LATE POST (BUT WORTH THE WAIT!)
It all began when William Lyons was born in Blackpool, England, on September 4th, 1901 to a music store shopkeeper. So was born the founding father of Jaguar. In his early days, he daydreamed of motorcycles, and when he turned 18, owned an “oil-bath” Sunbeam motorcycle. (So-called because if you revved the engine, you would get an oil-bath!) But, what he really wanted was a Harley-Davidson or a Brough Superior (the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles). It was almost a coincidence that the future business partner of William Lyons lived across the street. The name of this neighbor was William Walmsley. Walmsley had a motorcycle and Swallow sidecar. Lyons bought a Swallow sidecar to match his own Norton motorcycle. Lyons became friends with Walmsley, who was 10 years Lyons’ senior. With some financial help from their parents, they started the Swallow Sidecar Company. The Swallow sidecars looked very good hooked up to a Brough Superior.
In the mid-1920’s, their business flourished, and they started a small coach-building (car making) business. Many cars only came in black, and it was appealing to see a two-tone Swallow going down the street. The cars became so popular that they had to move to the Midlands area ofEnglandin 1928. They found a large supply of workers that were unemployed, so they hired them. During this time, production went up from 12 cars a week to 50. The Swallow’s looked much better compared to theAustin100’s that they were using. They also re-bodied whatever cars they could get their hands on. Many of the design themes thatLyonsused for designing Jaguars are shown in those early cars.
Walmsley and Lyons became well-known when they started buying chassis’ from Rubery Owen (a chassis manufacturer), and engines from Standard 16. Of course, they manufactured their own bodywork, which was designed byLyons.
One funny story is of Lyons designing the roofline of their car, the S.S.1, so low that a driver of average height wouldn’t be able to fit in! But,Lyonswent to the hospital right before the car went into production. When he came out, he saw that Walmsley had raised the roofline a few inches.
Lyons remarked that the passenger compartment looked “rather like a conning tower.”
The Motor magazine said of the S.S. 1 “…the S.S.1 is a new type of automobile in the sense that it is a car built for the connoisseur but is relatively low priced. All the attributes of sport models are incorporated in a refined manner, and this, coupled with a striking appearance, is bound to attract motorists of modest means.” There has been a lot of discussion over what the S.S. means.
William Lyons said “There was much speculation as to whether S.S. stood for Swallow Standard or Swallow Special.” – it was never resolved.
Walmsley and Lyons enjoyed immense success with the S.S. 1 and 2. But, Lyons wasn’t happy with the handling of the Standard 16, which was the base for the cars. So, Lyons wanted a new engine. Walmsley left S.S. cars, leaving Lyons in charge. Lyons could design cars and be a good businessman, but he couldn’t be an engineer. So, he did the next best thing, he hired engineers. He only hired trained and self-motivated engineers and workers. Lyonswas very impressed by what Harry Weslake was saying about engine performance. If you put the cylinder head on the top of the engine, instead of on the side, performance from the engine would rise. So,Lyonstried it out with an engineer, and found that horsepower rose to 103.3 horsepower, from 70!
Lyons, having achieved success, designed the S.S.100. It was described by Phillip Porter as “The SS 100 was the company’s first genuine sports car and to many people it remains the epitome of the stylish pre-war sports car, Lyonswas at his flamboyant best. The beautiful, flowing feline shape suggested speed and when the new 3.5 liter engine was added to the range, a car of vivid performance was the result.” Once again, the fiendish feline ruled the roads.
Many automakers were killed by the Great Depression, and S.S. almost went under. Lyons needed steel for his saloons (sedans), and barely managed to get by on the little resources he had.
During WWII, Lyons and S.S. helped out with the war efforts. They made key aircraft components for bombers and fighters. All engineers were on “fire-watch” (the factory was a large German target), and they would work on cars and talk. In addition, all the workers left to go serve in the Army, leaving the engineers and Lyons to build and design by themselves.
