Originality or more modern upgrades

for those tempted to upgrade: (5 speeds, discs, power steering) PLEASE read the Introduction–in Urs Schmid Jaguar XK120–The Anatomy…book: in part Urs says:
“Owners should learn to love, enjoy and master the car as it is-with all its quaint components, its many virtues, and its loveable foibles. In other words, everything which gives the XK its unique character.”
“The sensation of pleasure given by the character of a classic car was always in proportion to the originality…the closer an XK approaches its condition on leaving the factory…the more the driver can feel and breathe the spirit of the time and its creators…it does not do justice to the XK if it is compared to modern products.”
and a bit stronger, he goes on to say: “Nobody is in a position to prevent the owner of an authentic, fully original XK closing his eyes to history, or mindlessly shirking his responsibility and duty to motoring heritage. With a shrug of the shoulders, he can go on a wild spree of destruction and devastation, replacing and altering, using non-original components, materials and colors, merely to satisfy contemporary taste.”…the XK is “an industrial and cultural icon of a past age…to travel back in time to the world of Fifties motoring.”

So I get it…the gear shifts are slow, cumbersome, may grind–(mine are much improved using Milleroil 30 wt vintage non detergent), steering is heavy, …but the brakes will lock up-…I like the feel of the car…the sense of the times as Urs says. I kinda wish I ran on bias ply Dunlop Road Speed…but i don’t…I know some feel the need for comfort, for safety, for ease of driving…for all the things that make an XK not feel like an XK anymore----but I don’t need to rabble on…Urs said it eloquently.


Good grief. Wild spree of devastation? If nothing else the author has a flair for melodrama.




Love the quotes and have to “kind of” agree to a point. I would probably have planned to leave the original 4 speeds in the car if it had not of already developed a broken tooth on the 1st-Reverse slider gear, I got pretty good at rev matching that trans so shifting wasn’t a big deal. Brakes and lights on the other hand!!! Back in1976 I was following a friend with '70 Corvette through the costal mountains at night and in the rain, His brake lights were brighter than my headlights and at every corner entry I would have to prepare for which of my four wheel disc would wipe clean and grab first before I could determine steering input. He was driving “spiritedly” but not really pushing but I was using his car to see where we were going and each brake application was an experiment ;-)!
I’ll keep mine as “original” as makes sense and everything I do change will be replaceable with the stock parts I’ll retain. It’s pretty much front brakes, 5 speed trans, negative ground with starter and alternator upgrade and better headlights.
Close enough I’ll still feel the cars “era” but modern enough I won’t be afraid to take off into a dark rainy night through the hills.


The difficulty that I have reading this, is that I doubt many XKs drive like they left the factory, or at least how the press reported it no matter how original they pretend to be. For starters, the steering in a XK is pretty light in case its in good condition and it does not wear thick radials. The brakes may very well be a nighmare to adjust at least in tandem form, but when they work properly they will lock all 4 wheels and the pedal pressure is quite light. They are also not loud, on the opposite, they are pretty quiet on a single ss exhaust, and must have been almost inaudible with the factory mild steel exhaust and even the ride is rather soft… and slow wiper and terrible lights are often due to perished wires, rather than factory specs. No matter how many of the numbers match, many XKs do not drive as they left the factory, and some I tested had become a charicature that sellers pretended to be period, simply because they had bad brakes, steering and 2 inch exhaust systems.

I would agree with Urs Schmidt, that a proper and orginal XK is perfectly capable and there is no need to modify to cope with modern life. However, much of the pretended originality of some, has nothing to do with how the cars drove as new.

My only regret so far is not having the long ratio rear end.


A friend and fellow E-type owner remarked to me recently that he once drove an XK120 and thought it terrible, like driving a 60s pickup truck. My reply was you can’t judge the car on the basis of a single drive, though my very first experience behind the wheel of my XK120 after finishing the restoration wasn’t much different - though some of that, I admit, had to do with not having completely sorted out those little things, like steering and brakes.

It’s kind of analogous to picking up a musical instrument for the first time (especially one that’s not perfectly in tune). If you expect a perfect melody you’re likely to be disappointed. But the more miles you put on and the more you tune it in, the more you understand what the car is communicating to you, and the better you become at handling it. And the better you become at handling an XK120 the wider the grin on your face becomes.

When I enter my garage in the mood for a 20-30 mile jaunt down my favourite back roads I’m immediately presented with a choice … will it be the E or the 120?

It’s a nice problem.


I was extremely fortunate to acquire a 3.27 ENV axle to replace the standard 3.64 after years of looking. It drops the revs a little over 300rpm in top at 70mph, so it’s a tad more relaxing, which becomes more of a factor the higher the speed, of course.

