Marque History

Jaguar – the history behind this incredible marque and the Art Of Performance

For those of you who may be new to the marque of Jaguar, or maybe just taken ownership of a Jaguar and don’t know the marques history here is the JaguarForumsUK’s rundown of this incredible marques history for you.

William Lyons, often considered the father of Jaguar, was born on 4th September 1901, did well in school, was softly spoken and had a fascination for mechanics. He became an apprentice at Crossley Motors, prior to becoming a salesman at Brown & Mallaleiu, a Sunbeam garage.

With a good salary from his sales, and his interest in mechanics, he became friends with William Walmsley who worked on converting first world war motorbikes for the civilian market.

Walmsley built sidecars for the motorbikes, and was selling the motorbikes with his new sidecars fitted for a good profit. Lyons could see the potential of this and suggested the two of them go into business together. Both their fathers put up a £500 guarantee little knowing what they had started. The company was called the Swallow Sidecar Company.

By 1926 they had moved into new factory premises in Cocker Street, Blackpool and started to look at the car market. The Austin 7 had just been launched, costing £122. It offered more protection for passengers and was selling well. Lyons and Walmsley took the boxy, black Austin 7 and redesigned it, making it into a two seater roadster just using the Austin 7 chassis. It had flowing mudguards, a cowled radiator, and a V shaped windscreen. To ensure it attracted female customers, it had a two tone paintjob. It was launched in 1927 at a price of £175 and if you wanted a detachable hardtop, it was another £10 on top of that. It was named the Austin 7 Swallow. It was a success, and soon they designed a Swallow 7 Saloon to join it and their order list started to grow. By the end of the year they decided to rename their company as the name you may recognise as the start of Jaguar – The Swallow Sidecar & Coachbuilding Company.

In 1928 they decided they needed to be more centrally located than Blackpool, and moved the company to Holbrook Lane, Coventry. Their output rose from twelve, to fifty coachbuilt cars at very good prices.

In 1931 William Lyons was rushed into hospital for his appendix removal, and Walmsley worked on the design of their next car, to be shown at the London Motor Show in Olympia. Walsley married the new look they wanted with the standard chassis and had got it wrong. The SS1’s cabin stuck up further than it should! However priced at £310 and being a four seater it took off nonetheless and the company again changed name, to the Swallow Coachbuilding Company.

The 1933 model of the SS had a makeover with lower window and door line, a redesigned chassis and an additional 7″ on the wheelbase. This model sold for £325 and was even purchased by George Formby. The interior had picnic tables in the back, and leather seats and door panels – remarkable for the cost.

However the cars suffered with a lack of power, so they redesigned the cylinder head to gain another 30bhp to take the SS1 to over 100bhp.

On September 23rd 1935 they unveiled a new sophisticated four door saloon, with a choice of 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5litre engines. Lyons chose to call it the Jaguar. In true SS style they asked reporters and dealers to quote what they thought the price of the car would be, and they were told an average expected cost of £632. It cost just £395!

In 1936 they produced the SS100, followed by the SS90. A superb roadster, great gearbox, steering and brake systems.. and having a 2.5 litre engine that allowed it to get to 95mph, and still at an incredible price of just £445.

By 1938 production of cars had jumped to 50 a day, with the SS100 winning a number of rallies. By 1939 they had become so popular they were producing over 5000 cars a year!

In 1939 SS was asked to contribute to the war effort and was producing wing parts for bombers, and in 1940 car production was halted and they produced military trailers.

The German airforce must have been aware of their work as they flattened six factory shops. However not to be thwarted SS started manufacturing Spitfire and Lancaster bomber parts, prior to gaining further contracts to build sections of the Gloster Meteor experimental four wheel drive army vehicles. Because of all the contracts the war office invested in SS, ensuring it would have a good start to its return to its own business after the war in 1945. True to form in October 1945 SS already had car production on the go.

Also in March 1945 Lyons renamed the company, again, to the name we all know so well – Jaguar Cars Ltd.

In 1948 Lyons introduced the XK120, featuring a new Jaguar straight six 3.4 litre 160bhp engine. It was to be a limited run of 240 cars, but Lyons design was so flowing and classically proportioned that thousands of people wanted to place orders – putting Jaguar on the map. Jaguar claimed it could acheive 120mph and found it was significantly faster than even they had hoped with a top speed of over 132mph (with the windscreen and hood taken off!)
In 1950 Jaguar launched the Jaguar MkVII, at over 4 metres length it was big by UK standards, but handled remarkably well and had five wins at Silverstone in the production touring car races 1952-1956.To add to this, in 1951 the XK120 was shown at the Montlhery Autodrome – driving non stop for 7 days and nights at an average 100mph – breaking new territory as this had never been done before.