The war meant change for S.S. and Lyons: The name of the line was changed to Jaguar Cars, Ltd, because there was a very unpleasant connection to the German Secret Police, with the name SS.
During the post-war years, all British manufacturers were encouraged to export products to North America. Jaguar found a willing market there, and Lyons once said to his Export Manager, John Morgan “ I’m not going to accept crazy marketing plans forAmerica because I don’t believe in it. It’s a volatile market.”
Jaguar engineer Bill Heynes assembled a team of engineers to design a new engine. Some of the engineers in the team included: Claude Baily and Harry Weslake.
The 1950’s were the golden years of Jaguar. Jaguar enjoyed great sales and racing wins. In 1951, William Lyons agreed to start racing Jaguars. He did that, because, if a Jaguar won, sales would increase. That they did. Jaguar wonLe Mans in 1951,1953,1955, and 1957. The 1957 win was overshadowed by a tragedy. The Jaguar stopped on the track, and a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR crashed into the back of the Jag. The SLR went skidding into an Austin-Healy 100, and flew into a mound, where it blew up. The axle and engine block flew into the crowd, killing 83, and injuring 120. Unbelievably, sales stayed the same.
Lyons had Heynes design a racing suspension for the XK120. Malcolm Sayer designed the body shell. The car that came out was called the “C-Type.” Sayer did such a good job that he was hired by Lyons. He then went on to design the flowing D and E-Types.
1955 brought a period of sadness forLyons. His son, John, died in a car accident on the way to Le Mans. Lyonswas devastated. Shortly after, a fire swept through the factory. Many photos show scrapped XK120s. Jaguar simply cleaned up the factory and went back to work. Shortly after the fire, Queen Elizabeth toured the factory and knighted William Lyons. He was then Sir William Lyons. Some people found him hard to be around after the knighting.
In 1960, Sir William Lyons bought Daimler because of their bigger factory inCoventry. He tried to keep producing Daimlers for a while, but failed. A funny story happened at the 1959 New York Auto Show; Lyons is at the ’59 Motor Show inNew York. He was approached by a Jaguar XK140 owner who told him that the heater in his car didn’t work properly. At that point, Lyons, the customer and Tony Thompson, head of US Jaguar sales, marched downstairs to the garage to settle the matter. Thompson recalls the incident: “So we went down to his car and the man said, “look, the heater doesn’t work”.
Sir William replied, “the heater does work”.
The car was started up and the car had, if you remember, a Smiths heater with two little doors on it, and a control on the dash. I smoked soLyonsasked me to light a cigarette. He held the cigarette beside the heater and the smoke very gently wafted away.
“Look,” he said, “it works perfectly”.
“But, Sir Lyons,” the man replied, “temperatures get to 15 below zero.”
“Young man,” he said, “you just put on an overcoat”.
Each and every Jaguar has a personality. The XK6’s design can be traced back to the Mark VII of the 1950’s. The XK can be traced to the E-Type of the 1960’s. By the end of the ‘50’s, Jaguar needed a replacement for the aging XK150. So, Sayers designed the E-Type. The flowing, curvy lines made instant Jaguar lovers out of ordinary people. This was the car that put Jaguar ahead of the competition for many years.
The motoring world changed for good in 1968, when Jaguar introduced the XJ6. The XJ6 was Sir William Lyons’ last creation, and possibly his best. Over 200,000 were sold in the first two years! As production of the E-Type would be coming to a halt soon, Sir William Lyons had a V12 developed. The Series III E-Type was huge success. When the E-Type ended production, the engine served service in the XJ. There was an XJ6 or an XJ12. The XJ12 was very fast and loved by many. The press promptly named it Car of the Year.
In 1972, Sir William Lyons officially retired, and Jaguar had to continue without him. His house, Wappenbury Hall was half an hour from the factory, and he would often go to watch Jaguars being built.