I had a 120 with the 3.27…really liked it more than the current car’s 3.54. My to do list is to install something around a 3.09 or so…quite a few Dana options for the Salisbury 4ha, but dread the can of worms in axle pull. It does seem that if fuel tank out–and car on stands, boot lid fixed up…one could work on the diff in place.
I like low rpm at speed…the gearbox gearing is quite low in 1st…so tall diff is ok in 1st. I can barley use 1st as it is…shifting up at 10mph…in California stops (rolling) --I just use 2nd.

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I do not agree.
I have an upgraded XK140 with 5-speed, diaphragm clutch, disk brakes in front, electronic ignition, coolant expansion tank, EZ electric steering, alternator in a dynamo housing, high performance starter, 3-point seatbelts (otherwise my wife would not join me) and a bit more. None of the upgrades, with the exception of the seatbelts, are visible.

However, my car is visible on public roads, streets and motorways much more than most of these all original cars. I just returned from the XK75 trip, 2.500km in 9 days. The car drove like a charm. On the last day alone I had to drive 700km on one day. That would have been a strain without a 5th gear. I know, there were XKs built with an overdrive, just not mine.


With a longer rear end 3.07 or 2.88, you get the same ratio as standard OD. I do similar distances, mine is fully original with the exception of ingnition and indeed expansion tank and aluminium radiator.

Try to remember that Jaguar decided all their cars should have disc brakes and added them to the original mix. So too, did they accept the need for a better transmission.

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misses the point…Jaguar decided–later–year by year to add all the technologies that we see in today’s F Type and F Pace…so since the cars were upgraded–that means do the same to a 1952 XK120 or C Type? No.

Well, I’m a bit biased having a worked over 3.8, 5 speed, IRS, and discs…
Most of that was done to my car by a previous owner, before I was born.

But I do agree with the Urs point a bit, if a car has been kept in mostly original form, since new, and is in good working order, it would be a shame to do major permanent modifications. Likewise if restoring a car that has all the original major components, it’s best if someone is sympathetic.

But generally speaking, I think people should enjoy the cars in the way they find them most enjoyable. For many, customizing and modifying is a major part of the appeal. For others, being perfectly original is paramount.
If you’re having fun with your car, you’re not doing it wrong.


Very true: many modifications however improve drivabiloty and are entirely reversible. I am no purist wheb it comes to cars, but butchering a classic is a pity.


It will be interesting when the next generation of car enthusiasts, who never learned to use a clutch, starts putting automatic transmissions in these cars. What could change the driving experience more? But if you can’t drive a stick, or don’t enjoy it, doesn’t it make sense to convert to an automatic? Heresy, I know, but I think my daughter is already makes plans.

i simply believe that there are cars to modify and fiddle with…and there are cars not to do that to…and the XK120, 140, 150 and E are in the do not category. Plenty of others to have a modify hobby. Why oh why…do it to a XK.

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I am definitely in the “keep it original” school. I love my XK120, the unfortunate part is I know nothing of her history, having purchased it out of a collection with no prior information. So I piece together the archeology, and find things like single master cylinder where it should be dual, manual adjust front brakes where they should be automatic, XK140 water pump, the list goes on. I know that she was “well restored” at some point, but true originality was obviously not their goal, and it is anyone’s guess what donor cars or parts were used…

So now I am “semi-original”, and faced with the challenge. My other classic (A GT500KR) I spent every effort I could returning every detail to as close to original as possible. Do I try to do the same with my XK120? try to return to original braking system etc?

Well, when things break, as they do, I will do my best to fix with more originality rather than less. She is a good driver (and yes, drives a bit like a truck! :slight_smile: ). That is what makes me happy, but whatever I do - she will never become “original” again…

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The sole concessions I made to originality, so far, were the wiring harness and the wheels. I opted for PVC over lacquer braid and I shod the new 60-spoke MWS chrome wire wheels with radials. Both practical upgrades. I’ve kept the original, restored 54-spoke Dunlop wire wheels shod with Dunlop Road Speed RS5 bias plies but have no intention of ever mounting them to the car. I figure if the next owner wants to show the car at concours s/he needs only to change out the visible parts of the harness to lacquer braid and mount the original wheels (but not drive any distance on them) and be good to go.

I may opt to install an electronic dizzy at some point but, again, I’ll keep the original for posterity.

For about 30 years the old XKs were just old XKs, so some just left to rot , others fixed with whatever would fit, some maintained with correct parts. Whatever it is that we have now, we can be glad it survived: we now have the opportunity and in my mind the duty, to make it as nice as it can be with originality well in mind. The car is likely to be around longer than we are. I think it satisfying to know I will send it onward In better condition than when it came to me. Most likely the original 1st owner is long time dead.


I completely happy with my points distributor rebuilt by British Vacuum Unit. Many years now: haven’t touched it. But if I should have to- I know how.

Incidentally, younger people seem to be turning the tide on manual transmissions