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The sensational automotive styling of Franco Scaglione has been the talk of the past 12 months, starting with the London display and auction of the wild BAT Alfas.
But another fabulous Scaglione design, the newly restored Bertone Jaguar XK150, made its concours debut last September with rather less hype, wowing onlookers as they discovered the black beauty under the conical yew trees at Hampton Court.
The Anglo-Italian coupé has been transformed, including an inspired colour change that further highlights an elegant form that was frustratingly never adopted by the Coventry giant.
The 1957 Bertone creation even features a delicately scripted ‘XKE’ badge on the rear wing that pre-empted the famous factory export name by four years, but that possibly stood for esperienza (experience).
Perhaps it was the remodelled XK that convinced Sir William Lyons his sporting flagship needed a more radical look.
During the mid-1950s Scaglione was in full creative swing in the Bertone studio, with a succession of brilliant designs including the Alfa Romeo Sportiva and Giulietta Sprint Speciale.
In 1957 fins were a constant feature of his work, topped by his sculptural record cars for Carlo Abarth.
But his bespoke creations for wealthy customers resulted in a more elegant series of gran turismos on English engineering, first with a one-off Aston Martin DB2/4 and then the XK150, these two machines transforming rather dated-looking production models.
Both featured similar roof shapes, with slim pillars and wraparound front and rear ’screens.
From the smaller grille and the elegant tapered headlight mouldings to the extended rear with swept fins, the Jaguar was one of Scaglione’s more restrained designs.
Double-tier, full-width bumpers at the front and rear were combined with a sill strip to dress a body that looked years ahead of Jaguar’s rather dumpy factory XK150 fixed-head coupé.
A scalloped indent pressing behind the front wheelarch and bizarre chrome ovoid tail-lights inset below the boot were novel details of the prototype, but both are resolved on the car featured here.
The body was made of steel, hammered out by talented artisans around a wooden buck in Bertone’s bustling bodyshop under the direction of Scaglione and his boss.
The time and talent involved increating these bespoke designs were unimaginable, but it was the Aston DB2/4 that Bertone selected to display on his stand at the 1957 Turin motor show alongside the new Alfa Giulietta Sprint Speciale, perhaps hoping David Brown might be tempted by a joint project.
The first Bertone XK150 owner was Tommaso Ingegnòli, who ran a successful Milan-based nursery garden business.
His nephew Francesco recalls that his uncle had a passion for stylish fast cars, but had been frustrated by his previous Ferrari and, like many Italians, was impressed by Jaguar’s reputation and dominance at Le Mans.
The specification and 130mph performance of the XK150 were tempting but the old-hat styling didn’t suit him.
Amazingly Jaguar accepted a chassis-only order from its Milan distributor, Compagnia Generale, and in August 1957 the left-hand-drive S834365 was delivered to Bertone in Turin.
“The original colour was metallic brown,” recalls Francesco, “but it was repainted blue. There were minor problems with the bodywork but these were sorted by Bertone for my uncle.”
Like many secondhand exotics in Italy, the Bertone XK was eventually exported to America where it was discovered by Californian Don Williams, the inveterate car hunter.
For several decades it was one of the stars of the Blackhawk Collection, displayed in the museum at Eagle Nest Plaza, Danville, California, where it kept company with a red D-type, XKD 518.
In preparation for an appearance at the 1998 Pebble Beach concours, Williams had the XK fully restored with a brash red repaint and magnolia interior retrim.
The colour scheme did the Latin beauty no favours, but it remained on show at Blackhawk until the late ’80s when it was acquired by Tom Zwakman, the classic Jaguar specialist in The Netherlands.
Danny Donovan of DD Classics has an eye for stylish projects, and previously transformed the spectacular 1939 de Mola-bodied Alfa Romeo 6C-2500 Spider.
When in 2013 he saw the dismantled Bertone XK on a visit to Zwakman’s garage, he couldn’t help thinking on the way home about its potential with a colour switch.
“Tom had already started the rebuild,” Donovan says. “The tuned engine had been rebuilt with a special head, triple SUs and a lightened flywheel.
“During the body restoration we found several previous colours including blue and a dark metallic green, but I decided to go for jet black.
“Remoulding the rear ’screen proved a real challenge, and had to be done four times to fit. Rechroming the huge rear bumper was also a headache because it wouldn’t fit in the tanks, and in the end it had to be sectioned.
“I’m a real perfectionist, so some of the hand-formed stainless trim had to be remade. Most of the work was done in-house, with Paul Bird of Surrey Trimming completing the upholstery.”
Donovan’s taste has transformed the cockpit. The saddle-hide tan leather has a touch of Hermès and perfectly complements the black exterior.
Blackhawk had fitted a Moto-Lita steering wheel to improve the driving position, but Donovan had the inspired idea of cutting down an original XK four-spoke wheel, which both gives more room and looks more authentic. The smaller diameter is hardly noticeable and sharpens the rack-and-pinion steering action.
Bertone’s dashboard design, with a stylish instrument cluster of black-faced Smiths dials and switchgear stretching the length of the scuttle, looks much more modern than Jaguar’s rather archaic central group and optional veneers. Toggle switches replace the old knobs.
