Theme: Wheels – The GKN Kent Alloy

Some wheels come to define an era. 

The GKN 'Kent' alloy wheel. Image via Hemmings
The GKN ‘Kent’ alloy wheel. Image: Hemmings

For any marque enthusiast, wheel design can be as evocative and redolent of its era as any design flourish or styling theme. To me at least, these wheels just scream Jaguar, in the same way wires did during the 1960s. I’ve habitually known them as the GKN Kent alloy, standard equipment on the original launch-spec Jaguar XJ-S and optional on XJ saloons over the ensuing decade and a half. The final XJ saloon that left the Browns Lane production line in 1992 was a Series 3 Daimler Double Six on ‘Kents‘. No other wheel design served Jaguar as long or suited the car as well.

A late model Daimler Double Six on 'Kents'
A late model Daimler Double Six on ‘Kents’

But having carried out a little due diligence prior to penning this piece, I’ve discovered GKN Kent was in fact the name of a subsidiary of the giant Guest Keen and Nettlefold group of companies – one that produced original equipment wheels for a number of (mostly) UK manufacturers and a variety of aftermarket rims for the go-faster brigade.

Actually, GKN was one of the UK’s few automotive success stories during the volatile 1970s, producing profits of over £107m in 1976 alone. Subsidiary companies at the time encompassed axles and transmissions, including such names as Laycock De Normanville, Salisbury Axles, Powr Lok and Vandevell bearings. Today, GKN remain in the wheel business, providing specialist rims for farming, earth moving and heavy equipment, aside from the company’s other business interests.

The alloy wheels fitted to later Triumph Stag models were also produced by GKN Kent. Image via British V8.org
The alloy wheels fitted to later Triumph Stag models were also produced by GKN Kent. Image: British V8.org

GKN Kent alloy wheels were fitted to a number of BL umbrella company models over the years, so the actual nomenclature of the Jaguar-specific wheel is perhaps known only to GKN themselves. To be honest, I was disappointed to learn this; I liked the idea they had a name. So while contemporary Jags also wore Pepperpots, Starfish or Lattice alloys – (all probably made by GKN), it will always be the Kent – (or whatever they’re actually called) – that remain the quintessential Jaguar alloy wheel.

Depressingly, the range of wheels on offer across the Jaguar range today, despite being bewildering in scope, all look broadly the same as everyone else’s; lacking any semblance of personality. Who will bother to write a piece in praise of them forty years from now?

You might like to read about the GKN ‘Kent‘ here at Hemmings:

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

23 thoughts on “Theme: Wheels – The GKN Kent Alloy”

  1. Of course they adorned Robert McCall’s XJ in The Equaliser. This car was definitive for an affluent Englishman in New York. The car changed at some point into a later vehicle with pepperpots as I recall.

    1. Jaguar’s take on a whole new image once they leave the British Isles, don’t they? The Englishness that in England says pub landlord and car dealer becomes the Englishness of good-taste and intelligent refinement in Germany, Switzerland and France. In the US something else is at play – is it a resonance with WASP values?

    2. Hopeless pedant that I am Stephen, the Pepperpots were introduced with the Sovereign model for the 1983 model year, which was not made available in the US market – American market Series III’s retained Kents until the advent of the XJ40 in 1987.

  2. Not forgetting Mike Gambit’s XJ-S in The New Avengers as well chasing a DBS in the opening titles.

  3. “plucky crime-fighting Brits” is how the Mirror descrbes the Avengers. Isn´t pluckiness something to do with fighting someone much bigger and stronger than onesself?

  4. Researching the XJC during an idle moment (although the exact moment is difficult to pinpoint among so many others), I happened across this blog of a chap renovating an XJ12C. Actually, “renovating” is underselling the process somewhat, such are the fellow’s fabrication skills and his slavish attention to detail. Anyway, the result is quite magnificent.

    http://jaguar.fiboy.com/XJ12C.htm

    1. Good grief. It´s simply very, very impressive. I tend to take a purist line on reconstructions. This one doesn´t offend me at all and I have to doff my cap to te level of technical competence on display. The XJ-C, restored or not, was a much more beautiful car than the XJ-S. It embarrases the XJ-S, clearly.

  5. I recalled that the car had changed .. just didn’t remember he’d collected an xj40 … the series 3 was a nicer looking car

  6. I’ve always thought that the XJS with it’s cat like slit eyes the most cat like of Jaguars. I agree that the buttresses are a little awkward but it’s still a good looking car. However when I considered one against a 635 (used I hasten to add) the 635 came out on top because it was simply easier to be inside and the build quality seemed in a different league.

