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While many automakers are named for the men who established them and gave them their drive, Jaguar obviously did not. This company is not known as Lyons and none of its cars feature a leaping lion hood ornament, although it very well could, as much of the company's success and prestige can be attributed to none other than the legendary Sir William Lyons. As a youth, Lyons had a strong fascination with motorcycles that eventually lead to an engineering apprenticeship at Crossley Motors. It was there that he learned the technical side of the motoring business. Once he finished his studies, he traveled back to his hometown of Blackpool to work as a car salesman.
After Lyons had returned home he noticed that his new neighbor, William Walmsley, had renovated a military-surplus Triumph motorcycle and converted it to hold a unique octagonal sidecar. Lyons liked the sidecar so much that he asked Walmsley for one of his own. Not long after, the two men agreed to work together to manufacture and sell sidecars. They formed the Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922.
Walmsley's octagonal design generated enough buzz to separate Swallow from many of its competitors. Its gray, aluminum body that featured streaky octagonal lines gave the appearance of a Zeppelin airship on wheels without looking as slow as one. And, when you think about it, who wants a fast, racy appearance unless your ride can actually be fast? Eventually, that became Lyons' goal, and, as many people say, you've got to start somewhere, which is probably why he chose to modify an Austin 7. At the height of its prominence, the Austin 7 was Britain's bestselling car and the one drivers often thought of when they envisioned themselves buying an economical, compact vehicle. Some even refer to the Austin 7 as the "British Model T." There was a great deal of money to be made from modifying Britian's first mass produced car, especially by altering its style in a chic way.
In order to do that, Lyons purchased a chassis from an Austin dealer in Bolton and placed one of his talented coachbuilders, Cyril Holland, at the head of the project. The final product revealed a two-tone paint scheme with a rounded, bubbly back that was an upcoming fashion of the time. This helped it blend in with the far more upscale vehicles but at a much cheaper price. It sold well in its first year in 1927, and Swallow went ahead and built a saloon (what's called a sedan in the US) for 1928. The formula worked so well that Swallow applied it to other chassis from manufacturers like Wolseley, Morris, and Fiat, and moved its operations from Blackpool to Coventry. With a new direction, the company renamed itself the Swallow Coachbuilding Company in 1927.
The Standard Swallow and Later SS Cars
Lyons' true vision entailed the construction of a car that embodied speed, style, and performance. The Standard Motor Company shared that vision, and both automakers decided to team up to build a car: Standard would handle the powerplant; Swallow would handle the body. Though it was advertised as a performance car, the gorgeous boat-tailed two-seater body gave only the image of performance. After a few years of working together (along with a few other automakers), Swallow and Standard revealed a new prototype at the London Motor Show in 1931.
Known as the SS 1, the alleged performance car was designed on a special Standard chassis and came with a modified six-cylinder side-valve engine with 15 horsepower. But what really attracted buyers was the body work. Some compared it to the Lagondas and Delages, British and French luxury automobiles. The only difference between them was the price. Price-wise, the SS 1 would have competed with the Rover Scarab, and with its flashy looks compared to the Scarab's banality, who wouldn't go for an upscale feel for only a bit more of the price? This kind of marketing kept Swallow afloat during the Britain's "Great Slump" in the early 1930s, despite reviewers labeling it "more show than go." But the show was nice, featuring genuine wood panel trim work and a leather interior, all gilded in chrome.
The creation of the SS 1 opened up the door for the SS 2, which later led to the creation of the SS 90. Regarded by some as one of Jaguar's first true sports cars, it continued down the same path as the SS 1 and SS 2 with extraordinary looks for the price and an unfulfilled promise of performance. But before the SS 90 would be revealed, Lyons saw a prospective business opportunity and formed a company called S.S. Cars Limited to take over the manufacture and sale of SS models. In order to do that, S.S. Cars purchased the Swallow Coachbuilding Company in 1934. By 1935, S.S. Cars went public, offering Walmsley's shares and a few of Lyons's. After this, Walmsley left the company.
1936 saw the release of an entirely new model that would mold the company's future approach towards making cars. Following a trend of animal-derived model names of the thirties, it was named the SS Jaguar 100 and came as a four-door saloon. It maintained the cheap price tag with lavish looks formula. It was also designed with an all new frame as well as an overhead-valve Standard engine. This increased its maximum speed to 90 mph (though the name implied 100 mph) and bumped up the engine output to 104 horsepower. Upping the performance and continuing to maximize production numbers while cutting down costs lead to a profit that many automakers in the same price range could not compete with, showing just how masterful Lyons's design and management skills were.
