Given the Jaguar XK 120’s status as a true automotive icon, it is surprising to many that the model was originally conceived and born as a limited-edition stopgap model. William Lyons assumed that the post-WWII fortune of his company, the recently re-named Jaguar Cars Ltd., would be made on saloon cars that would sell in export markets, especially the United States.
To that end, the new dual-overhead-cam, six-cylinder, 160-horsepower XK engine was developed to power a new line of sports luxury four-door sedans. As the new car was not yet ready for the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show, it was decided that the engine would be launched in a limited-run roadster before becoming a regular offering. That roadster, of course, was to be known as the XK 120—so named for its top speed of 120 mph.