His dream coupe was to be a coupe version of the XJ. Even though it was produced 2 years after he retired, he drove many test hours in it. His dream coupe was the XJS, it had large styling influence by Sayer, but it lacked the true Jaguar look.
When interviewed in 1980 by Andrew Whyte, these were some ofLyons’ reflective thoughts: “I’ve been retired officially for over eight years now, of course, but I do like to take an interest,” Sir William admits.
“It’s been my whole life after all. Many of the people who worked for me are still there. They know the standards that must be set to remain successful in the motor industry. I think there are enough determined people there, still, to keep the essential Jaguar character in the cars, yet satisfy tomorrow’s legislation worldwide. Our aim from the very start was to give the motorist pleasure. Now, more than ever, I feel that motoring should be a joy and not a chore. I still enjoy it. . . .My favorite car? Well, that’s not too difficult to answer. I was determined that the XJ specification should be right. I believe it was. I don’t think I would have changed anything much if I’d been starting again, certainly not the overall appearance-a few details here and there, maybe-but I really do feel we established something universally pleasing. It does seem to be standing the test of time, doesn’t it?”
Five years after that interview, Sir William Lyons passed away at Wappenbury Hall. Even though he has been dead for over 20 years, his legacy remains. If somebody tells you that their XK120 is a “true Jaguar”, then you can retort “no, it’s aLyons AND Jaguar. Beat that.”
As Ian Callum (the Jaguar Design Director) said of his award-winning XK, XJ, and XF, “I know that Sir William Lyons would be proud of Jaguar right now. From what I’ve learned from Heynes and Sayer, he’d probably choose the XJ…”
TIMELINE FOR JAGUAR. (Look for the funny story involving carpets at the bottom!)
1922: Swallow Sidecar Company was created by William Lyons and William Walmsley.
1935: The first Jaguars are made. They are the SS90 and SS100 sport saloons.
1943: The Jaguar XJ6 engine is made by engineers on fire-watch during WWII.
1949: The Jaguar XK120 is created. It then became the XK140 and XK150.
1951: Sir William Lyons allows Bill Henyes and Wally Hassan to complete the I6 engine. Also, a Jaguar XK120 wins the 24 Hours ofLe Mans.
1953: Jaguar’s winning streak continues, with yet another win atLe Mans.
1955: Yet another win atLe Mans! William Lyons’ son, John Lyons died heading toLe Mans. But, William Lyons became Sir William Lyons. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the British industry.
1956: You guessed it! Another win!
1957: Jaguar wonLe Mans, but there was a major crash involving a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR and Austin-Healy 100. The accident also killed 83 people and injured 120.
1958: Jaguar comes out with the rare and beautiful Mark IX.
1961: The Jaguar E-Type rumbles into production.
1966: An E-Type wins the Rally Monte Carlo. The Jaguar XK13 is made. It is a one-off race car designed forLe Mans. Unfortunately, race rules change; forcing Jaguar to store the XK13.
1968: The Jaguar XJ is produced. It is a large luxury car with an in-line-six cylinder. It is also the last car designed by Sir William Lyons.
1972: The Jaguar XJ receives V12 power, and was the fastest sedan in the world, let alone a luxury one. Given a long stretch of straight blacktop, one can reach 140 mph!
1975: Malcolm Sayer designed the replacement for the iconic E-Type. The new car was called the Jaguar XJ-S. It was built on the same platform as the XJ sedan, it was simply a coupe version with a V12 engine.
1985: Sir William Lyons passes away at Wappenbury Hall (LyonsMansion). He is remembered by many for his thriftiness, attention to detail, and shrewd businessman.
1988: The Jaguar XJR-9 is unstoppable at the World Sports Car Championships: It won six out of eleven possible wins. It also took home the driver and team trophies. It also got Jaguar to the winners circle atLe Mans, the first time since 1957.
1990: Ford Motor Company steps in and buys Jaguar for $2.56 billion! That may seem unconceivable, but one can only expect that for a luxury car manufacturer.
