In the late 1960s, a middle-aged airline test pilot by the name of Walter Clay Hill boarded a TWA flight from Florida to Kansas, on his way to meet a man called Joe Egle. Joe was selling one of the cars in his collection, and Walter was desperate to have it. Having become determined to have one of this particular model in his thirties, he had been searching for an example for years.
The car in question was a Jaguar XKSS.
I won’t detail the whole story of the acquisition, for the simple reason that you should read it direct from Tony Brown, who interviewed him in 1992, but a year later, Hill was the new owner. And so began the story of one of the greatest single-marque car collections the world has ever seen.
To see for yourself just what I’m on about, you should watch this 1996 video featuring his collection over on www.auto-history.tv. As Walter himself put it in that film,
“I had no idea in the beginning I’d ever do anything to this extent… and I started to say ‘silly’, and I suppose it is. I wanted one car… an XKSS or a D-type… and I wanted one sport aeroplane. But I’ve evidently never been able to shut off the acquisition of something else that comes along.”
Hill refers to the XKSS in the film as “a major toy” that he wanted to “restore and play with”. But one car just wasn’t enough. A few years after getting his hands on his first XKSS (yep, he went on to acquire a second), he began to take a keen interest in collecting specific cars of importance; restoring them with originality in mind, and often aiming for concours condition as the end result.
XK120 chassis number 670123 was one such project. Bought in the early 1970s for the incredibly meagre sum of just $1,500 – about £6,750 in today’s money – 123 was kept mostly ‘as bought’ for some time, before Hill finally decided to meticulously restore it in the early 1990s. Not one to do things by halves, Hill’s obsessive attention to detail paid off and he created a near-100 point car.
In recent years, the car moved on to another owner. On 21 August 2005, a well known collector in California bought the car for $192,500 (including buyer’s premium) at the Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach auction. However, since he has now acquired an even earlier and more significant example (also owned by Walter Hill – chassis number 670001), this car is now back on the market.
To say that original alloy-bodied Jaguar XK120 Roadsters are sought after is a huge understatement. About 240 were made at the British firm’s Holbrook Lane factory, and only around one in four of them are still believed to be in existence.
Regardless of the fact that this car’s asking price at Fantasy Junction is more than double what it sold for seven years ago, you’d have to bet on the answer to the question in this post’s title as being quite simply – and emphatically – yes.
Such was the extent of Walter Hill’s collection that vehicles owned by him often aren’t too hard to find on the market; this Jaguar XJR-5 V12 Group 44 that resides in East Sussex being just one stunning example.
This post was meant to be a simple look into XK120 values and the importance of provenance, but it’s actually become more of a eulogy to one of the most dedicated car collectors of all time.
Walter Clay Hill, we salute you.