Okay, full disclosure – We have to tell you that we have a conflict of interest on this one. The Jaguar XK-SS is one of this author's top ten sports car designs of all time. This partially-civilized, D-Type-derived, semi-comp car is just plain awesome. Seeing one of them at a museum or event is like glimpsing the Pietà as you enter the Vatican – Its beauty can overwhelm you if you're not prepared to see it. Imagine our delight, then, when we learned that the organizers of the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance had put together a small gathering of XK-SS roadsters to celebrate Jaguar's 75th birthday. It's their birthday, and we get the presents.
Just 25 of these incredible machines were built during their short run – a tragic fire at the factory took nine of them and halted development of not just the XK-SS, but of the D-Type as a whole. Try as they might, the Pebble Beach folks simply couldn't get all 16 of the survivors together for this occasion...but how does a full dozen sound? Any event that has one SS in the field is pretty remarkable in our books. Having more than one is almost unheard of. Having a dozen on hand, all in one place at one time... in an almost perfect line on the Pebble Beach golf links with nothing behind them but the course and bay? Sublime.
Why does the XK-SS draw such admiration? Well, all you need do is look at it and you have your answer, but there is much more to the story. When Jaguar withdrew from racing at the end of 1955, they had a few spare D-Type chassis on hand. They also had something of a budget crisis at the time. Why not make a few changes for road use and offer the unfinished cars to the public? Jaguar added an extra seat, another door, a full-width windshield, luggage rack and folding top and the SS was born. It weighed but 2,000 pounds and had the D-Type's 250-horsepower 3.4-liter straight-six under its shapely bonnet. It only weighed about 100 pounds more than the full-on racer and was sold at a 30 percent discount over the D.
Doesn't that strike you as something of a bargain for a wild, hairy beast for the street? Steve McQueen thought so. In fact, the legendary actor and racer owned the same example twice. After buying one new, he had the interior customized by artist Von Dutch. He later sold the car but missed it so much that he bought it back a few years later. He had the car in his collection until the day he died. It's now in the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, but was in Pebble Beach for the Concours on Sunday...along with eleven of its friends. Check out our stunning gallery of high-res images below.