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Sports Car Beauties

With the motor industry hitting its stride again after the war, thoughts could turn to sports cars once again. Jaguar introduced the XK120, the fastest production car of the era, which went on to set speed records and sire successful racing machines. Ferrari, a company set up to build racing cars, turned its attention to fast road cars for the first time. Saloon car mechanicals were adapted for sports cars with traditional open-top bodies or new-era, fixed-head bodywork. There were also elegant, grand touring cars designed for long-distance travel that offered speed and comfort.

Jaguar XK120 1948


Engine3,442 cc, straight-six
Top speed125 mph (201 km/h)

William Lyons’ XK120 was the star of the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show in London. It was planned as a short production-run and prestige show-stopper, but overwhelming interest meant it went into series production in 1950. Like all the best Jaguars, the XK120 combined speed, beauty, and charm.

Production in steel

Early XK120s were made in small numbers with aluminium bodies, but in 1950 Jaguar started full production using steel panels.

Terrific twin-cam

Design of the XK twin-cam engine began during WWII. The 3.4-litre, six-cylinder unit was fitted with two SU carburettors and developed around 160 bhp in its production form. It also proved to have plenty of potential for future tuning.

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport 1947


Engine4,482 cc, straight-six
Top speed120 mph (193 km/h)

The ultimate Grand Tourer of the 1940s enjoyed a wide range of fabulous coach-built bodies, with none finer than this model by Saoutchik. A lighter version won Le Mans in 1950, Louis Rosier driving all but 45 minutes of the 24 hours

Bristol 400 1947


Engine1,971 cc, straight-six
Top speed94 mph (152 km/h)

Bristol Aeroplanes entered the car market with a repackaged prewar BMW design, brought back to the UK as “war reparations”. The efficient engine design gave it good performance and Bristol’s standards of construction—based on aircraft engineering practice—were second to none.

Riley RMC Roadster 1948


Engine2,443 cc, straight-four
Top speed100 mph (161 km/h)

This two-door version of the 1945 RM saloon had traditional good looks and a twin-cam engine with enough power for it to hit “the ton”. The Roadster had a single row of three seats and a very long tail. In total, 507 cars were made.

Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta 1949


Engine1,995 cc, V12
Top speed125 mph (201 km/h)

This was the first true production Ferrari sports car, powered by a high-revving V12 engine and usually fitted with a fabulous Touring Barchetta body. Ferrari was essentially a racing car manufacturer, and racing versions of the 166 won the Mille Miglia, Spa, and Le Mans races in 1949. 


It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016

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