Jaguar History

Send This Page To A Friend
Fade To White
Jaguar History



 1922 - present

William Lyons Establishes Swallow Sidecars

Jaguar may have started from humble beginnings, but would grow in stature and dominance with a dogged determination for success on the race track. William Lyons founded the now most famous of marques, bringing new style to Swallow Sidecars, then manufacturing a series of special bodies for much more, shall we say, common vehicles such as the Austin Seven, the Fiat Tipo 509A, the Standard 9 and the Standard 16.

Back in the heady days of the Austin Seven, many recognised that the manufacture of automobiles would turn a tidy profit, but as with any new business venture such aspirations were always going to be fraught with danger.

And so it came to be that, while other start-up car manufacturers, and even some well established ones, struggled to stay in business, William Lyons and his partner William Walmsley named their new business “SS Cars” – and business could not have been better.

As was the case with so many manufacturers, the desire to create their own car would necessitate sourcing components from other manufacturers – and given their history of supplying bodies to the industry it seemed logical that such an arrangement could work both ways.

Standard Supply The Mechanicals

Lyons started by asking Standard not only to supply mechanical components, but to design a new chassis - something on to which he could design a rakish new body. The result was the original SS1, and this in turn soon became a range of saloons, coupes and convertibles.

The most famous derivative was the two-seater “SS90” of 1935, but this was almost immediately superseded by the SS100, first offered with an overhead-valve 2.5 litre six, and later a 3.5 litre; the 2.5 was the highly regarded Standard engine, while the 3.5 was an almost entirely SS design.

The low-slung chassis helped make the SS100 very quick, and combined with the rakish open sports style complete with an exposed slab fuel tank the roadholding was far superior to many of its competitors. The name of 'Jaguar' was to appear in the autumn of 1935, then as a model designation for some of the saloons and drop-head coupes. Many critics thought these, together with the “SS100”, were overly ornate and detailed. Regardless, they were all easily distinguished by their unmistakeable styling, and to many they represented good value (for example, the 3.5 litre S100 cost £445, had a top speed just over 100mph and made the 0 – 60mph dash in around 10.5 seconds).

Ian Appleyard Drives The SS100 In The Alpine And Tulip Rallies

With such price per performance (dare we say one of the earliest examples of the now oft used acronym BFYB or “Bang For Your Buck”), it was inevitable that SS cars would find their way onto the racetrack. Appearances included the famous “Brooklands” race track, “Shelsley Walsh” hill-climb, “Alpine Trial” and RAC Rally’s.

After the war the SS100 would again enter the rally scene, most notably driven by Ian Appleyard in both the Alpine and Tulip rallies. But the SS100 would not re-enter production following the war, and it would take until 1948 for Jaguar to design and construct a new model. Indeed the manufacturer decided not only to design a new model, but to undergo a name change, given the sinister connotations invoked after the war with the “SS” moniker. The name Jaguar, until then a model name, became their manufacturer’s name.

The Wraps Come Off The XK120 At Earls Court

The wait for the new “Jaguar” was well worth it; at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show Jaguar unveiled the sensational new XK120 Roadster, good for a top speed of 120mph and one of the fastest production cars of the day!

Originally conceived as a limited-production sports-car to test the performance and durability of their new twin-overhead-camshaft six-cylinder XK engine (which was intended for use in a future range of saloons, to be known as the Mk VII models), the XK created such incredible interest and buyer enquiry that Jaguar could see the car would be an instant success – and that more ambitious plans needed to be laid, and full body tooling needed to be ordered.

For the time the new XK set unmatched standards for performance, ride, roadholding, styling, practicality, desirability while offering amazing value for money. The new 3.4 litre engine developed 160bhp, and could propel the XK120 up to 60mph in less than 10 seconds. All this was available (after a long wait) for a mere £1298.

Jaguar SS100
The SS100, perhaps the first car worthy of the title "Bang For Your Buck".

Jaguar XK120
The 1951 Jaguar XK120 Roadster.

Jaguar XK120
The XK120 Fixed-Head Coupe featured superior trim levels, which included a veneer-trimmed dashboard and wind-up door windows.