  7. It’s the way the front and back of the car don’t share the same form language. The rear is impossibly spacey and Frenc; the front looks Italian and the sides are English.

    1. Thanks for stopping by David. I saw that very car at the Festival of Speed a couple of years ago. HRH favours a very military looking shade of green for her vehicles. Even the seats were a similar shade, I recall.

      I discovered recently that Jaguar’s stylists referred to the ‘Kent’ wheel as ‘banana skins’, which makes a degree of sense when you think about it.

  8. I was apprenticeship trained at Kent Alloys between 1982 and 1986 as a technician engineer and left for pastures new in 88 as a development engineer.

    The road wheels you speak of were designated as type 167 for what you call the ‘kent’ and the pepperpots on the xj6 (and cod)were T178, if my memory serves. T158 were standard fit on the xjs at the time.

    Kent Alloys went through several owners after GKN. We always seemed to be at the mercy of the USD exchange rate as most production went to the US.

    Kent Alloys were based in Strood, Kent and during the war produced aerospace castings for Shorts (flying boats) based nearby at Rochester on the River Medway.

    They effectively invented the alloy road wheel as we know it, having developed magnesium rims for F1 Lotus etc in the early days. Aston Martin Lagonda were early adopters for production vehicles.

    Time and competition caught up with Kent Alloys and the factory closed around the turn of the century. The site is now flattened.

    1. Hello John: Thanks for dropping in, for your post and your information on GKN. Do you still work in the automotive branch?
      Most of the UK’s car industry real estate seems to have ended up as space for unaffordable homes – is there a link?

    2. Hello, my father in law was managing director of Kent Alloys arriving in 1946 -1974 when it was Birfield. When GKN bought Burfield by mistake instead of Birmid. He was there when they invented the alloy wheel. He was a lovey man spending his twilight years visiting the retired employees through the evergreen association. At one point they made aluminium heaters from what looks like a piece of airplane housing we still have it. It seems to have been a real community with dances and sports club not to mention the restaurant. What a shame somewhere employing so many and such a community has now gone.

    3. Thanks for your comment Christine and for sharing your recollections of your father in law. He sounds like a fascinating character.

  9. Hi Richard,

    I dipped in and out for a few years but my last position was with BMW Group based at Goodwood with Rolls-Royce for 5 years. I used to have the opportunity to visit much of the UK’s automotive manufacturing base, which contrary to much opinion, is still pretty impressive, although much has gone. And most of it is not British owned.

    Without politicising the thread, the flavour of Brexit will be crucial to its future, given that plants around the world compete for new model production internallywithin their respective companies. Honda, Toyota, Nissan et al, did not set up shop in the U.K. because they like rain or a diet of steak and kidney pies😊.

    Also, many assembly plants are just that. With parts, sub-assemblies and systems coming in from all over the EU and farther afield

    But I’m optimistic!

    1. Hello John,

      thank you for your insights regarding Kent alloys. Would you happen to know at which point they were being taken over by GKN? And am I right in assuming that it was the Aston Martin DBS V8’s wheels that were those aforementioned ‘early adaptations’?

      Having done a brief tour or parts of the Midlands this summer, I can claim to be quite aware of the size of automotive operations in the UK. Which makes it all the more perplexing how quite a few people in the area could consider it wise to vote ‘leave’.

      Disregarding this unfortunate topic, I must stress that I was and still am highly respectful towards British engineering. I truly wish the British, Italian and French schools of engineering were to take some more off-the-map paths for the pursuit of shaping our automotive future. Dieselgate and its repercussions seem like an ideal opportunity to break away from the German norm, which has been chokingly dominant for the past decade-and-a-half.

  10. Back to the Kent wheels as they are commonly known, to me they belong firmly in another era like berber cloth seats and have not aged as well as the nearly timeless Pepperpots. Why? As suggested earlier probably to fussy. What makes a timeless design? Simplicity on first glance that then reveals a clever design on further inspection like the Fuch’s and the later D90’s on 911’s.
    Sure I accept some crave Kents as the authentic fitment for that era Jags but I’m to shallow for that!

  11. My Dad, Harold Jones was a designer/draughtsman for Kent Alloys, having started during the War with Shorts. He worked on the wheel design for the De Lorean, Lotus and the volcano wheels for the Land Rover. I remember going to see the sand casting when they had staff open days. I think he also designed some of the early emergency phone boxes on the M2. I think they were big blue things. I’d appreciate any further information and images of the projects he worked on if you have access to anything.

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