Digital Exhibition: 1952 Jaguar XK120
Name: Michael Bufkin
Engine: 3400 six
Top Speed: 120
0 to 60: 9.7
January 1963, driving through Cottage Hill in Mobile Alabama, looking for the home of Jack Faulkner, brother of William, and happening upon a grey Jaguar XK120 parked on the lawn of a 50’s matchbox house. I was 17, a Mississippi boy, serious reader, serious football player, serious student, semi-serious Anglophile and serious reader of Road and Track magazine. I knew what an XK120 was, but what was it doing parked on a muddy lawn of a cheap house in Mobile?
What to do? After thinking about it all night, the next day I knocked on the door and asked if the car was for sale. “Well maybe”. I asked how much he wanted. He said $700. I had about $500 in my savings account, somewhat reduced by a couple of recent speeding tickets my parents knew nothing of. So, I went home and borrowed $200 from my father, who I think wanted it almost as much as me. Was $700 a good price? Maybe. I later learned that the guy I bought it from was a cop who I think had a recovered stolen car in Alabama, a non-title state back then.
Why would a 17-year-old kid with no mechanical experience buy a worn out 10-year-old near-antique English car with no mechanical support closer than New Orleans? In truth, it was actually quite competitive with almost anything else on the road at the time, barring Corvettes, XKEs, Cobras, 911s, and GTOs, all of which were orders of magnitude more expensive. The Jag would do 0-60 in under 10 seconds, handled pretty well for the time, and would go 120 mph. And despite its age, it was quite reliable, never failing to start in the two years I owned it. But the real reason I bought it was that it was way cool. It was British, classic, rare, unusual, exclusive, and for the kids in my high school, mysterious – exactly what I wished that I was. I spent long hours gazing at the double overhead cam covers, double SU carburetors, exhaust headers, leather upholstery and walnut dash. And it took me to my first sports car race, The USRRC in Pensacola, where I snuck in the pits and chatted with Jim Hall and Roger Penske!
There were some interesting family interactions too. Although my father never drove it again after the first day, my mother enjoyed it. Once we took it to Waynesboro, Mississippi to visit her family and with her encouragement, I topped 100 mph on a long 2 lane stretch. Later, when her car was in the garage waiting for parts, she drove the Jag for 2 weeks to the school where she taught Latin, becoming the coolest teacher those kids ever saw. And my brother, five years older but not as car sotted, ended up buying an XK120 M, a little hotter version of mine.
I kept it for 2 years, selling it before leaving for college. I knew that with no place to park it and no tools to work on it, it would be a nightmare away from home. But during those 2 years it enabled me to grow in many ways. I learned to drive twisty roads, at least on the few I could find in South Alabama. I applied all the knowledge I had gleaned from Road and Track to master heel-and-toe braking, double clutch down shifting, curve apexing, and 4-wheel drifting. There were occasional off-road jaunts, but nothing that resulted in bent metal. I learned to change the engine and transmission oil, change the spark plugs and set the points and timing. It was my introduction to many things – sports cars, fast driving, fast girls (actually one fast girl), car maintenance, and the possession of something no one else had seen or really even knew about. And oddly it was almost 40 years later that I bought a car as exclusive as the XK120, a 1986 Porsche 911.