All this lead to huge growth at Jaguar! Lyons identified a new location, a former tank production site in Allesley, Coventry. This was the now well known, Browns Lane factory – one million square foot of space for manufacturing. Lyons managed to strike a deal with the MOD and in 1951 they moved there – to produce Jaguar cars, and Meteor tank engines for the MOD. After the move development continued and the XK120C, or C-Type was created winning le Mans in 1951 & 1953.

In 1954 they produced the D-Type, which had a stabilising fin, all round disc brakes, and a top speed of 179mph winning the Le Mans in 1955,1956 & 1957.

In 1957 Jaguar announced the XKSS, which was a roadlegal version of the D-Type but just 16 were produced before a massive factory fire destroyed the production line and the 270 XKSS’s that were in the building.

In 1958 they produced the XK150 and had started angling away from pure performance, to grand tourers. They had also introduced an automatic gearbox, all round disc brakes and power assisted steering to the range.

In 1959 Jaguar produced the Mk2. It had a 3.7 litre straight six engine producing 220bhp and proved successful in saloon car racing, and as getaway cars 🙂

At the Geneva Motor Show in 1961, Jaguar launched the iconic E-Type.. It was based on the D-Type but had bumpers, a proper hood, and a hatchback added to make it practical, and Lyons had restyled the D-Type curves to suit the new slot that this car filled. Jaguar knew that this car was iconic and launched it carefully and in a very planned way, supplying carefully tweaked E-Types for reviews.. the price was incredible at just £2097, just half the cost of a Mercedes or Aston Martin. In the same year Jaguar launched the MkX in America and Canada, a gorgeous executive saloon.

In 1963 the S-Type was produced, and in 1966 the 420. Because Jaguar had aquired Daimler in 1960, there was also a Daimler Sovereign which was equivalent to the 420, and for future generations of Jaguar too.

In 1965 the company that was stamping Jaguars body panels was purchased by the British Motor Corporation, forcing Jaguar to merge with BMC in 1966, becoming British Motor Holdings. In 1968 BMH merged with Leyland Motors and became the British Leyland Motor Corporation. This was the same year that the XJ6 was released on the world – offering a new standard in ride quality with a luxury interior and incredible lines – still less than half the cost of the equivalent Merecedes!

We jump forward to 1971 when the E-Type series III was released with a new V12 engine and a top speed of 150mph, and still at an incredible price of just £3343! In 1972 the new V12 engine was fitted the the XJ – relabelled as XJ12 with a top speed of 147mph. the XJ12 was a luxury limousine, but also the fastest 4 seater available!

Unfortunately this was when British Leyland started cost cutting leading to problems right through the 1970s with build quality, and warranty issues becoming rife. Jaguar still managed to release the XJ-S in 1975, a two plus two grand tourer which included air con.

In the 1980s Jaguar managed to gain autonomy within the group and quickly worked on ironing out the quality issues that had been caused by cost cutting – simple issues like making sure doors fitted correctly, and windscreens leak free saved the struggling company £20 million and helped to get Jaguar back on track.. not just that but they managed to reduce the man hours involved in making an XJ from 700 to just 300. This was the break Jaguar needed. The XJ-S was brought back out in 1981 with a new high efficiency engine that used 20% less fuel, and superb build quality compared to recent years. It was also entered into the European Touring Car Championship, winning it in 1984.

In 1984 Jaguar was floated on the stock market, with shares eight times oversubscribed! Jaguar was on the up and up!

Sir William Lyons, the guiding hand at Jaguars helm for most of it’s life as a company, died 8th February 1985.

In 1986 Jaguar launched the new XJ, codenamed XJ40, with the choice of a 2.9 or 3.6 litre engines, manual or automatic transmission. It had had over 5 million miles of testing but still had some electrical issues despite the improvement in build quality that Jaguar had achieved.

In 1988 Jaguar planted itself firmly in the performance map winning Le Mans with a specially built XJR-9

October 1989 Ford made a bid for Jaguar, with the deal completed in February 1990.

In 1988 Jaguar had shown a prototype of a new model – the XJ220. It was a limited run model produced in a new factory at Bloxham. However they had huge production and cost issues and the V12 was replaced with a V6, all wheel drive changed to rear wheel drive and more. It was still a phenomenal supercar and on the only road test ever performed, hit 213mph. However the world had just entered recession and only 280 of the planned 350 cars were built and the press was rife with people forfeitting deposits to avoid paying for a car that no longer met the remit of a world in recession.

