Bill Lyons, a young motorcycle enthusiast hooked up with William Walmsley to build stylish sidecars for reconditioned motorcycles in Blackpool. The Swallow Sidecar Company built special bodywork for the Austin Seven in 1927: a two-seater coach for the little car and attracted more orders. Swallow bodies for the larger Morris Crowley, the Fiat 509A, Swift Nine and the Standard Big Nine followed. By the beginning of the 30’s, sporty Swallow coaches were put on an even larger Standard and the Wolsley Hornet car.
Not content as a mere coachbuilder, William Lyons started building cars by the summer of ’31. At the London Motor Show, his SSI and SSII coupes were sensational—with ultra low bodies and outrageously long bonnets, the cars were also remarkable value for money. By 1934, Lyons teamed up with top engineering consultant Harry Weslake to put up an Engineering Department and William Heynes was appointed as Chief Engineer.
In 1935, the name Jaguar anointed a new saloon and sports car range—Heynes made the chassis, Weslake tuned up a standard engine to increase its output from 75 hp to 105 hp, and Lyons designed the stylish body. The SS90/SS100 was a classic pre-war sports car.
By the early 40s, Lyons and Heynes, along with Claude Bailey and Walter Hassan planned a new engine—an advanced overhead camshaft layout for an in-line six engine that produced 160 hp. A limited run of sports cars were built in time for the 1948 London Motor Show—the Jaguar XK120, the fastest production car in the world at that time, clocked 126mph in a press demonstration.
In 1950 the Mk VII saloon was produced, a five seater powered by the XK engine, it took the US market by storm, raking in $30 million worth of orders within months after it was unveiled. By 1954, the XK120 was replaced by the XK140, with a more powerful 190 hp engine. And in 1955, the MKII was introduced, the first Jaguar compact saloon with unitary construction, and a 2.4 litre version of the XK engine—the car would stay in production for over ten years. Disc brakes were added, then the 2.4 and 3.4 litre options were joined by a new 3.8 litre monster with 220 hp. A roadster version of the XK150 was made for the US market.
In 1961, Jaguar’s E-type or the XKE, a very fast, comfortable and stunning sports car was introduced. Towards the end of the decade, Jaguar had to retool its cars to meet US Federal regulations. The Jaguar V-12 designed by Walter Hassan was fitted into the XJ6 saloon, setting the standard for touring sophistication.
By the 1970s the XJ12, the fastest production four-seater was unveiled. In 1976, a coupe version of the saloon—the XJ coupe and the XJ-S followed, both had 150mph top speed.
In 1983, the AJ6 engine, a new 3.6 litre 225 hp six-cylinder monster was fitted to the XJ-S. Three options were made, the XJ6, the Sovereign and the top-of-the-range Daimler. By 1989, a 4.0 litre AJ6 was available with a new four-speed automatic transmission.
Also in 1988, Jaguar Sport was formed to engineer and market Jaguar sports cars—coming up with the Pininfarina-designed XJ220 in 1991. As a subsidiary of Ford, the Jaguar marquee underwent exciting new developments—from significant facelifts, to new engines.
In October 1996, the XK8, an ultra modern version of the legendary E-type sports cars was launched and Jaguar reclaimed its throne as top luxury sports car manufacturer. The new V8 XJ Series followed, redefining the luxury saloon. The monstrous V8 power combined with the new transmission’s smooth control and response create effortless driving and unmatched comfort---to define Jaguar for another generation of sports car fans and owners.