Bridgnorth, Shropshire - Some Big Cat enthusiasts are calling this the rarest Jaguar ever. Well, that’s not quite true: there have been a number of one-offs and show cars built over the years, each of which is, in the truest sense of the word, unique.
But this one is genuinely different. This is not a concept; it is not a show car, although it was shown when it was new. This is the only Jaguar XK120 ever bodied by the famed design studio Pininfarina, back in the days when it was also a bespoke coachbuilder. And it wasn’t built for Jaguar, or as a showpiece by Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina; it was created for a private customer and it has had a long and chequered history, with many owners in several countries.
And that makes it special. It is unmistakeably a Jaguar XK, but it is also blessed with very Italian curves, particularly at the rear; a period comparison with Sophia Loren or La Lollo springs to mind.
It was commissioned in 1954 by Max Hoffman, an Austrian-born, New York-based classic car enthusiast and importer of luxury vehicles to the United States during the 1950s. Whether it was his inspiration or Pinin Farina’s is not certain, but it’s known that he supplied the donor XK120 SE and was this car’s first owner.
It was apparently displayed at the 1955 Geneva motor show, although we haven’t been able to find an image of it at the show; then it was shipped to its owner in the US and vanished from public view until it was bought by Ron Foster of Connecticut in 1972 for just $250 (then about R425). The beautiful car must have been in a sadly neglected state by then because, although he knew what it was, Foster saw fit to spray a thick layer of burgundy Duco over what was left of the original metallic gray-green finish and have the seats recovered in tan leather.
He drove the Pininfarina XK120 SE for five years, then advertised it in industry publication Hemmings and sold it to a German collector in 1978. The new owner had noble intentions of returning the car to its original glory, but probably underestimated both the extent of the damage and what it would cost to restore. Either way, nothing was done; the car remained in storage until 2014, when it was found by Jaguar restoration expert Peter Neumark of Classic Motor Cars, who bought it and undertook a complete rebuild.
What he found was an interesting reflection on how the car was built; the Browns Lane-built chassis was completely standard, and the original XK120 body had been cut up to form the basis of the new coachwork - which was more feasible than it would be today since it wasn’t a structural member. Just how much work was involved in the rebuild can be gauged from the workshop pictures in the gallery - and the fact that it took a team of 13 craftsmen two years.
But we can’t show you any pictures of the completed project, because Neumark has said from the beginning that he was going to take the Pininfarina XK120 SE back to the United States, to be seen in public for the first time on 20 August at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance at Monterey, California. As soon as we see the visuals of the finished restoration, so will you.