Pinin Farina-bodied Jaguar XK120

This 1954 Jaguar XK120 SE, the only one bodied in this style by Pinin Farina, was the subject of our Epic Restoration feature in the November 2017 issue and starred on our stand at the recent Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show. Enjoy the story.

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When Peter Neumark pulled the covers off this unique Pinin Farina-bodied Jaguar XK120 at Pebble Beach concours in August, it marked the end of a two-year voyage of painstaking research and restoration on a car that had vanished for 60 years. Chairman of the Employee Ownership Trust that runs restoration specialist Classic Motor Cars of Bridgnorth, Peter has a lifelong passion for Jaguar and was ideally placed to commission the restoration of such a special XK120. ‘I had a call out of the blue in 2015 to say this car was for sale,’ he recalls. ‘I hadn’t heard of it before, but once I’d looked it up on the internet, I didn’t waste any time – I was in Germany two days later! ‘In fact I didn’t just buy a car, I made a friend – Ludwig Draxel-Fischer and his wife were lovely people and he had around 30 cars in his cellar. His mechanic had just died and he realised he would never get around to restoring the car.’

But the Pinin Farina XK120’s story hadn’t started in Germany, and filling in the gaps in an attempt to understand this elegant coupé became a vital part of the challenge, a part that’s still a work in progress. ‘I went to Pinin Farina but it had no records at all,’ explains Peter. ‘Lancia expert Paolo Giusti was very helpful and provided the original photos that we have.’

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A late XK120 SE roadster, chassis S675360 was built on April 5, 1954 and is recorded as being despatched to Max Hoffman’s East Coast US dealership on May 25. But it seems it was sent instead to Turin in Italy, where Pinin Farina proceeded to cut off its brand-new bodywork and replace it with something altogether more sophisticated. Whether it was a result of Hoffman trying to court favour with Jaguar, cheekily showing it how a XK120 fixed-head coupé could have looked, or simply fulfilling the order of a customer, remains an intriguing mystery.

In March 1955 there emerged from the Pinin Farina works this magnificent coupé, vastly more sophisticated than the simple Jaguar roadster that had left Browns Lane almost a year earlier, but clearly paying homage to the original XK120 styling in its grille shape and headlight positioning. It is known to have been shown at Geneva, and at another show in April, after which it went to Hoffman and disappeared from automotive radar. In 1972 it was bought by Ron Foster of Connecticut for $250 – it was very run down, but Ron had it patched up, painted burgundy and retrimmed in tan leather, and ran it until 1978. When Ron put it up for sale, it was snapped up by Ludwig Draxel-Fischer, who shipped it to Germany and planned a full restoration that never began – until Peter Neumark bought it 37 years later.

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Stripdown and sitrep

Recalls bodywork specialist Luke Martin, ‘The whole car was stripped, and we took the body off. There was some accident damage and rot in the chassis, but far worse on the body. A lot of the lower half had been repaired before, and very badly. In fact I think someone had previously cut the body up for scrap, then crudely tacked it together with braze and pop rivets to sell it. The roof had been cut off and the sills had been cut through. We had to build it back up to what Pinin Farina had intended – there were some bits left from the original build, little box sections and outriggers, but they were very rotten. The rest had already been chopped away and there was an inch of filler all over it. The XK front wing vents had been filled over – we found them when we removed the filler. I made a new lower half, new front end, rear quarters, inner arches, door skins and repaired the frames. The whole car was 3D scanned and that helped me to make the front end. We saved the bonnet and bootlid, which are aluminium – all the rest is steel. The bonnet had an unusual cantilever system to make it self-supporting; fortunately Mk2 Jaguar bonnet springs worked.

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‘Pinin Farina had used a lot of the original XK inner panels and substructure, including the bulkheads. They were extended – the new metal was just tacked on. Ferraris were built like that – we kept it all as original. The floors had been made 2in wider than the XK floor panels and the sills were extended too. The area around the filler cap had been reused, but not much else of the external bodywork. In the rear wings we found areas where they’d modified their original design at Pinin Farina and leaded over it – we kept all of that exactly as it was, quirks and all.’

Glass and brightwork

‘There was a lot of chrome missing – I just had to start with flat sheets of steel and brass, shape it up and try it on. The rear lights were missing and the surround had been modified. I made an aluminium model, scanned it and 3D-printed it; the lens was machined. We couldn’t source the front sidelamps either, so those were also 3D-printed. We’re lucky to have The 3D Measurement Company (T3DMC) across the road, along with Grainger and Worrall for machining.

‘The rear screen and its brass surround were completely missing, so we scanned it and had the screen made in Perspex. The screen fits in the surround and then the surround is screwed in. I had to make the surround more than once to get it right. We had seen the chrome on the top of the rear screen from original photos and were worried because it looked very intricate – but when we looked at the car, we found it was still there – it had been filled and painted over. We were able to clean it, remove it and restore it. A lot of the chrome plating was done by our regular platers, ACF Howell, but because of the rapid turnaround needed, the bumpers and grille were done by Genius of the Lamp in Birmingham.’

 

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Chassis

‘It came to us as a rolling car with boxes of bits,’ explains Restoration Mechanical Technician Zoltan Nemeth. ‘We had to match up the pieces – it was quite a feat. The chassis was very sound, but we had to cut some sections away from the front of the chassis and let pieces in where there was accident damage, and some of the outriggers had to be replaced. We could still see traces of the original light blue paint in some areas. It’s all standard XK120 underneath. There was just a slight modification on the exhaust, which kicked up to follow the body shape. The whole car is wider than standard, especially at the back. The ride height and geometry are all standard XK120; the fuel tank is also standard but with the neck remade to suit the new bodywork.

