Jaguar XK120 formerly owned by Clark Gable
When Clark Gable heard that MGM had plans for him filming in the UK, he immediately ordered another XK120, which was later delivered to the film set in Cornwall.
It seems that he had been disappointed that a standard XK120 was no longer available with wire wheels, so he ordered wires as a special fitment, as well as a leather belt over the bonnet and a luggage rack for his planned European trips. All these extras were fitted to the car when he took delivery of MDU420 in May 1952 from the back of a British Rail truck.
In the process of restoration it was found that there are an awful lot of XK120s that claim to have once been in the possession of Clark Gable. This is why many people in the know verified and analysed the car. Amongst them was Terry McGrath, the Jaguar historian from Australia, Anders Clausager, chief archivist of Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, Urs Schmid, the XK historian, and many others.
While researching the car’s history the sales contract and the correspondence with the second owner were discovered. Every paper refers to the car’s chassis number. Due to the special louvres in the bonnet that had been later added by Jaguar to Clark Gable’s request, the car is easily identifiable.
After finishing the film Clark Gable set off to a tour through Europe. There is a photo in Urs Schmid’s book “The analysis of a cult object”. The photo had been taken in front of the Hotel National in Luzern – what a coincidence that Dönni Classic Car AG, the restoration company that discovered its history, is based in the same area!
Here is the explanation of the unusual full length double row of bonnet louvres: soon after Clark Gable received his XK in Cornwall he wanted Jaguar to fit louvres in the bonnet. Urs Schmid recounted the following story. Former engineer and honorary member of Jaguar Drivers’ Club Switzerland, F.R.W. “Lofty” England stayed with Schmid and told him the following:
“There was this American actor wanting me to fit louvres to his bonnet at our service department. Who would pay for that I wondered. So I went to William Lyons and asked him. The Old Man clearly stated, despite his VIP status, the customer!” After Jaguar louvred the bonnet, the leather strap was no longer possible to fit. But visible on photos, the staples were left in place to avoid having redundant holes.
When restoring the car the holes for the bracket of the leather belt were discovered, though they had been leaded over. Also Gable asked the factory to have the spats back that had been omitted in order to fit the wire wheels. The factory had to build special spats with small cutouts for the spinners (visible on the photo taken in Luzern).
Later Gable could be seen behind the wheel of his XK with the actress Suzanne Dadolle, with no spats anymore. Also the recess is now missing on the photos. Long ago we were told that Clark Gable had to make repairs to his car at the Garage Cencini in the canton of Tessin. We could imagine that Gable drove over the Gotthardpass and on the bumpy cobblestones of the Tremola part of the pass a spat flew off and might have landed in the Sella River, who knows. Fact is, that in later photos the recess was replaced by a wired edge.
When Gable took the XK back to the US in autumn 1953 he sold the car to a Mr. Robbins. Mr. Robbins did not own the car for long and sold it to a student, who after his studies in the US took the car back to South Africa. In the late 1970s the car found its way to Switzerland. The father of the restoration company’s customer bought the car. The customer just wanted his father’s XK to be restored and was very surprised it had such a famous first owner.