A Tale of Two Chassis - Sir Stirling Moss’s Jaguar XK 120 FHC

Above: This Jaguar XK 120 Fixed Head Coupe was owned by Stirling Moss in the early '50s and used extensively by him to travel between races on the continent.

VC 345 was manufactured in February 1952 as a Left-Hand Drive XK 120 Fixed-Head Coupé. The car was first loaned to Stirling Moss by Sir William Lyons in 1952 when he was racing for the Jaguar team. The car was used by Moss to travel between race events in Europe. Wonderfully, the car still retains its original buff logbook with Moss’s signature as first and second owners. The car has a unique two-tone green and cream paint scheme chosen by Moss himself (to reflect his personal racing colours of the period) and has a colourful and varied history which has been embraced by its new owner.

In the early 1950s, LVC was seen being driven by Moss all over Europe, on and off airliners and even towing his caravan as evidenced by the many charming photographs still in circulation.

One particularly notable occasion was when Moss was using the XK 120 to tow the caravan with his manager Ken Gregory driving. They were travelling to Luxembourg for a Formula 3 race. Amongst the luggage in the caravan were 10 dozen eggs presented to them as a gift from one of the mechanic’s mothers. The caravan somehow broke loose, overtook the XK 120, hit a kilometre stone, bounced up in the air and overturned. The pair turned the car around and were greeted by the sight of Moss’ pyjamas hanging out of the broken skylight covered in broken eggs. All Moss and Gregory could do was sit at the side of the road overcome with laughter.

Although the car was initially loaned to Moss it became his personal car a year later as shown in the log book. Primarily LVC was intended to be used as transport between events but it was also used for rallying. The picture here shows the car competing in the 1952 Daily Express Rally wearing number 216 with Moss driving and John Cooper in the passenger seat.

In 1954 Moss was signed to Mercedes so the Jaguar had to go. LVC was purchased by Raymond Playford who went on to found the Jaguar Drivers’ Club. Playford went on to rally the car extensively, wearing the registration RP 9. He rallied and showed the car for almost a decade, during which time he converted it to Right-Hand Drive and fitted XK 150 disc brakes. The car was then sold to John Turner of Norwich in 1963 and registered VCF 950. The car stayed in the Norfolk area and changed hands again later in 1963, to Anthony Brett and then to Edward Allison.

LVC was then sold to Peter Balls of Norwich in 1967. Having found the car in a local newspaper classified advertisement section, Mr Balls agreed to buy LVC for £225 paying £75 up front and then £5 per week. He used the car as his daily driver for four years until engine problems forced him to take the car off the road.

Mr Balls set about a full restoration of LVC in the mid-1970s. This was to be no ordinary restoration. His vision was for an extensively modified and upgraded XK. LVC went through a radical transformation having an E-type independent rear suspension sub-frame fitted, cooling ducting, with the underside of the car completely enclosed and LT2 style doors and sills being added. All this meant that the exhaust could no longer run under the car, so it was run through the off-side sill and out though the rear wing. The car was also fitted with Jaguar S-type front side lights and indicators, XK 150 rear lights and the boot structure was modified.

The modifications were not limited to the exterior. The interior was radically upgraded using much of an S-type dashboard and tunnel, armrests, and Jaguar E-type seats and steering wheel. Most of these interior modifications were to accommodate the new sills and the extra chassis structure holding the rear axle in place.

The restoration was completed with the installation of a 3.8 litre XK engine, straight port cylinder head and an S-type all-synchromesh gearbox. Mr Balls showed the car extensively in the 1980s and a Jaguar Drivers’ Club article from 1984 is very complimentary about the quality of the work carried out, though the writer is clearly unsure whether or not such modifications were in good taste. Mr Balls, being aware the car was not wearing its original registration, successfully applied to re-register the car with the number plate LVC 345.

LVC was purchased by Harry Burton in 1984. The car remained in its modified state as restored by Mr Balls and was used for some years into the 1990s. Mr Burton was a keen Jaguar enthusiast and recognised that this was a car of some historical significance. After a few years enjoying the car, he set about returning this special XK 120 to its original condition. He can be credited with saving LVC and helping to preserve an important part of Jaguar’s motoring history.

Burton carried out a top-quality concours restoration on LVC. The car was returned to standard specification in almost all regards including the original drum brakes, though the car did remain right hand drive. When the body was lifted off the chassis, Burton found a chassis which was almost unrecognisable as an XK 120. He did what any sensible restorer of the period would have done and replaced it with another sound XK 120 chassis. These days, nobody would dream of swapping a chassis, particularly on such an important car, but at the time far less attention was paid to “matching numbers” and spare chassis were relatively available. Importantly, the original chassis was not thrown away; rather Burton kept it safely in storage.

The freshly-revived LVC went on to have a glittering career over the next 25 years at concours events. LVC was sold in 2001 to historic racer and display pilot Vic Norman who continued to show the car and had great success at many events. In the intervening years Mr Burton Senior sadly passed away. Enter his son, John, who continued the family tradition as a Jaguar enthusiast. John is well known in Jaguar racing circles. He inherited the old chassis but after several years of not knowing what to do with it, he passed it on to Twyford Moors’s owner, Nik Rochez. When LVC came back onto the market in 2019, Burton Junior seized the opportunity to return LVC to the family stable and realised there was an opportunity to reunite the car with its original chassis.

This is where Twyford Moors comes into the story. Burton approached Rochez to regain the original chassis and this was agreed on condition that the chassis and the body were reunited. Burton wanted to complete his father’s work of returning LVC to its original condition and making it a true part of Jaguar’s rich heritage. He wanted to acknowledge the full history of the car without whitewashing Peter Balls’s part in the car’s history. As such, Burton’s brief was to return LVC’s original chassis to a point where standard XK 120 suspension and parts could be fitted but otherwise to retain reminders of the life that the car had lived.

Restoring an XK chassis is never an easy task but LVC proved to be a real challenge given its extensive modifications and alterations. Most of the rear structure had been cut away and replaced to allow fitment of the E-type subframe. This had to be removed without upsetting the geometry of the chassis. Once the rear suspension was back to XK 120 specification, a number of minor repairs (due to corrosion and the odd bodged historic repair) were made. Many distinctive features of the chassis were left in place to acknowledge its history. In particular, there were a number of unused brackets and a flange running around the chassis to which the undertray constructed by Mr Balls used to attach. After work was completed on the chassis, LVC was stripped down carefully, the body removed from the ‘replacement’ chassis and, after 25 years, the body reunited with its original chassis. From there, the car was rebuilt using the original parts and in line with Burton Senior’s restoration.

LVC was completed and delivered to John Burton. He undertook final preparations before taking the car to the 2020 London Concours at the Honourable Artillery Company that August. The car was invited to take part in “The Pursuit of Speed” class which celebrated the “innovative technologies of the crowned speed kings through the decades”. The class featured some absolutely stunning and very special cars, including a 1959 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing and a 2018 McLaren Senna. Despite this truly stiff competition, the XK 120 won the class and received much admiration. It is a delight to see this special car recognised in such a way and to see the XK 120 acknowledged as the cutting-edge supercar of its day. Jaguar truly advanced motoring technology, and public expectations, in the 1950s and in so doing laid the groundwork for what is now the Jaguar heritage.

By Harry Rochez

Twyford Moors

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