. The first cars will be delivered in spring or early summer, and all are spoken for. Jaguar’s latest “continuation cars” will be built with no updates from their romantic, yet more-dangerous era, including a leak-resistant neoprene fuel bladder, rather than a solid tank.

“It’s essentially just a bag of fuel behind the driver,” Hoyt says.

For that reason and others, Hoyt said the reborn XKSS' aren’t technically road legal in the United States, where most of the nine cars are headed. 

“Even though we’re building 1957 VIN numbers, they’re considered new cars, so it’s like trying to certify a ’57 Chevy to today’s emissions and crash standards,” Hoyt says.

Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to tour the Browns Lane workshop and drive Jaguar’s first continuation car on track: A gloriously reborn, handbuilt Lighweight E-Type, one of the six “missing” racers whose serial numbers were handwritten in a leather-bound ledger in 1963 but never built. Only eleven cars survive, now joined by a half-dozen more that you’d be hard pressed to tell from the originals. 

Jaguar

As with the new XKSS models, Jaguar insists that these factory-built continuation cars, with their original yet unfulfilled VIN numbers, are no mere copies, but deserve to be counted as the real thing – including to qualify for the world’s top vintage races from Monterey to Goodwood, England. Kev Riches, the bespectacled Brit who started as an intern at Jaguar in 1974 and now heads the Heritage Department, argues that a replica is a copy of someone else’s design: “We have copied nothing from anyone else. Hence, not a replica.”

Our two hay pennies? Call these time-capsule Brits whatever you like, as long as you call them beautiful.