Friday, January 12, 2018

the Kircher Special

Charles Hughes of Denver, Colorado, the scion of a wealthy local family, developed a passion for speed before the war, testing planes for the military and sponsoring vehicles in the Indy 500. After the armistice, he further indulged this interest by purchasing a Jaguar XK120 to race. He bought the car new from Kurt Kircher, who owned the local foreign car shop, Denver Import Motors. Kircher was an amateur racer himself who’d had some success with a Chrysler Hemi-powered Allard J2X, one of the quickest cars of its time, if a bit crude.

The two became fast friends, quite literally. Kircher had a degree in automotive engineering—he’d worked for General Motors on post-war V-8s and the Powerglide transmission. Hughes had a degree in physics as well as a stellar machine shop in his six-car garage. So in the early ’50s, the pair decided, according to a history Kircher wrote a few years before his death in 2004, “It would be fun to try to build something better.”

Familiar with the Jag powertrain, they decided to create a clean-sheet racer around an engine and transmission salvaged from a wrecked XK120. Kircher designed the drilled chrome-moly tube frame, rear De Dion suspension, and inboard rear-wheel drums and safety hubs. The front suspension came from the Jag. The steering rack came from an MG. The rear differential came from Halibrand. The rest of the bits were either shopped or poached.

A stylist named Charlie Lyons hand-built a curvaceous body out of aluminum. Like many homemade sports cars of the time, it was a bit of a mashup of Italian and British lines—a Ferrari 250S mated with a Jaguar D-type. But unlike either of those, it had inboard headlamps in the grille, deeply scalloped sides, and an intriguing dual-piece construction—the car’s entire top half could be unbolted to allow for mechanical massaging.

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