Jaguar XK120s – Unicorns in the wild.

 Our second outing in a Jaguar. This time, it’s all about heritage. 

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After being properly introduced to Jaguars recently, it’s fair to say that I have developed a new appreciation for the brand. Many an idle minute is spent day-dreaming about the sound that the F-type makes or the brutal acceleration of the XJ220. However, the brand has a lot of heritage to its name, which unfortunately for us, usually manifests itself in the form of garage queens that rarely see any sunlight.

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They say things happen for the best. ‘They’ are usually right. After seeing our Jag piece, Gilbert Ayoub got in touch and very kindly invited me for an afternoon out with his two Jaguar XK120s. An opportunity to experience the automotive equivalent of a unicorn does not present itself everyday, so you can figure out why Gilbert could not understand the next few words I said. He wisely took it as a yes, however.

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So, one fine Saturday afternoon (read that as dreadfully humid), I found myself navigating through the Downtown area around the Dubai Mall. A quick call to Gilbert later, I was parked under his building, where I found another XK120 at the kerb. It turns out that Gilbert had invited his friend James to join us with his XK120!

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The second XK120 arrived with Gilbert at the wheel and after exchanging pleasantries, we decided to get moving. From the get-go, it was very clear that Dubai’s motorists are not used to seeing a couple of XK120s on the road. From the blank stare to the friendly ‘beep’ and wave, we managed to get all sorts of reactions from people. Electing to leave the traffic behind, Gilbert pointed the nose of the Jag towards an isolated part of town, with James following close behind.

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Soon, we reached our palm-tree lined destination. Shutting the small door, I took my first opportunity to examine the interior. Simple, even spartan, is what describes it perfectly. A few basic gauges, a shifter, a large steering wheel and a plaque commemorating a speed record that an XK120 broke, while travelling at 141.51 mph. Fast indeed, then.

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Watching the two machines in motion is a pleasure. Graceful and smooth, they make it seem as if all motoring should be this effortless. While the cars may be the same, there are a number of differences between the two, which become quickly apparent. James’ car, which is a later model, came with wire wheels, a set of footwell air vents, a red leather interior and fog lights. Gilbert’s example is equipped with a beige leather interior, whitewalls and rear wheel spats.

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Three quarters of an hour later, we came to a stop in the courtyard under Gilbert’s building, while he fetched his second car, a red Jaguar XK120 coupe. As the red car was wheeled into position there was a sudden flurry of flashes as people arrived to photograph the glamorous trio. Even among the classic community in Dubai, a Jaguar XK120 is a rare sight. With three of them together, it was to be expected. An F-type also made a special appearance!

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The XK120 has a unique shape, which is shared with very few other cars, one of them being the Triumph TR3A. Possessing a classic 1950s sports car silhouette, this machine was meant for pleasure drives on Saturday or Sunday afternoons on British B-roads. The inline-six produces enough power for fun, yet won’t get you into trouble. Skinny tyres on all four corners make for interesting handling, but have their advantages.

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The XK120 gives one a very pure classic motoring experience, or so it seemed to me. Goggles, gloves and the wind in your hair all look very much at home, while you pilot a machine from the 1950s. No air conditioning here, just a quick tap of your foot and a vent allows cool air to fill the footwell. Still feeling warm? Simply drive faster!

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As the sun dipped behind the towering buildings, a member of Dubai’s finest rolled up and asked us to move along. Watching the Jags being driven away to their respective homes, I had a fleeting glimpse of something that I thought would have leapt straight off the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘the Great Gatsby’. I guess the humidity was beginning to get to me.

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In hindsight, we had done exactly what these machines were intended for – pleasure drives on weekend afternoons. I had also been properly introduced to Jaguar heritage and had understood why it holds so much weight in the classic car world. With classic Jags crossing auction blocks for millions of dollars, it now seems clear why that happens. How to make those millions of dollars is somewhat of a mystery to me, which shall now be the subject of my day-dreaming…..

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Special thanks to Gilbert Ayoub and James Iremonger for a wonderful afternoon. You can find the Jaguar Club of Arabia here

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