1992: Ford brought the Jaguar XJ220 to market. The prototypes had been seen with 6.2 liter V12s under the hood, but Ford had Jaguar use a 3.5 liter V6. The XJ220 was driven by a 542 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6. It could go up to 217 mph! It wasn’t even legal to drive one in theU.S.
1996: Jaguar used a Ford V8 in its Jaguar XK8, making that Ford V8 the first V8 in Jaguar history. The XK8 soon exceeded sales expectations, by being the fastest-selling Jaguar in history.
2000: Ian Callum achieved his lifetime ambition to become a Jaguar designer. More than 30 years before, he had seen an XJ6 in a showroom, and been intrigued.
2008: Elegance is Redefined: The XK is the first new Jaguar of the millennium, bringing with it a 4.2 liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission. The XKR version is supercharged, and brings 420 horsepower and more speed and macho with it. Also, the XF is introduced. The XF is designed to compete with the BMW 5-Series. Even though the XF’s V8 is underpowered, it is a serious competitor. The supercharged R version is as fast, as or faster than the XKR. Also, Tata Motors of India bought Jaguar and Land Rover.
2010: The Jaguar XJ is redesigned, bringing stealthiness and power with it. It has a 5.0 liter, 385 horsepower V8 and six-speed automatic. The XJL Supersport has a supercharged 5.0 liter, 510 horsepower V8. It also has a six-speed automatic. All Jaguars are updated to a 5.0 liter V8 with 385 horsepower. There are supercharged versions with 470 and 510 horsepower, respectively. Also, the Jaguar XKR GT2 RSR is a one-off race car for ALMS GT2. It has a 4.7 liter, 525 horsepower V8 with a six-speed automatic.
2011 and beyond: Jaguar unveiled the C-X75 concept car at the 2010 Paris Auto Show. It shows a glimpse of what future Jaguar sports cars may look like. It is powered by an electric motor and four small turbines.
There are some funny stories involving Sir William Lyons and/or Jaguars. Here is a funny story:
One time, Sir William Lyons was visiting the Piccadilly showroom, when the sales manager came up to him. ‘Excuse me, Sir William. The carpets in the showroom are becoming very worn, and threadbare in places. May I order new carpets?’
‘Certainly not,’ repliedLyons, ‘there is plenty of wear left in those.’
That was the end of the conversation. On a subsequent visit a month or two later, however,Lyonshappened to look down and noticed – new carpet! The unfortunate fellow was summoned.
‘I thought I told you not to replace the carpet. I thought I told you that the existing ones were perfectly satisfactory. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed . . .’
Lyons carried on in this vein until the fellow managed to interrupt long enough to explain that they weren’t new carpets.
‘What I have done, Sir William is to turn them round. Half of each strip was under the show cabinets at the side of the room, and therefore not worn. So now that I have reversed them the worn area is under the cabinets.’
Lyonswas silent for a few moments, as he looked around him. The young man held his breath.
‘Remarkable,’ mutteredLyons. ‘Remarkable.’
There was another pause.
‘Right, my man. I want you at Wappenbury Hall (Lyonsmansion), nine o’clock on Monday morning. You can do the same thing for me at home.”
5 thoughts on “Lean back for the most luxurious post yet (or ever)”
I love the stories you include in your posts Candler. I’m not much into cars, but I love a good story and you always pull me in!
Abby & I thank you for the history lesson about jags.
We love our XK8 (qwckcat) and think it is one of the best looking and driving cars ever!
When you come down to L.A. If I’m up to it we should go to test drive the latest jags so you can blog about it.
Love you keep up the great blogging.
Love Abby & Unc Bob
Great Blog! I am learning so much…
Keep up the “GREAT” work!
That was a great post. I never new that much about Jaguar. My favorite Jag would be a 1961 Mk. II 3.8.
Check out the link – it’s got a full history of Jaguar and Sir William Lyons!