This elegant Jaguar XK120 is rounding Indianapolis corner during the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 24-25, 1950. This XK120 was one of three privately-entered XKs, all however fully prepared by the Factory. This would be the first attempt by Jaguar at Le Mans for their high performance model which had been first announced in 1948. The car above, driven by Leslie Johnson and Bert Hadley, ran as high as second overall before retiring with clutch failure with a little over three hours to go. Up until then this leading XK had been challenging the eventual winner, a Talbot T26GS driven by Louis Rosier and his son Jean-Louis. The other two XKs would reach the finish, in 12th and 15th places, respectively.
Leslie Johnson had significant success in motorsport. Although a businessman, initially running his family’s furniture manufacturing company, he had a great love of auto competition, beginning as a rally driver before World War II and then moving on postwar to hill climbs and sports car racing with five starts at Le Mans and four in the challenging Mille Miglia. He also competed in several Grand Prix races and acquired the ERA racing car company. Johnson’s co-driver, Bert Hadley, had started out with the Austin car company and then began sprints, hill climbs and racing after the war years, including two Mille Miglias. Perhaps his most famous Jaguar experience was co-driving an XK120 coupé at Montlhéry in 1952 in a week-long endurance test at an average of over 100 mph with Stirling Moss, Jack Fairman and Leslie Johnson.
The success at Le Mans in 1950 would give Sir William Lyons at Jaguar the confidence to continue the development of racing Jaguars and the Jaguar challenges at Le Mans which would result in five overall victories at the 24 hour classic during the decade.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com