Why an Ancient, Rusted, Tree-Indented Jaguar Just Sold for $127,552

This 1960 XK150 is the surest sign of the "rude health" of the collector car market

A red 1960 Jaguar XK150 S 3.8-Liter Drophead Coupe with a smashed front end
One person's totaled wreck is another person's six-figure auction highlight.

When the folks at Hagerty looked into their automotive crystal ball and chose the 11 classic cars that would gain the most value this year, one of the most expensive on their list was the Jaguar XK120. The British marque came out of WWII swinging with the stylish sports car, produced from 1948 to 1954, which proved popular and eventually led to the creation of such iconic racers as the C-Type and E-Type. But it’s the later model XK150, heretofore deemed much less desirable, that’s been the surprise of the 2021 auction season.

On May 22, a drophead coupe version of the 1960 Jaguar XK150 S sold for $127,552 at an auction put on by Bonhams, as pointed out by Bloomberg. The auction house noted in a post-sale press release that this was six times the pre-sale estimate, which would be noteworthy for any lot. That price becomes even more flabbergasting when you realize the car in question is in the same condition it was in after its previous owner rammed it into a tree back “on a wet day in September 1996.” 

“He remarkably walked away, however the car has remained garage-stored ever since,” the original listing for the Jaguar explained. “Considering the date of the crash and being kept in dry storage, the car is still in a salvageable condition, and offers enormous potential as a rewarding project car. An opportunity not to be missed.”

While the car would appear totaled to any normal person, restoration is, in fact, a possibility here, and the opportunity to snap it up far over market value wasn’t missed. The sale marked the first in-person auction of the year for Bonhams MPH — the modern, popular and historic car division — and a return to normal after auctions moved online during the pandemic. Though Rob Hubbard, head of the division, said bidders were able to take part online and via an app, the Jaguar was won by someone who attended the live auction. And thus, the old, rusted and tree-dented XK150 was also an opportunity for Bonhams to capitalize on the red-hot classic car fervor that has shown almost no signs of waning in the last 15 months. 

“The enthusiast market is in rude health at present and we are delighted to continue to support this essential element of the collectors’ car market,” said Hubbard.

A red 1960 Jaguar XK150 that was driven into a tree
This 1960 Jaguar XK150 S needs a fortune in repairs. That didn’t stop it from selling for $127K.

Looking at the collector car market at the end of 2020, Hagerty Insider found that while auction sales were down slightly, the quick shift to online auctions helped stave off a dramatic decrease. Plus, in the private market, transactions actually increased during the pandemic. 

And thus, the case of the walloped Jaguar was the perfect lead-off car for the return of in-person auctions. It’s old enough and limited enough — only 50 of the Drophead S variants were made — that it doesn’t have much in the way of online clout, something that conversely helped cars like the Instagram-friendly Ferrari Dino 246 GT see gains in 2020, according to Hagerty. Then there’s the fact that while concours-condition vehicles are easy to buy online with confidence, a Jaguar in this condition needs to be seen up close before dropping six figures, even when it’s under the supervision of a respected house like Bonhams.

So we’ve got the rarity of the XK150, the ever-increasing market for investment cars and the pent-up demand for vehicles that can only be bought in-person. But that still doesn’t add up to $127-large for a car that was rode hard and put away wet in the most literal sense. But John Mayhead, head of Automotive Intelligence for Hagerty U.K., has a theory. 

“The story to it sometimes encourages buyers to pay over the odds,” Mayhead told Bloomberg. “Owning a car like this is about continuing that story, and you want to be a part of it.”

In other words, in a year’s time, be on the lookout for another Bonhams auction, this time of a pristine, ready-to-show 1960 Jaguar XK150 S with a dramatic backstory and an estimated price over a quarter of a million.

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