XKSS: Bridgehead to the British Invasion


For us, the question of what is the sexiest, coolest, most beautiful sports car ever to be produced out of these islands is an easy one to answer. The Jaguar XKSS, of course.

Produced in 1957 in the Browns Lane Jaguar factory in Coventry, it is basically a road-going version of the mighty and beautiful racing D type. Whichever way you look at it, that would be cool enough credentials.

But the XK SS was more than a simple recreation of a racing legend. It was if fact produced and exported to the US as the apotheosis the British Sports Car. Canny Jag figurehead Sir William Lyons realised that it was in America where the derivative would find its most successful market.

Thus way back in 1957, when Elvis was thrusting his pelvis all over America and the world, we Brits sent our most beautiful cultural creation in the XKSS. It was a bridgehead that predated by a half dozen years the British invasion that arrived with the Beatles.

So while the XKSS played somewhat of a clichéd role of a cultured but dashing Brit for the yanks, it’s reality was rooted in genuine racing success. If it was selling the image of itself, therefore, to the highest bidder, it was an image that every Brit could be proud.

There wasn’t that much physically to do to convert the basic D-Type to a road-going monster of desire. You added a side passenger door. You removed the aerodynamic fin behind the driver’s seat, thereby creating that gorgeously curved, clean rear three quarters that was echoed in its successor the E-Type.

Chrome bumpers fore and aft were also prescient of the popular XK-E, and of course a full suite of safety glass as well as a simple foldaway hood was included in the package.

The car was powered the same straight six engine of that appeared in the D-Type. There were disc brakes all round and that aeronautically inspired achingly beautiful monocoque was all you needed to convince that to own an XKSS was to buy directly into the racing heritage of the Jaguar badge.

There’s a cat-eyed, snub-nosed sort of design perfection to the body that retains a functional integrity that was wrought in the white heat of WW11. Malcolm Sayer had hammered out the D-Type’s curves initially. Sayer had gone on to design Jag’s other rare superstar the XJ 13 – as well as the perennial divider of design opinion, the XJS. Enable to express his self at last with that new monocoque form, the Aeronautical designer’s application of aerodynamic principle to the D-Types body helped it reach untold speeds along the Mulsanne Straight.

Just sixteen examples of the XKSS were produced and sold before a fire in Jag’s factory destroyed the remaining D-Type chassis. A couple of hundred waiting customers’ loss resulted, and glory for the lucky 16.

Oh yes. Steve Mcqueen, of course, owned one. Nuff said. Again.