The History of Jaguar

By Mike Owens 

 

Pre-Jaguar Days: The Swallow Sidecar Company.

On September 4, 1922, in Blackpool, England, two young motorcycle enthusiasts, William Lyons and William Walmsley, set up the Swallow Sidecar Company to produce sidecars for motorcycles. The company continued to make sidecars until the advent of WWII.

In 1926 the company built the small Austin Seven, a "people's car" of rather Spartan design. At this point the company changed its name to the Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Co. and moved to a larger manufacturing space. There it made custom bodies for such cars as Morris, Fiat, Wolseley, Swift, and Standard.

The company's first car, the SS1, was based on a Standard six-cylinder engine and a modified Standard chassis. It was introduced to the public at a London exhibition in 1931.  The smaller SS2 had a four-cylinder engine 

In appearance the larger SS1  was a long, low vehicle with a short passenger compartment, wire wheels, and a luggage boot with a spare tire at the rear. Its expensive looks belied its excellent monetary value.

In 1933 the name of the company was changed to SS Cars Ltd. with Lyons becoming managing director. He bought his partner out in 1936.

 

Jaguar: The First Jaguars.

In 1934, Harry Weslake, regarded as one of the industry's top engine experts,    joined the company. His new cylinder head with OHV valve arrangement was quite reliable.

The name Jaguar was used for the first time in 1935.  Also in 1935, William Heynes joined the company as chief engineer.

The firm's production included limousines, convertibles, and sports cars fitted with 1.5-litre, 2.5-litre, and 3.5-litre engines. The most notable vehicle of the period was the 3.5-litre SS 100 model. This was the fastest and most famous pre-war Jaguar, with speeds of 100 mph and acceleration from rest to 60 mph in about 10.5 seconds. The engine had a compression ratio of 17.5:1. Racing successes in the Marne Grand Prix of Reims, the Villa Real International event, the Alpine Rally, The Monte Carlo Rally, and the RAC Rally made this one of the most famous Jaguar cars.

During WWII, production shifted to the war effort, of course. After the war, the company's name was changed to Jaguar Cars Ltd.  and production resumed.  The first Jaguars were produced with the option of left-side driving controls!

 

Jaguar: Jaguar XK.

In 1946, in addition to updating the older models, Lyons developed a new sports car, the XK 120, which was inspired by the BMW 328 model and fitted with a six-cylinder x 2 OHC engine with a capacity of 3442 cc.

In 1948 at the Earls Court Motor Show, Jaguar introduced the fastest motorcar to date, the XK 120 Roadster with an alleged top speed of 120 mph, superb roadholding and styling plus a smooth ride.

In 1951 The XK 120 Fixed Head Coupe was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show. This touring car was better trimmed with a veneer dashboard, and wind-up door windows. In 1953 the XK 120 Drophead Coupe was introduced with a fully-trimmed convertible hood. The XK 120 proved to be a super competition car.

In 1954 the XK 140 included rack-and-pinion steering, larger bumpers, extra chrome, a cast grill, and 190 hp.  The XK 140 also had room for very small children behind the seat.

In 1957, the Jaguar XK 150 came in with a low roar because the XK design was looking slightly outdated. This  excellent car, however, was produced until 1961.

 

Jaguar: Jaguar MK.

In the mid-fifties Jaguar had reached a point in its history of selling only luxury and sports vehicles. The company also sold a great deal of its production in foreign markets.

This put Jaguar in a precarious position because:

Jaguar needed to cement a stronger position by producing a car that could be sold at home and to a larger market. Thus, the Jaguar MK I was introduced at the 1955 Motor Show.

The vehicle was designed to fill their product gap and to appeal to the home market.  This Jaguar was of monococoque construction which in itself was new for the company.

The Jaguar MK II  evolved as an instant success with a much larger glass area and a redesigned dash. Leather seats were fitted as standard until 1967 when leather became optional to keep the base cost down. Another Jaguar classic, its fog/spot lights, also became optional at this time.

Several other Jaguar variations were produced to fill a market gap between the 3.8S and the large MK X Jaguar. 

In 1960 Daimler was bought by Jaguar.

In 1966  Sir William Lyons stepped down  as Managing Director of the Jaguar Group, but he remained Chairman and Chief Executive. Grice and England became joint managing directors. On July 11, 1966, Jaguar Cars Ltd. and the British Motor Corporation Ltd. announced they would merge.

Also by the mid-60s,  hind-sight could see that Jaguar was beginning to make too many models.

 

Jaguar: Recent Jaguar History.

In 1968 a merger with Leyland formed the largest British car complex.

In 1972 Sir William Lyons retired, 50 years after forming Swallow Sidecar Company on his 21st birthday. His retirement was followed by a period of confusion and confusing changes at Jaguar. Whole departments, such as sales and service, disappeared into BL power.

The Ryder report, partially published in 1975, made it clear that Jaguar would not continue as an entity. Leyland Cars was formed and the brand new Jaguar XJ-S was thrown in with  BL's other Earls Courts motor show offerings.

There was no single head man at Jaguar and the winter of 1979-1980 saw Percy Plant as nominal chairman of Jaguar.  Plant was mainly known for his skill at closing factories.

Morale among workers dropped to a low point in April of 1980 when a strike over grading and pay provoked Sir Michael Edwarde's ultimatum "return to work or lose your jobs."

Jaguar needed a boost as never before. It also needed a full-time chairman. Enter Jaguar's new full-time chief executive John Egan  in April of 1980. He came from parts directorship of Massey Ferguson Construction and Machinery Division. He was 40 years old, the "new blood" Jaguar so desperately needed.

Egan's first quote was, "One cannot have better ground to build on."   

He definitely brought an air of optimism and new life to Jaguar that was soon reflected in production and morale. By 1985 it was clear that Jaguar was stable once more and that Jaguar people do not give up!

Sir William Lyons died in 1985.

 

Jaguar: Classic Cars for Jaguar.

 Jaguar Classics Produced from 1935 - 1975

Jaguar Type Production: Years Length: Inches Weight: Pounds
SS Jaguar 100 1935-1940
Jaguar Mark IV 1945-1948 173-186 2970-3670
Jaguar Mark V 1948-1951 187 3700-3860
Jaguar XK 120 1948-1954 174 2855-3080
Jaguar VII/VIIM 1950-1957 196.5 3865
Jaguar C-Type 1951-1953 157 2075
Jaguar XK 140 1954-1957 176 3135-3250
Jaguar 150 1957-1961 177 3220-3520
Jaguar Mark II 1960-1969 181 3200-3360
Jaguar E-Type (XKE) 1961-1971 175-184.5 2690-3100
Jaguar Mark X 1961-1965 202 4175
Jaguar S-Type/420 1963-1969 187 3585-3700
Jaguar   Mark X & 420G 1965-1970 202 4300
Jaguar XJ6/XJ12 1969-1973 189.5 3885-3950
Jaguar E-Type Series III V-12 1971-1975 184.4-189.6 3380-3450
Jaguar XJ6/XJ12 Series II 1973-1979 194.8 3950-4300
Jaguar XJC 1975-1978 195 4195

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