Back in November of 1955, the car featured on the cover of Sports Cars Illustrated magazine was a 1939 SS100 Jaguar. The man in the driver’s seat was Dave Garroway, first host of television’s Today Show, beginning its broadcast run in 1952. He looks proud of his car, and justifiably so—only 314 of this model were manufactured. The title of his article in the magazine was “Dave Garroway chooses the most beautiful sports car ever built,” referring to that very car, of course. He owned the car for about 30 years, but didn’t keep it as a trailer queen; he raced it, most often at Bridgehampton and Watkins Glen from 1949 to 1952.
Garroway had significantly modified this car during his ownership. The most obvious cosmetic modifications are the huge headlights, the alligator skin steering wheel and dashboard, with its own collection of visual-mechanical jokes. He also modified it mechanically by adding a supercharger, but blew up the engine soon after, and replaced it with a then-new XK120 engine in 1951.
In 2007 I had the greatest drive of my life (well, maybe the second greatest, after going through racing school with a Formula Ford) in the SS100 when it was owned by my friend Steve Roberts in Denver. It was like nothing else I had ever driven—an extremely narrow cockpit (look at the width of the running boards and fenders!) with no footroom for anything wider than a medium size loafer, and all the controls purely mechanical and tactile. Nothing vague, fly-by-wire or injection molded; it was obvious that a crew of machinists had labored intensely over their lathes and drill presses for every switch and fitting. But the view through the windshield was even more remarkable. It was dominated by the domes of those huge headlights and the flaring fenders that seemed ready to lift the front wheels off the ground.
The car was being sold to a new owner in England, and Steve asked me to shoot some pictures and video, as well as make an audio recording of it being driven before it left his collection. I used a digital audio recorder and attached a microphone to the spare tire at the rear, monitoring the recording continuously from the passenger seat as Steve accelerated through the gears.
By Bryan Dahlberg