Bill Vance: historic Jaguar was born from motorcycle sidecars
The Jaguar company grew from humble roots planted in 1922. It started when two young motorcycle enthusiasts named William Walmsley and William Lyons formed the Swallow Sidecar Co..
The Swallow sidecar became a popular product and within a few years as their skills increased they progressed to producing stylish open and closed bodies for cars like the tiny Austin Sevens, and later for the Standards, Swifts, Morrises and Wolseleys.
They moved to Coventry in 1928 and renamed their business Swallow Coachbuilding Co. to reflect their business in manufacturing cars. It would become SS Cars Ltd in 1934, and after World War II became Jaguar Cars Ltd.
When Swallow Coachbuilding Co. started building their own SS cars, they used Standard Motor Co. frames and engines. They were slender machines with an emphasis on imaginative styling and low lines.
The first SS I introduced in 1931 based on Standard 16 was a signal that SS Cars was on the right track as a car manufacturer. The SS 1 had Standard’s 2.0-liter side-valve six-cylinder, the start of the company’s preference for six-cylinder engines.
The SS I had spectacular styling with a long louvered hood, front fenders, Rudge-Whitworth center-locking spoked wheels, a rear-mounted Continental spare tire, and no running boards. It was what we would now call a two plus two, accommodating two adults in the front and two children or small passengers in the back.
Its low profile height of 1422 mm (56 inches) was achieved by lowering the frame and mounting the springs on the outside of the frame rails. The engine was moved back into the frame and the wheelbase was a bit longer than the Standard model. A smaller SS II was built with a four-cylinder engine.
The SS I quickly became available with a larger, standard 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine that dramatically improved performance, increasing top speed from 113 km / h (70 mph) to 129 km / h (80 mph).
The first car to bear the Jaguar name was the SS Jaguar produced for 1936. It was a 1.5 or 2.5 liter model (the displacements were actually 1.6 and 2.6). The 2.6-liter was Jaguar’s first company in engine design, although it was still manufactured by Standard Motor Co.
The new six was based on Standard’s side-valve engine converted to overhead valves. Power was 102 horsepower, sufficient for a top speed of over 145 km / h (90 mph). It had a seven-bearing crankshaft, light alloy connecting rods, aluminum pistons and two SU carburetors.
A vertical bar grille and long flowing fenders made the SS Jaguar a beautiful car in the classic genre of the 1930s, one so aesthetically pure that it would always have its special appeal. After World War II, its spiritual theme was carried over to the superb modern, Lyon-designed envelope-type bodywork of the Jaguar XK120.
The most famous Jaguar of the 1930s was the SS100 roadster which was initially fitted with a 2.5-liter six, but by 1938 it was fitted with a 3.5-liter engine. The sleek styling was complemented by this rugged engine rated at 125 horsepower. It gave excellent performance, with contemporary road tests indicating a top speed of over 161 km / h (100 mph). An Autocar test reported an exceptional acceleration from zero to 60 mph (97 km / h) of 10.4 seconds.
Although the SS 100 had a good top speed and a good pickup, handling with its solid axles and classic semi-elliptical leaf springs all around left something to be desired. Despite this, enthusiastic qualified pilots were able to show good results in competition.
These pre-WWII Jaguar and SS cars were style leaders that always seemed more expensive than they were. Their bold and imaginative lines had come a long way from sidecars to motorcycles to evolve into the verve and panache of mighty Jaguars.
After the war, Jaguar continued its legendary car column with models as exceptional as the XK series, E-type sports cars, C and D-type Le Mans-winning racing cars and the handsome Mark V11 sedans, Mark II and later.
It produced a lot of it when it was still an independent company. In the 1960s, Jaguar merged with British Motor Corp., which became British Motor Holdings, then British Leyland Motor Corp. which was nationalized in 1975.
Jaguar eventually broke with this nationalized bureaucracy to become independent again in 1984. However, its ownership journey was not over and Jaguar was purchased by Ford Motor Co. in 1989 and became a member of Ford’s Premium Automotive Group. But even that was not the end.
In 2008, in an ironic twist in the fate of the British Empire, Jaguar was bought by Indian Tata Motors. Fortunately, President Ratan Tata kept his promise that Tata would not interfere with the mystique of this great British brand.
© Colonist of the time of copyright