WWII and its Aftermath
Seen as a leading automaker at this point, S.S. Cars was expected to contribute to the war effort. Much of their energy was spent on providing parts for planes as much as cars and motorcycles. S.S. made a number of contributions, including military sidecars and aircraft components for many British fighter planes.
By the end of the war, almost all of the countries involved were suffering from a shortage of raw materials, preventing new automotive developments. Lyons, however, had plans to make S.S. a top high-performance, luxury automaker. In its first step, S.S. planned to restart the manufacture of its older models from the ‘30s. The "SS" emblem was removed to avoid association with Nazi Germany's Schutzstaffel (SS), so many of these cars were simply called "Jaguars." In 1945, S.S. Cars Ltd. officially changed its name to Jaguar Cars Ltd.
Exports finally ramped up and the reproduced pre-war production models hit US shores in 1947. Jaguar knew that their models lacked any real ingenuity, as many carried an outdated style. To change that, Jaguar focused on developing an all-new model that would later be known as the Mark V. Built on an all-new chassis, it looked smooth and featured rear-wheel spats, double front and rear chrome bumpers, a vertically lined chrome grille, and hydraulic brakes. But what the Mark V could not offer was the promise of performance, something Jaguar wanted desperately to give to its customers.
In order to get the company focused on sport models, Lyons decided to concentrate more attention on racing. A racing team would not only increase media exposure, but would also gave the company a focus and a better reason to test and improve their performance engines. The first car to hit the track was the Jaguar SS 100. It went on to win a few races, including the Palos Verdes road trials. But to go with this success, Jaguar focused on offering an all new sports model: the XK120.
Aptly named for its ability to exceed 120 mph, the XK120 used the same formula as the SS models by offering just as much as its rivals at a much cheaper price. The only difference between the SS and XK models was that the XK could live up to its claims of performance. Underneath the hood sat the first double overhead camshaft engine to be featured in an automobile. Its displacement was 210 cubic inches and it was capable of making 160 horsepower. It also changed the public's perception of the sports car, as many earlier models required sacrifices in luxury to improve performance. The XK120 was able to offer both, insinuating that the sports car was not reserved solely for the car enthusiast. With the majority of its sales occurring in the US, Jaguar bumped its export sales from less than ten percent in 1934 to 84 percent in 1951.
Jaguar Hits the Speedway
By the time 1951 came around, Lyons felt that it was necessary to focus on redeveloping Jaguar's performance team. His eyes were set on winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but he knew that Jaguar would have to create something far more powerful than the XK120 if they wanted a shot at first place. The engineers went back to the drawing board and came up with a model called the C-type. Also known as the Jaguar XK120-C, the "C" stood for "competition." Jaguar decided to go with an aerodynamic aluminum body to cut back on weight, and tossed an upgraded 210 horsepower version of the XK's 210ci engine under the hood. Three C-types entered the Le Mans race. Only one finished, but it came in first place. Many expected Stirling Moss to be the one to get the win, and while he did set a lap record, he retired while in first place due to engine failure. Peter Whitehead and Peter Walker were the first place drivers. The instant success created a demand for the C-Type, which went into production the same year and continued until 1953, leaving behind a few for civilian use.
In the 1952 Le Mans race, Jaguar did not have the same luck. All three entries broke down, leaving the toasted submissions on the "Did Not Finish" list. To prevent any further embarrassment, Stirling Moss, Leslie Johnson, Jack Fairman, and Bert Hadley went through drastic measures together. For seven days and nights, nonstop, each switched off and drove at an average speed of 100.3 mph. With new sights and expectations set for the 1953 race, Jaguar ended up with total domination over annihilation. Fitted with all new disc brakes, the C-Types finished in 1st, 2nd, and 4th, and an additional C-Type used by the racing team Ecurie Francorchamps finished in 9th. After this profound success, its successor, the D-Type, was just about ready to take on future tracks.
The D-Type won the 1955 Le Mans, and it was one place away from finishing first in the 1954 race. An interesting racecar, there was one seat that resembled a cockpit with a single tailfin protruding directly behind the driver's seat, somewhat resembling a shark (or maybe a jet). It may have been as feared as a shark too, since it delivered the win in now-routine Jaguar fashion. All of the wins and media exposure from the racing success boosted sales, especially across the Atlantic, in the US where many liked to race each other on the track, usually with the XK120 and its successor, the XJ140. Unfortunately, all of the focus on racing would come to end, as much of the exposure expanded Jaguars presence across the world. Jaguar had officially achieved its goal and now needed to focus more time and energy on producing passenger cars. However, Jaguar cars did not fail to see and win on the circuit, as racing teams like Ecurie Ecosse had a certain predisposition for the C-type and D-type (and even won the 1956 Le Mans).