In 1990 Jaguar came back fighting, and entered it’s new XJR-12 into the Daytona 24 hour endurance race and finished both first and second. Then they took four of the cars to Le Mans gaining a 7th victory. In 1991 Jaguar entered the XJR-14s and came 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

In 1994 the X300 XJ was launched to replace the now aging XJ40. It was available with a supercharged 4 litre AJ6 engine that could equal the performance of the V12!

This was the end of the V12 engines for Jaguar.

In 1998 the S-Type was released at a great price break for a luxury car and with lots of visual links back to the original S-Type. It was cheaper than the XJ and had a range of engine sizes and performances available, including the V8 4.2 litre AJ engine producing 400bhp.

In 1999 Ford decided to include Jaguar in it’s prestige brands group.

In 2001 the all new X-Type was initially launched with all wheel drive, being produced in the Ford Halewood factory. It was based on the Ford Mondeo chassis and was often shunned by purists despite sharing very little with the Mondeo, and in truth a very good dependable car.

In 2003 Jaguar launched the new XJ, codenamed X350, the first ever built around an aluminium monocoque, with industrial self piercing rivetting technology. It was luxurious, and an incredible luxury saloon but did not sell as well as it should have due to its ‘old school’ looks.

In 2005 Jaguars Browns Lane plant closed and all manufacturing was moved to Castle Bromwich, near Birmingham.

In 2007 The XF was launched sharing the same platfrom as the S-type but with an all new body design, and it marked the start of Jaguars new look and way forward from old school to modern.

In 2008 Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to an Indian company, Tata, and Jaguar released the Daimler brand to Mercedes-Benz.

In 2009 the all new XJ was launched with incredible ‘Cats Claw’ rear lights and an incredible full length sunroof feature.

In 2011 Jaguar Land Rover jointly setup a new factory in Wolverhampton to enable them to produce engines in-house, and a new assembly plant was opened in Pune, India to help them enter the Indian market too.

In 2013 Jaguar was merged with Land Rover, still under the ownership of Tata, but was now called Jaguar Land Rover PLC. Jaguar also launched the F-Type which was set to replace the iconic E-Type in it’s line up.. with the SVR version launched in 2016 with an incredible 587bhp. But that was not the end, as a limited production edition was launched by SVO department of JLR,  under the name of Project 7, and it was an hommage to the Le-Mans 24 hours race wins of Jaguar. What is impressive about Project 7 F-Type is the estethic and functional D-Type inspired design.

Another related SVO project was the Project 8, based on the XE, but massively improved strictly for achieving maximum performance: new almost all body panels for aerodynamics, weight redution, gearbox adjusted even more precisely for even faster gear change, all-wheel drive system adjusted for maximum grip, 5.0 600HP supercharhed engine, new brakes and completely new suspension. What is the most impressive about the Project 8 is the suspension which is allowing the car to be both an absolute track weapon, but also an confortable Jaguar for long drives. All of these changes made the Project 8 XE achieve a time record on Nurbugring in its class. 

In 2014 Jaguar entered a joint venture with Chery in China, enabling production of the XE & XF models in Changsu and better access to the Chinese market.

Also, the Jaguar XE was launched in 2014 as a replacement for the X-Type, built at Solihull and the first model to use the new Ingenium engines from the new Wolverhampton factory.

In 2015 the XE was selling so well, Jaguar added a second production line at Castle Bromwich prior to moving all XE there. This freed up space at Solihull for the new F-Pace.

Jaguar entered the competition arena again in 2016, participating in Formula-E.

Since then we also have the all new I-Pace, a spin off from the technology and lessons learned in Formula-E, and the all new E-Pace.

Jaguar has an electrified and autonomous future, which will bring more completely new models, as well as future technology in heritage models like the XJ. Now, as part of JLR, one of the company purposes is working on a set of incredible innovations, some already implemented. This is called ”Destination Zero” and it is playing a big role in the present and future of a better world, and Jaguar will be part of it.

Jaguar has a rich history, and an incredible story that we have just scratched the surface of.

I apologise for any omissions or errors you may find in this brief history of Jaguar and hope you choose to read up more on the incredible story of Jaguar – constantly growing, adapting, changing and improving…. and in everything they produce, and we drive, you find the spirit of Jaguar living on.