I doubt there has been a worst kept secret in the industry of late than the fact that Jaguar is to recreate the nine XKSS chassis lost in the Browns Lane fire in 1957.
Not that anyone at Jaguar blabbed about it, it’s just that after the successful sale of is new run of Lightweight E-Types, each coining Jaguar a seven-figure sum, the decision that the XKSS should be next must have been the easiest any senior executive would be likely to take in his or her career.
Interestingly, while these new XKSSs will represent a fine money-making opportunity for Jaguar, the originals only got built at all to help solve a very specific problem. By 1957 the Jaguar D-type was an old racing car, looking obsolescence in the face. Jaguar wasn’t even racing them or, indeed, anything else anymore.
And while the D-type would win a hat-trick at Le Mans between 1955-57, that is because the circuit played to its advantages, namely its reliability and aerodynamic efficiency. On slower circuits around the rest of the world, which placed more of a premium on handling and acceleration, it was far less successful. Indeed by 1957, Jaguar was sitting on a pile of 25 unsold D-type chassis wondering what to do with them. The XKSS was the answer.
Modified as little as humanly possible – a passenger door, windscreen, bumpers and the removal of the cockpit divider were the biggest differences – the XKSS was a road-going D-type in all but name, and right down to its tyre pressure. And it worked wonders: the Americans loved it and all bar two (one stayed at home, the other went to Hong Kong) crossed the pond before fire swept through the factory bringing a premature end to the XKSS story.
So it is great that the last cars are finally to be built. And, for the avoidance of doubt, they are not fakes, or replicas, they are genuine Jaguar XKSSs, factory-built by Jaguar. They’ve just taken a little bit of time to get around to making them.
Those who buy them will discover a car as good to drive as it is to look at. Whatever the limitations of a D-type on the track may be, on the road and XKSS provided performance no other road car of the era – not even the mighty Mercedes-Benz 300SL gullwing – could approach. Even today you’d need something properly quick to sort it out in a straight line – like a V8 F-Type.
I guess the question is, what next? Jaguar has found a way of sweating its heritage without, so far as I can see, doing it any damage and, in the meantime, making some of its most favoured customers very happy. Even owners of original XKSSs should not be concerned, because there still won’t be more than 25 in existence in total, so it will remain far rarer than, say, a Ferrari 250GTO.
I think the key is that whatever Jaguar makes, it needs to be usable and I think the C-type is, therefore, the most likely candidate. While conceived as a racer, C-types make excellent road cars with far more spacious cockpits than an XKSS or D-type. Though fakes abound, originals are unbelievably rare and massively valuable. If Jaguar were as sensible with the numbers as it has been with the XKSS and Lightweight E-Types, I am certain they would sell.
I wonder too how many other car companies are now looking back over their previous lives and wondering if the same treatment might work for them. Could Ferrari sell 10 new GTOs for a couple of million each? With its eyes closed. If Aston Martin decided to do the same with the DB3S would it come to regret the decision? I very much doubt it.
But there is a limit. If the practice becomes so widespread customers come to see these new cars simply as ways for manufacturers to make money from their pasts, they may well swiftly lose their sheen. But I think we are a very long way from that right now. Jaguar has it, it’s decided to flaunt it, and in that position, I’d do exactly the same. I wish them all the very best with it.