In 1957, nine glistening machines arrived at Jaguar’s Brown Lane factory in the Midlands. These were no ordinary big cats, but road legal versions of the British brand’s LeMans conquering legend, the D-type. These sleek, super-exclusive sports cars were destined for export to North America where, together with 16 siblings already earmarked for sale throughout Europe, they would complete a 25-strong club of what is now considered by many to be the world’s first supercar; the Jaguar XKSS.
Except, they never made it out of the warehouse doors. On 12th February 1957, the entire Jaguar plant was gutted by a devastating fire that destroyed all within it including the half-built flotilla of XKSS and, critically, the equipment used to construct them. A model that could well have been produced in its hundreds had overnight become a critically endangered species of just 16. So goes the tale of how the Jaguar XKSS became the most sought-after big cat in history.
The dozen or so originals, immortalised by the glamour of iconic owners such as Steve McQueen, will, of course, remain unique historical gems. However, to celebrate the birth of the machine that defined the term ‘supercar’ as we know it, Jaguar is resurrecting the nine lost XKSS in true ‘phoenix from the flames’ style.
These, the first genuine Jaguar XKSS to be built in over half a century, will be been authentically produced to exact 1957 specification by Jag’s team of expert classic craftsmen. As an hors d’oeuvre, a one-off prototype debuted this week at the International Auto Show in Los Angeles, where several of the lost class of ’57 may well have ended up.
The prototype ‘new’ XKSS that starred in LA is the culmination of 18 months of intensive research and will serve as a blueprint from which the nine continuation cars will be built. Essentially constructed from scratch, the 60th anniversary batch takes inspiration both from original drawings in the Jaguar archives and modern-day production technology. For example, Jaguar’s classic engineering team scanned several versions of the 1957 XKSS to piece together a digital image of the car, whose body is made entirely from magnesium alloy.
Elsewhere, Dunlop disc brakes and tyres with two-piece riveted alloy wheels are straight out of the 50s specification manual, whilst the cabin has been faithfully recreated to the most minute detail. Everything from the original gauges, the wood of the steering wheel, the grain of the leather seats and the brass on the dashboard is precisely as it would have been back in 1957. The pièce-de-resistance comes in the form of the roaring, nostalgia-drenched tones of the XKSS’s 262bhp 3.4-litre straight-six engine, the power behind the formidable D-type’s endurance racing dominance.
Each new XKSS will sport a period chassis number from the Jaguar archives, as if to evoke the spectres of the ‘lost nine’. To be hand-built in the UK this year, it’s estimated that 10,000 man hours will go into the construction of each new XKSS before they’re dispatched to a select group of privileged customers and collectors early next year.
You won’t be surprised to hear that all nine have already been snapped up. The price tag? A cool £1million each. What price for a little slice of history?