When a car is selling so well that no dealer can keep a demonstrator long enough to build up sufficient mileage for a road test, that machine must be what enthusiasts call "desirable property." The new Jaguar XK140MC roadster falls into that category. It was only the enterprise of the Hempstead, N.Y. Auto Co. that secured me one of these coveted specimens. The car belongs to George F. Rolfe, a customer who generously gave me a free hand with his prized possession. This immaculate white Jag with red leather upholstery showed an adequate 5,000 miles when I took the wheel; it also bore obvious signs of perfectionist maintenance.
The XK140MC is a patent example of the European concept that "today's race car is tomorrow's touring car." Many of its features are directly inherited from the famous "C-Type" Jaguar which set countless new records in all kinds of races; hence the designation "M" for Modified and "C" for Competition.
The new Jag still features the extremely efficient Westlake-designed aluminum cylinder head, now equipped with high-lift camshafts, larger valves and huskier carburetors. Compared with the original XK120, this has resulted in a 50 hp increase and a rise in power peak from 4,900 to 5,750 rpm. In terms of performance, it means sizzling acceleration and (in overdrive) a top speed close to that of a Formula II Grand Prix car. Given leeway, the XK140MC will outstrip any true production sports car, regardless of price or power, yet it has enough "dig out" to spin the wheels on dry concrete. I did it time and again during the acceleration tests.
The gearbox is a wonderful mechanism, rugged, silent and quick enough to make it almost impossible to clash gears, no matter how fast you shift. Too, the shortened shift lever seems to have cured a slight sponginess of action noted on earlier Jags. On a half-mile test strip I easily hit 110 mph, at which point—had there been room enough—the Laycock de Normanville overdrive (an optional extra) would really have come into its own. Flick a dashboard switch and instantly the high-gear ratio goes up 28% while engine revs drop correspondingly. The overdrive can be cut in or out at any speed with barely a transitional tremor, provided you keep your foot on the throttle. Otherwise, damage would result from the sudden load thrown on the rear axle. For this and other reasons, the overdrive is not recommended in competition. Instead, the racing enthusiast has the free option of a 3.54 or a 3.31 axle ratio.
The XK140MC's rack and pinion steering is another racing inheritance. It is so light, positive and accurate that I was able to drive at 40 mph in a tight circle with tires squealing, using only one hand to keep the car on its dizzy course. Yet, when tackling a curve at high speed there is just the right degree of self-centering action.
What's more, the decreased angle of the steering wheel resulting from the universal joint on the column provides better vision over the top of the wheel. It also affords two inches more space between the bottom of the rim and the seat. The seat itself, happily, has been moved back and the bulkhead pushed forward to provide five inches of additional leg room.
Among other improvements, heavier torsion bars and shock absorbers give the XK140MC a firmer, more comfortable ride with far less body lean when cornering fast. Gone is that annoying tendency to overheat in traffic which once plagued XK owners. The water impeller operates at a higher speed and a shrouded eight-blade fan draws adequate air through a sloping radiator with its water capacity increased by two quarts.
What of the debit side? There are two things about the XK140MC that I don't like. One fault is serious and of long standing; the other new and trivial. The old fault has caused me, as a race driver, much vexation and many anxious moments. I refer to the brakes, inadequate when matched against the tremendous pace of this machine. A new master cylinder and smoother pedal action are provided on the latest car, and occasional panic stops from moderate speeds offer no problem. Repeated hard applications at 80 or 100 mph, however, induce brake fade. On the car tested, the linings gave forth an objectionable burning smell. Having come so far, it's hard to understand why Jaguar engineers still cling to heavy, cast-iron drums that store up blistering heat and ruin brake efficiency. Enthusiasts would gladly pay the extra cost of factory-fitted Al-Fin type linered aluminum drums.
My other criticism centers on the "gooking-up" of the hood and trunk lid with fancy medallions and chrome strips. These trimmings rob the car of its former arrogant sleekness and spoil the patrician simplicity that was the very essence of its good looks. As an American enthusiast put it: "The British unfortunately don't have the right kind of bad taste for styling."
But the debits against XK140MC are insignificant beside its credits. It is a wondrous machine—docile, fast, quiet, flexible, comfortable and easy to drive. It has almost everything the enthusiast could wish for and it has it at a price that makes the Jaguar one of the best sports car dollar values on the market.