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Eye-wateringly costly ‘restomod’ XK120 from Thornley-Kelham

Jaguar-XK120-3
Jaguar-XK120

Away from the world of electrifying a favoured classic, which Iain Robertson states is one of millionairedom’s present automotive preoccupations, the restoration scene has remained consistently busy, with ground-up recreations gathering a high-end momentum all of their own and ‘restomods’ factoring in novel new business.

How do you like your coffee? Strong, weak, or bang in the middle somewhere? Deal with the vehicle restoration scene and you can take your pick, with an accompanying strong-to-weak price tag, much dependent on expertise and detail finish. Of course, there are sharks out there. They’ll take your ackers and request more, often delivering a end-product that needs to spend reparative time elsewhere to bring it up to an intended specification, costing twice the original budget. Fortunately, the back street shits tend to have reputes that research will uncover. Whether you are spending £50,000 or half-a-million, getting the right results are an expectation; paying extra may lie with supply issues, but checking credentials is an essential.

Some of the more confident operators have joined a growing throng willing to take a chance on all the cash slushing about the scene. Some of them fall into the ‘restomod’ classification by which they restore in the traditional manner but also modernise, sometimes radically, to take perceptions to new loftier peaks. Thornley-Kelham is one such player. Effectively an umbrella restoration specialist, with marketing company ideals, it may well have ground its gears in the traditions of rebuilding classics but it borrows the talents of in-vogue stylists, to travel the extra modernist mile. It has performed the task with the stunningly lovely Lancia Aurelia and has now determined that the original Jaguar XK120 is ripe for picking. As mentioned in a recent review of the Caton Healey, a reworking of the mid-1950s sportscar already perceived as automotive perfection, subtlety can still be radical, while turning heads becomes an assured attribute.

The XK120 is very much in the same category. It is achingly beautiful from almost any angle, to such an extent that modifying it might be churlish, let alone wrong on however many levels. Yet, it was an imperfect design from the outset, as much as a result of 1950s’ manufacturing idiosyncrasies, as a need to pump value-for-money sportscars into both domestic and overseas’ markets as speedily as possible, at a time when British motoring was king. It’s all-change now. Borrowing McLaren’s stylist, Jag’s edges have been smoothed and refined and the process works, even at a reported £550,000 per car, plus, of course, the original donor vehicle, which could be either a ‘wrecker’, or worth a further £100,000. It’s a nice little earner, if you can get it, as Thornley-Kelham believes it can.

Jaguar-XK120-4
Jaguar-XK120

While removing the chrome bumpers was a common 1950s’ XK practice, it did leave unsightly body cavities. There are no such blemishes on the thoroughly reworked TK. The angle of the bootlid has also been re-established and, instead of ugly mid-panel welds, they are replaced by larger but purer pressings. For better overall design balance, the roof-line is also lowered. The fenders are stretched physically to provide more space for wider, stronger Borrani spokes and modern tyres that fill the arches. The running gear is re-engineered to handle a power hike of close to 100%, the 3.4-litre inline-6 that provides so much of the original car’s character being rebuilt and enhanced to 3.8-litre levels, on injection not carbs, which ensures that the car can more than manage the top whack that provided its name, accelerating like a 340bhp scalded cat in the meantime.

The completely redesigned dashboard and interior echo the original but with modernising and improvements  wrought wherever possible. The dials are kept in a similar layout but are surrounded by a body colour, aluminium dashboard replacing a flat slab of walnut. This is wrapped in the finest leather hugging the dials, now positioned slightly higher and benefiting from the revised seating position, which is a vast improvement over the original, dropping the H-point significantly so that the driver sits in rather than on the car and ensuring that the lowered roof does not affect the headroom. The seats themselves, while design classics, offer more support than the originals and the door design is also more sophisticated and sportier, with a slim storage pocket and a completely new door release not only improve the ergonomics but also the knee clearance for taller drivers. At last I fit comfortably.  Electric windows are added, as are electronic gauges and a discreet rollcage, while air-conditioning, power steering, Bluetooth connectivity and a number of in-car entertainment options ensure that every TK XK can offer the thrills of a classic with the convenience and everyday drivability of a modern.

From its base in the Cotswolds, TK takes around 5,000 hours to restore each Jaguar, or any of its other commissions, of which 800 hours alone are dedicated to paintwork. The company’s approach is based on appreciation of the original model but, then, ensuring that it can meet the demands of modern drivers, seventy years later. While it has built one example, it also has another in production at the moment.

Conclusion:         With a successful legacy behind it, TK displays immense confidence in its capabilities and the pictures of the reworked XK120 hardtop serve to highlight its outstanding skills. As a British company steeped in restoration projects, now with its own ‘restomods’, as long as willing investors want that something extra, its future needs be regarded as no less than assured.