Pictures of the prototype interior reveal no centre console, which could be a later revision. “It has been a labour of love,” adds Donovan, “but we were determined to get it right.”
After seven years’ work the Bertone XK was ready for a public outing, and Scaglione would have been proud of the reaction when it lined up for the 2020 Concours of Elegance.
“It’s the most beautiful car here,” enthused the award-winning German stylist.
Donovan has plans to show it next at the Amelia Island Concours and maybe even Pebble Beach: “It would great to see it displayed in a set of coachbuilt XKs including the Zagato and the Ghia Supersonic. I’ve also heard there’s a plan for a Scaglione tribute event in Italy.”
Most histories of the Bertone XK150s state that three were built, but no shots of this, the second car, have been found before it appeared at the Blackhawk in America.
Perhaps the first prototype was updated by Bertone, possibly for Ingegnòli? Maybe the Milanese drove the Jaguar down to Ferrari to have lunch with his friend Enzo, who criticised certain features.
Certainly all the key differences to modernise the styling could have been subsequent work by Bertone. Like a fitted suit, bodywork was often tweaked depending on fashion.
Dramatic side vents had become the trend, as featured on the Aston Martin DB4GT Bertone Jet and Ferrari 250GT ‘Sharknose’, so it could be that Scaglione’s young replacement, Giorgetto Giugiaro – who joined Bertone in 1960 – was given the job of revitalising the XKE.
The rear lights, bumper overriders and spotlights could all be later additions.
The history of the other Bertone XK begins with an order through Henlys from Anthony Strickland Hubbard, a larger-than-life playboy and heir to the Woolworth fortune.
Hubbard was a regular among the Soho set and was good friends with Francis Bacon, from whom he bought several paintings.
Women were constant distractions for the keen aviator, and he eventually married club singer Liz Odell.
The order for a special-bodied XK150 was handled through John ‘Noddy’ Coombs, the race-team owner and Guildford-based Jaguar dealer.
Hubbard’s request was for something individual and Coombs contacted Bertone about building a right-hand-drive version of its 1957 XK coupé based on a special-order chassis from the factory.
Finished in metallic red with cream trim, the design featured several differences from the prototype including a flat pressing behind the front wheelarch, an extra rear trim flash along the flank under the XKE badge, and a curve rather than a sharp angle to the rear ’screen at the base of the B-pillar.
The rear also housed the odd oval tail-lights of the prototype.
Story has it Coombs was sent a full set of drawings and visited Italy to view the body buck, which offered two roofline options, perhaps to accommodate Hubbard’s height.
No doubt the coachbuilder was delighted about the order because all the development work had been done for the previous build.
Once finished, the body was painted gold with an opalescent red topcoat. Nuccio Bertone was so pleased with the bespoke XK that he decided to show it at the 1958 Turin show before it was transported to Guildford.
On arrival a scratch was discovered, and Coombs’ paintshop had a nightmare matching it before Hubbard picked it up.
Impressed by Bertone’s transformation of the now-dated XK150 styling, Coombs contacted Lofty England at Jaguar who initially wasn’t interested in seeing it, but apparently the car was taken to Browns Lane and Sir Williams Lyons was very keen. What the founder made of the ‘XKE’ badge isn’t recorded.
First registered 953 HPH, the XK was only kept for six months by Hubbard before it was traded back with Coombs, re-registered APC6 and sold to noted London architect Michael Lyell.
After the success of his chic Modernist-style housing around Hampstead, Lyell indulged himself with a run of performance cars including an Aston and a Bentley.
The special-bodied XK is fondly remembered by Lyell’s son, and at one point was repainted a more discreet silver.
Eventually the XK was sold in 1969 to a friend at Chichester Golf Club and replaced by the first BMW 2800 CS imported into the UK.
A few months later the Jaguar was spotted in storage at Lydd Airport. Prior to loading on to the Le Touquet air ferry, customs men discovered outstanding duty to pay and impounded the car.
What happened next is a mystery but there are rumours that it was destroyed by fire and it hasn’t been seen since.
Traditionally the original model is rarely bettered, as proved by the XK120 coupé.
Of the attempts to restyle the XK150, the gorgeous Bertone concept was in a different league.
The Motto-bodied coupé had a bizarre oval nose, similar to early Ferraris, while the Swiss Ghia-Aigle design had a large eggcrate grille and looked like a Triumph Italia. Both are now lost.
Following its XK140 rebody, Zagato had a second attempt with the 150S, but again its ideas for the grille and bumpers looked unresolved and ungainly.
Allemano’s one-off XK150 (some claim it was just a refreshed 140 design) looked more modern than the production model with a split grille, high flanks and a low roof, but also lacked the sleekness of Scaglione’s ideas.
After expanding his facility to take on body production for the Giulietta Sprint in 1954, Bertone was no doubt keen to broaden his horizons with series assembly for other manufacturers.
But, as tempting as Scaglione’s XK concept might have been, Lyons was too concerned with Jaguar pricing to consider such an exotic joint operation.
The combination of a 250bhp, disc-braked, 130mph 150S chassis dressed with Scaglione’s fabulous coupé body had the potential to be the ultimate XK.
Just imagine eavesdropping on the conversation when Coombs took Hubbard’s Bertone coupé up to Browns Lane to show the team.
Images: Olgun Kordal