Review by Pete Vack
This is the first book we’ve read and reviewed from the excellent Porter Press International in the UK, so while we can’t vouch for the rest of the series, Jaguar XK120 Supersonic surely bodes well for the many other books published by the house.
Editor Giles Chapman sent us a copy, as it is right up our mews, so to speak. The Jag Supersonic was a special Ghia-bodied XK120, designed by Giovanni Savonuzzi. The well-known author Richard Heseltine follows the pattern of many of the Porter books, creating a superb and in-depth monograph of a single chassis.
It also marks the beginning of a new series of monograph books for Porter Press under the heading of ‘Coachbuilt Cars’, which adds to the list of categories such as the ‘Great Car’ series and ‘Exceptional Car’ series, all of which detail one individual chassis. Says Heseltine: “When we first mooted this ‘Coachbuilt Car’ series of books, there was much discussion within Porter Press over which car should act as a template. It needed to be an exemplar of the coachbuilder’s art; something that broke molds and pushed the boundaries. There was only one candidate on which we could all agree. It simply had to be a Supersonic. But not just any Supersonic.”
They chose one of three Supersonics constructed on a Jaguar chassis – the Jags were not only the most powerful of the 19 built, but Porter somewhat specializes in Jag books, having previously published nine titles involving the make. (The AC Cobra Willment also used the Supersonic bodywork, but that was much later modification. Read Jonathan Sharp’s story. ) At the same time, both Giles Chapman and Heseltine are consummate researchers who are as familiar as anyone with the intricacies of Italian coachbuilders.
And therein lies the beauty of the book. While many one-chassis books focus only on that particular car, Heseltine is allowed the room and the space to tell the entire story of not just the chosen car, but to describe all the faces and factors that went into the final product. He does so in a logical order, beginning with a history of Ghia, a relatively in-depth biography of Savonuzzi, followed by chapters on Virgilio Conrero, (who built the first Supersonic), Luigi Segre, and Felice Mario Boano, whose influence on Ghia and Pinin Farina is clearly defined.
Since the prospective book buyers may well include a large number of Jaguar enthusiasts, Heseltine’s deep approach to the subject may be very helpful to anyone not immersed in the intricacies of postwar Italian coachbuilding. Even a novice can easily comprehend and understand the makings of the Supersonics. And for the knowledgeable, there are a few insights and facts that may be enlightening, as Heseltine dug deep into each subject. Despite our detailed look at Giovanni Savonuzzi recently re-published in VeloceToday, we found many new facts about him in Heseltine’s well documented chapter on the designer.
There is also brief on the XK120 which provided the chassis and powerplant, and an informative chapter on other Italian-bodied Jaguars in the post war era. Finally, the life and times of the featured car, Jaguar chassis 679768, which was one of two ordered by the French Jaguar importer, Royal-Elysées in Paris. They were both sold to a garment maker from Lyon, Monsieur Malpelli. After financial difficulties, S/N 679768 was returned to Royal-Elysées where it was stored until finally rescued by Philippe Renault of the French Jaguar Driver’s Club in the late 1960s. After a series of very careful French owners, it passed to the hands of the current owner, William E. Heinecke.
We looked, in vain, for period or of the era photos of any of the three Supersonic Jags. This was rather strange, so we asked the author. “Unfortunately, the car spent most of its early life in storage, which was a bit of a snag when it came to period images, and we were unable to source any from its brief concours career early on, or from owners during the 1970s and ’80s.”
However, the lack of period images is offset by stunning studio photography of the subject car by Steven Snoep , and a wealth of historic photos which illustrate the chapters on Ghia, Segre, Savonuzzi, etc.
A high quality book, well researched and reasonably priced, the Jaguar XK120 Supersonic is a welcome addition to our library. And, Christmas is coming very soon.
Order here: Porter Press International
108 pages with over 100 images, hardback
Porter Press International 2019