1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

This 1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4 was originally owned by French singer Gilbert Bécaud. Repatriated back to the UK in the late Eighties, it’s since been restored twice.



roadster with a glamorous past

The Jaguar XK120 might more British than Spotted Dick, reading Shakespeare, or queuing in the rain yet that didn’t stop one of France’s top crooners, Gilbert Bécaud, from buying a drophead coupe in 1954. But with the car being as elegant and stylish as the man himself, he still must have cut quite the dash while his fame and popularity grew throughout the decade.

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

Born on 24 October, 1927, in Toulon on the French Riviera, Bécaud learned to play the piano at an early age, later studying at the Conservatoire de Nice. Following Germany’s 1940 invasion of his country, he left school two years later to join the French resistance.

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

Following the war and with his family settling in Paris, he began his career by playing piano in nightclubs. After accompanying Edith Piaf and her husband, the entertainer Jacques Pills, Bécaud’s big moment as a solo artist arrived in February 1954 when he performed at the reopening of Paris’s famous Olympia music hall and was quickly compared to American crooners of the day, Frank Sinatra especially. Due to the electricity of his performance, newspapers dubbed Bécaud “Monsieur 100,000 Volts”, a name that lasted until his death in 2001. Like Elvis or Sinatra for Americans, Bécaud remains as popular as ever in his native country.

A prolific songwriter, his compositions were regularly recorded by others which later included such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond and even Elvis Presley.

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

Fresh from his success at Olympia, in the Spring of 1954 Bécaud ordered a brand new Jaguar XK120 drophead coupe in Pastel Blue with a contrasting blue interior. It’s not known why he bought this most British of cars over something more European especially since the XK120 was already six years old by then. Maybe it was Jaguar’s victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours with a C-Type the year before which had swayed him. Or perhaps he simply liked how luxurious the interior was.

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

Announced in April 1953, the drophead coupe’s interior was similar to the existing fixed head car and featured a dashboard covered in a rich veneer. A tailored folding roof and fully winding windows meant the weather protection was much more comprehensive compared to the basic provisions of the original open-two-seater.

Coming with the same 3.4-litre XK engine as the other variants, the DHC offered performance similar to the open-two-seater and fixed head coupe. Together with its still beautiful proportions, for many the XK120 drophead coupe represented the perfect compromise between speed and comfort. “Whereas an open sports model, even with its hood and side screens erect, is not an ideal everyday conveyance,” said Autosport magazine in its 14 May, 1954 issue, “this drophead coupe would be perfectly adequate for the one-car man, who must use his vehicle for business as well as pleasure.”

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4 - engine

Gilbert Bécaud certainly thought so since Jaguar’s Parisian dealer, Charles Delecroix, delivered his light blue XK120 DHC in late May 1954. With the model replaced by the XK140 in September the same year, it made his car – chassis 678351 – a relatively late example. With the majority of the 1471 left-hand- drive XK120 DHCs sent to America, the model wouldn’t have been a common sight in France. But while there’s no denying the Jaguar was more Coventry than Côte d’Azure, Bécaud would still have appeared stylish as he arrived at press events to publicise his burgeoning music and later film career.

It’s not known how long Bécaud kept the XK120; as a tight two-seater, it wouldn’t have been practical for his growing family. After getting married in 1952, he would have three children with his first wife.

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4 - interior

At some point it was sent to America and it next resurfaced in 1989 when it was brought back to the UK by Trevor Scott-Worthington, a well-known name in this magazine. After starting his career at Standard Triumph in the late 1950s, by the late Eighties he was a total quality manager at Jaguar. As an XK enthusiast, he’d started a business specialising in parts for the car, Coventry Auto Components (www.coventryautocomponents.co.uk), as a hobby in 1969, eventually leaving Jaguar in the early Nineties to look after it full time.

“I bought it as a bit of a wreck from Sarasota, Florida,” Trevor tells me when I call him about his time with the car.

“It came though Steve Barratt [of SNG Barratt fame] who was bringing a lot of vehicles into the UK at the time.”

By then in white and with lots of parts missing, it took Trevor several years to rebuild the XK120, repainting it in a darker blue than its original shade and retrimming the seats in cream leather. Trevor owned the drophead coupe for almost two decades and there’s an image of him standing next to it in the February 1999 issue of Jaguar World Monthly when it was described as “superb”. The car was regularly used to test new parts that Coventry Auto Components was developing before they became available to customers.

In 2016 and despite it still being in good condition, the then owner decided to give the car a full restoration which was completed by Clanfield Coachbuilding in Oxfordshire. The body was removed and taken back to bare metal and repaired where necessary before being resprayed in the same shade of dark blue as Trevor chose. The engine was rebuilt, the four-speed gearbox replaced with a five-speed unit and the clutch assembly fitted. The brakes were also uprated with Coopercraft front discs.

1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4

Although the seats were considered to be in a good enough condition to be left alone, the rest of the interior was retrimmed which included new carpets and door cards. As a subtle reminder of the car’s time in France, the ivory steering wheel that was often fitted to European models was retained.

The restoration took five years to complete and the depth of the work is evident when I travel to the Cotsworlds to see the car that’s now for sale through Classic Motor Hub. In my eyes, the darker blue is classier than the lighter shade the car was originally painted in and a better match for the elegant lines of the XK120 drophead coupe. Together with the unmarked chrome that still shines brightly despite the dullness of this cold, spring day, it is a handsome and beautifully-presented car.

This 1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC 3.4 was originally owned by French singer Gilbert Bécaud. Repatriated back to the UK in the late Eighties, it’s since been restored twice

Judging by the immaculate condition of the interior, it’s clear the car has barely been used since its recent restoration. The seats still look clean and fresh while the thick veneer covering the dash retains its rich, opulent lustre.

After pressing the starter in the dash, the 3.4-litre bursts into life with a familiar twin cam roar. Thanks to the modern five-speed transmission offering quick, and precise shifts, the engine needs little persuasion to deliver its power, the straight six unit feeling strong and responsive.

Together with sharp, accurate steering, even a short drive due to poor weather we endured in March reveals the car drives as well as it looks.

On first glance, this most British of cars might have been an unusual choice for this most French of singers. But with the XK120’s elegant style, long-lasting popularity and energetic performance perfectly matching that of Gilbert Bécaud himself, maybe it wasn’t so strange after all.

Thanks to: Classic Motor Hub (classicmotorhub.com)

The 2016 rebuild added a five-speed box. Ivory wheel was common on European cars

The model wouldn’t have been a common sight in France

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