The unprecedented success for Jaguar allowed them to rally up a few more models like the Mark VII and the compact, unique unibody Mark 1 (also referred to as the 2.4 and 3.4 Saloon) that offered a modified XK engine that could produce 112 horsepower, and an all-new independent front suspension with coil spring and wishbone layout that separated it from the torsion bar suspensions of all the other models. Other developments included a few custom order D-Types designed for public roads, but for many, these were just not good enough or too hard to obtain, so, to keep the fan base happy, Jaguar put a new model in the works based off the D-Type named the XKSS. Slim, sleek, and remarkably beautiful, the XKSS was one sweet piece of eye candy that carried performance as tumultuous and thrilling as its curves. Unfortunately, its life ended prematurely after only a few examples had been built, due to a fire that destroyed nine of the 25 completed cars in 1957. Most of the remainder were sold in the US.
That same year, Jaguar revamped the XK with a facelift called the XK150. It was available with one of two dual overhead camshaft (DOHC) straight-six engines with an output of 190 or 210 horsepower, respectively. Jaguar also released the Mark 1 3.4 Saloon. Both of these cars were to exude a classy yet graceful image. In 1960, Jaguar acquired the then prominent Daimler Ltd. to expand Jaguar's manufacturing facilities. This, however, also led to a watered-down brand in Daimler, since many of their models simply became rebadged Jaguars (which, let's be honest, couldn't be that bad). One car that many Daimler buyers probably would have had no problem buying rebadged was the E-type.
The Culmination: Jaguar's E-Type
Regarded by some as the most stylish, heart-throbbing hunk of metal from the 1960s, its curvaceous, smooth and slenderly chiseled appearance, accompanied by incredible performance helped the E-type finally deliver on all that Lyons had promised nearly thirty years prior with the SS1. His final dream had come true; a dream shared by the public, once lauded by Enzo Ferrari as "The most beautiful car ever made." At the time, it was Great Britian's fastest production car, capable of shredding 0-60 in under 7 seconds. Not to mention many of the components like disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and an aerodynamic design with signature headlight covers (later removed in 1967 in accordance with US law) set it apart from most cars on the road that were still stuck with outdated technologies like drum brakes. A 230 ci inline-six engine with an output of 265 horsepower sat under the hood, which would later be upgraded to the optional 4.2-liter with the same horsepower output as the 3.8L but with more torque.
It blew its competition out of the water, making it the full package of performance, style, and an affordable price tag. With the E-type, you could glide with comfort or shred the rubber, all the while doing it in class and style. It's probably why it was so popular among celebrities, including many movie and pop stars like Frank Sinatra (who said, "I want that car, and I want it now!" at its unveiling), Steve McQueen, and Tony Curtis.
The BMLC Blemish
Apart from the great success, the ‘60s brought a few changes for Jaguar. The company purchased a bus and truck company named Guy Motors Ltd. and an engine manufacturer named Coventry Climax Engines Ltd whose products had helped lift many racecars to victories throughout the fifties. Subsidiaries aside, Jaguar relied on a company named Pressed Steel for the majority of their frames and bodies, so when the British Motor Corporation (BMC) acquired them, Jaguar found themselves in a tricky position, and one that could potentially result in limited resources. To prevent a potential shortage, and taking in to account that Lyons' did not see an adequate heir after his son died in a car accident in 1955, Lyons agreed to merge with BMC to create the holding company British Motor Holdings Limited (BMH).
BMH only lasted for thirteen months, with Lyons throwing in the towel in 1967. Before he left, he approved the XJ6. This was his last ever model approval, though he would continue to provide input on newer models for the remainder of his life. It was a luxury car that would go on to dominate Jaguar's passenger car production throughout the seventies with the Series II and III, as well as the sporty XJ-S version. But before the XJ series could grow, changes needed to be made as BMH neared collapse. The British Government, well aware of the automotive industry's impact on the UK's economic stability, encouraged the merger of two of Britain's prominent automakers, BMH and Leyland. Considering Leyland remained in decent shape at the time, at least compared to BMH, much of the management responsibilities transferred over to Leyland. The idea that these two automotive behemoths could operate in harmony and maintain or better yet save Britain's domestic production (now threatened by expanding companies like Ford) seemed very plausible and was in fact lauded by the media at the time. The combination, however, did not fare well.