‘When Pinin Farina built the car, it fitted large chrome mouldings along the wings and the bottoms of the doors. They had been cut through for the doors, but not shaped to allow the doors to open – we literally couldn’t open the doors more than a few inches and the door locks seemed to have been disabled, almost as if the owner had been climbing in through the windows! It was clear that the car was built for show; we’ve reshaped the trims so it’s possible to actually open the doors.’

 

Paint and body alignment

John Langston was tasked with painting the car, and his first challenge was to find the correct colour. ‘We searched everywhere,’ he recalls. ‘Finally when we removed the windscreen, we found two small areas where we were able to match the two shades of the main body and the roof. We searched through all our colour chips and found two near-identical colours  then it was two of us working silly hours to get it painted, on a 16-day turnaround, so that it would be ready for Pebble Beach. That left Dan with a week to polish it and three days on final detailing.’

 

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Interior trim

‘The window winders are like a Ferrari’s, with a wire system. From photos we could see that a lot of Ferrari Europa parts had been used. There were Lancia Aurelia B20 door handles, and Aurelia and Appia knobs on the dash. Craig Brush made the winder knobs and door locks using the 3D printer because they just weren’t available. The door windows were half an inch longer on one side than the other, and the quarterlights were ¾in different – it was quite a challenge to get it all lined up and working. The dashboard instruments are standard XK120, just relocated; the dash is hand-beaten aluminium trimmed in leather. The instruments were in pretty good condition but were stripped and rebuilt. The steering column and wheel were standard too. We had to make the backings for all the exterior lights, they were all special – Pinin Farina had put indicators into the sidelights. A German company that does a lot of prototyping for Bentley designed and printed all the seals for the lights.’

One of the toughest challenges on the whole car was the interior trim, which was tackled by CMC’s top trimmer, Tom Hampton. ‘We hadn’t any reference at all, because it had been retrimmed,’ explains Tom. ‘We had old photos of the exterior, but all they showed were the tops of the backs of the seats, the top of the dash and the finish around the rear window. There are no photos anywhere showing the inside.

‘Fortunately I managed to find some of the original leather under the retrimming and could match it – it was Connolly Vaumol 3104, called Cinnamon at the time [now Ochre] – and I did find a scrap of the original headlining, so I could remake that using the construction techniques of the time. We had to sink ourselves into that epoch, to understand what they would have done and use the original types of construction. It was an enjoyable challenge, but timescales can compromise that enjoyment somewhat!’

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The next challenge was to establish the style of the fluting in the seats, as there was evidence that the retrim had been to a different pattern. ‘I found witnesses to the original flute sizes in the original seat foams, which didn’t align with the new trim,’ says Tom. ‘I compared those sizes with images of other seats Pinin Farina made at the time, and they were identical. The dashboard was the next challenge, because I wasn’t sure it had been trimmed originally. It was an incredibly difficult one to trim in one hide – but I could see that allowance had been made for the hide to fit around the glovebox, so it must have been done.

‘Then we had to come up with all the finishing details, because we just had the seats, the centre armrest and the dash – nothing else. For the door panels, I had to work out which of the holes in the door were original, and which were later. It was clearly designed for show. The seats tip, but it was difficult to tip them forward with the centre armrest in place. The seat bases were largely original XK120 but had been cut in four to make them bigger. A knurled adjustable backrest had been added – very simple, like the Lancia Aurelia – and used the original runners, but there was very limited movement because of the rear bulkhead.

‘At first it looked as if the doors had had wood cappings, but then it became clear that with wood cappings it wasn’t possible to shut the doors, so they must have changed their minds. The door seals were an issue – I don’t think they’d thought that far ahead. We had to create them from scratch, and there’s still work to do in that area.’

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Installing the engine ahead of Pebble Beach glory ‘Now we have to do what Pinin Farina didn’t, to make the car more usable,’ explains CMC’s engine specialist Andrew Turvey. ‘That’s probably why it rotted away. From the condition of the engine, I’d say that it had only done 15-20,000 miles – but it had stood for decades, which is the worst thing for them. It wasn’t worn out, it was sludged up and corroded.

‘It was a 65-year-old standard XK120 engine with no modifications. We stripped it, acid dipped and cleaned it, and shot-peened the conrods and crankshaft. We linered the block back to standard. The top and bottom were shaved and it was blueprinted for a little more performance, but we couldn’t go too far because Peter wanted to keep the standard 120 radiator and fan, so we’ve made it as reliable and efficient as we can.

‘After we’d rebuilt the engine, we reinstalled it in the chassis without the cylinder head before the body went on, then fitted the head afterwards. It would have been extremely tight to get the engine in afterwards and may well be impossible – Pinin Farina would have built the body over the engine when it was already in place in the chassis. The bonnet has a couple of indentations from the studs on the cam covers!’

The trophy it won at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours – second in the Postwar Closed category – was matched by another success. Says Peter Neumark, ‘A chap from Massachusetts came up to me and said he’d owned the car in 1958, and he had photos of it in Canada on a fishing trip. It was fascinating to see that in just three years, they’d changed the front bumpers to XK140 ones with spotlamps, and changed the colour.’

‘It’s great to have the car out, I would hate it to just sit around. It’ll go to Villa d’Este next year – the global response has been amazing and I hope we can find out more of its history.’


See this beautiful car in all it's glory on the Classic Cars Epic Restorations feature at this weekend's Practical Classics Classic Car & Restoration Show.

For more amazing Epic Restoration stories, click here to buy the latest issue of Classic Cars Magazine.