By Andrew Newton
Featured in this classified ad from Road & Track‘s June 1964 issue is an example of one of the most exclusive, desirable, and drop dead gorgeous sports cars to have ever graced this earth. Just sixteen Jaguar XK Super Sports, or XKSS’s, were built in Coventry during a short production run in 1957.
These days, the XKSS is near the top of everybody’s dream car wish list. Meanwhile, their rarity means that their value sits well into the millions and they almost never come up for public sale. Back in 1957, though, Jaguar wasn’t trying to create the world’s most sought after car or even to capitalize on the racing success of the D-Type by making a street version. Instead they were simply trying to solve the practical problem of what to do with all of their unsold D-Types, and what resulted was almost like a reverse-homologation special.
Although the D-Type duly earned itself icon status by winning Le Mans three times, even in 1956, Jaguar, who withdrew from factory racing that year, found the car hard to sell. In November 1956 there were 29 D-Types in stock at the factory. And with racing car technology evolving at its ceaseless pace, there was no way all of the cars were going to find buyers. There wasn’t a clear solution to the problem, but a suggestion from the United States (possibly importer Johannes Eerdmans) led Jaguar to believe that a road-going sports car based on the D-Type could be an easy sell in the all-important North American market.
The process of making a D-Type into an XKSS was remarkably simple. So simple, in fact, that the prototype, Chassis XKSS701, is said to have taken only three days to get together. What Jaguar took off of the D-Type were the metal spine running between the seats as well as the headrest, while what they added for the XKSS were a curved windscreen with two wipers and a rear-view mirror, a folding top, a passenger door, a perforated panel over the side pipe, and minimalist chrome bumpers. To give at least some degree of utility, a luggage rack was also fitted to the back of the trunkless Jaguar.
Everything else was all D-Type. From the 3,442 XK motor fitted with three 45mm Webers to the 37 gallon fuel tank and 12.75 inch Dunlop disc brakes, the XKSS was exactly what it was supposed to be, a racing car for the street. The initial price was $6,9000 (the XKSS was intended for North America and never officially listed in the UK), but this price was later reduced.
There were never going to be very many XKSS’s, but an incident on February 12, 1957, cut production even shorter. After most of the staff had gone home, a fire broke out on the north end of the factory, and parts of the assembly line as well as part of the service department suffered serious damage. Around 300 cars in total were written off, including the XKSS’s that were under construction in the service department. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was the death knell for the XKSS. In the end, only sixteen cars left Browns Lane before the end of 1957. In all, two cars went to Canada, one to Hong Kong, and the rest to the United States, where among the well-heeled owners was actor Steve McQueen, who used XKSS713 all around Los Angeles. He nicknamed his car the “Green Rat” and even had upholsterer Tony Nancy and pin-striper Von Dutch add personal flare to the interior.
This XKSS featured in the classified ad has a somewhat less storied past than McQueen’s car, but it is almost certainly XKSS769, formerly D-Type Chassis 550, and therefore the very last XKSS sold. XKSS769 left Coventry in November of 1957, and before long it was painted maroon and modified for racing in the SCCA’s C-Modified class. Its best results with a driver named Tossie Alex seem to be a podium finish at Road America in 1959 and at Wilmot in 1960. The car was raced sporadically into the 1960s, but it wasn’t getting any more competitive, possibly explaining this 1964 sale. It is unclear, however, what exactly is meant by “fully restored”. The car wasn’t even seven years old yet. XKSS769 led a fairly quiet life before being bought by Gerald Nell of Wisconsin in 1991. He used the priceless car in numerous historic events over the next eighteen years, surely enjoying every second behind the wheel. In 2009, the car joined a private collection in the UK. Its last major appearance to speak of was at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2010.
The price in this classified is a staggering $6,000. In 2013 dollars, that comes to about $44,500. Today, collectors would probably be tripping over each other to pay a hundred times that. At one time just an obsolete racer and now one of the most lusted after things on four wheels, the change in attitudes towards this and indeed all other XKSS’s is indeed a remarkable one.
[Source: Road & Track]