In 1968, the two joined to create the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC). BMH had a few popular British marques under its umbrella, many of which were picked up long before Jaguar and the British Motor Corporation (BMC) merged. In fact, BMC was actually the result of the Austin Motor Company and the Morris Motors merger in 1952, giving BMC a whole slew of popular British makes like Austin, Morris, MG, and Austin-Healey. Leyland, though largely focused on commercial production, picked up a few marques of its own, most notably Standard-Triumph and Rover. One factor that was not taken considerably into account, however, was that the attitude among the divisions that had spent the entirety of their existence competing with one another needed to be changed. There were tensions about how Leyland should incorporate the divisions into its new structure - maintain each division's independence or fully integrating each company under a unified structure. Leyland chose to reorganize manufacturing processes from the top down. Also, constant changes in management kept morale low, which in turn lowered production quality.
As you can imagine, the entire philosophy that lead up to Jaguars massive global success was whisked away under its new ownership. Its signature, breathtaking design remained, but many models were marred by lackluster quality. By 1975, after keeping a close eye on Leyland's performance, the British Government intervened to prevent the massive sinking ship known as British Leyland from drowning itself into liquidation. The government inherited a majority ownership and nationalized the company, eventually restructuring many of the marques into subdivisions or combining them into separate divisions all together. This created the luxurious and upscale Jaguar Rover Triumph (JRT) (from which Jaguar eventually separated) and the Land Rover Group division, as well as a few other moves, such as MG falling under Austin Morris' discretion. Because BMLC had taken such a financial hit, its current path implied a bleak ending for Jaguar, stemming mostly from an inability to develop new models. In order to save Jaguar, the British Government effectively privatized it and offered public shares separate from BMLC on the stock market.
A (Short) Return to Independence and Ford Ownership
With new horizons came new leadership. Mr. John Egan was hired as Jaguar's first CEO in five years. His main concern was product quality, and he discovered that much of its ailment derived from subpar part suppliers, of which he threatened to discontinue business with, going as far as outsourcing parts from foreign countries if need be. Expectations were high, but profits and exports began to turn on the upside, and, along with a successfully restored racing team, Jaguar saw an increase in revenue.
Up to this point, and since Lyons left, there wasn't much opportunity to offer new and innovative models, although one had been in the works since the early ‘70s to replace the XJ6, it sat on the backburner for various unforeseen reasons - such as the 1973 Oil Crisis. Now, once again the captain of its own ship, Jaguar put a new XJ model, built on the new XJ40 platform, into development around 1984, to be revealed in 1986 for the 1987 model year. Some historians claim the XJ40 was the last true car to have Lyons' input, as he contributed to its early stages of development. In later years, one of the cool perks the XJ40 included was its list engine options, one of which was the 6.0L Jaguar V12 engine.
By the time Ford had interest in Jaguar, it only offered two models (the XK line and the XJS) and the company was far from where it desired to be in regards to public image and revenue. However, Ford was on the hunt for a marque that could compete with the likes of Germany's luxury automakers, and chose Jaguar. Ford believed that even though Jaguar's revenue was down, its brand was still strong. The deal made serious ground in 1989 as Ford purchased many of Jaguar's UK and US shareholders. Ford eventually gained majority ownership in 1990.
Positive changes came under Ford, such as improvements to aging facilities and development of the new X300 platform for the XK series. With a stronger focus on quality than before, Ford attempted to restore Jaguar's reputation. Ford also switched out the long overdue XJ-S (the E-type's replacement in 1975) with the XK8, and finally got to working on a third model with the executive and upscale S-type in 1999. Two years later Ford revealed another, smaller and more compact model for Jaguar: the X-type. As diesel engines increased in popularity in Europe, Jaguar slowly fell to its competitors. By the end of Ford's tenure, costly mistakes and inconsistent success rendered Jaguar unprofitable for the automaker, so Ford sold it off to Tata motors in 2008.
Tata dropped the X and S-type not long after its purchase. The XF, revealed in 2007, replaced the S-type in Jaguar's lineup. There was virtually no compact sedan to replace the X-type until 2015 when Jaguar revealed the 2016 XE. The XJ saw a new facelift for the 2010 model year and has done quite well for itself; a specially modified, armored XJ serves as the Prime Minister's vehicle of choice. Perhaps the most interesting offering is the F-type, considered to be the E-type's successor and revealed for the 2013 model year. Tata restored the long-needed two-seater coupe or convertible offering. Throw in a nice SUV model in the F-Pace, and it's not hard to see that a Jaguar is once again a Jaguar.
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