Jaguar C-Type
Winner of the 1951 and 1953 Le Mans, the C-Type.

Jaguar D-Type
Sand in the fuel tank, then tragedy the year later tarnished what should have been a stellar race record for the D-Type.

Jaguar E-Type
Do we need to sub-title this image?

Jaguar E-Type The attractive headlamp covers would be removed in 1968 with the Series II to meet US safety requirements.

Jaguar XJS
Technically superior to the E-Type, the focus was moving away from sports toward luxury.

The High Speed Demonstration At Jabbeke

The XK120's potential was so startling that many critics dismissed the claims as exaggerated publicity. To counter this, the company organized a high-speed demonstration run on the Jabbeke highway in Belgium, where all doubts were dispelled, when a standard car achieved an officially timed 126mph (132mph with windscreen removed). To complete the demonstration, the record car was then sedately motored past the assembled journalists, at 10mph in top gear!

There XK120 was again to delight motoring journalists when, in 1949, Jaguar would loan 3 cars to prominent drivers for entry into the British Racing Driver's Club “Silverstone” race meet. The cars would come in first (Leslie Johnson) and second places (Peter Walker), and only a tyre blow-out prevented them from making it a clean sweep!

Appleyard Wins The Coupes des Alpes, Tulip and RAC Rallies

Ian Appleyard, who had enjoyed success at the helm of his SS100, now switched to the new XK120 for the Alpine rallies of 1950, 1951 and 1952, where he won Coupes des Alpes for un-penalized runs on each occasion, while also winning the Tulip and RAC rallies of 1951.

Stirling Moss would also make his way to the winner’s podium courtesy of an XK120, on this occasion using Tommy Wisdom's race-car to win the 1950 Tourist Trophy race despite appalling weather conditions. His win would earn Moss a place in the Jaguar ‘Works’ team.

The XK120 Fixed Head Coupe was launched at the 1951 Geneva Motor Show, and was shaped very much along the lines of the 1930s Bugattis. The added rigidity afforded by the “tin-top” improved the already excellent roadholding, and with the weather elements (remember we are referring to the UK weather here) now even further removed many believed this coupe was a better choice for long-distance touring.

The interior featured far superior trim levels, which included a veneer-trimmed dashboard and wind-up door windows. There was also a “Special Equipment” model offered, dubbed the XK120M for the US market, and featured a wonderful 180bhp engine.

The XK's Enter Le Mans

In 1950 the factory entered a team of three XK120s in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, not seeking an outright win, but seeking to gain experience, and a respectable finish. They were to go on and finish 12th and 15th respectively – a result far exceeding the engineer’s expectations! It got them to thinking what would be possible if they had constructed and raced a car specifically built for the race, and so they set about building a multi-tube frame XK120C, which became more commonly known as the “C-Type”.

When the “C-Type” was entered in the 1951 Le Mans it would win the event outright, although the following year modifications to the cars cooling system proved inappropriate for such a long event and would force the cars to retire early. Undeterred, the team would return in 1953 with new 220bhp engines and Dunlop disc brakes to take first, second and fourth places.

In the same year the third variation on the XK 120 theme was introduced - the Drop-head Coupe. The new Drop-head coupe retained all the refinements of the Fixed Head model, but was fitted with a fully-trimmed convertible hood. In production terms (which therefore translate to collect-ability terms) this was the rarest of the 120’s - only 1765 being manufactured (compared with 7612 Roadsters and 2678 Fixed Heads).

In October 1954, the XK140 took over directly from the 120, though remaining closely based on that design. Changes included the moving forward of the engine in the chassis, to allow the cockpit to be enlarged, the increasing of power to 190bhp, and the fitment of rack-and-pinion steering. External style changes included the fitment of occasional seats, although these were only suitable for carrying children.

The Purpose Built D-Type

But perhaps the biggest news from Jaguar in 1954 was the arrival of the now-legendary “D-Type”, perhaps the most famous of all 1950’s racing sports-cars. The 'D', like the 'C' before it, had been designed with only one aim in mind - that of winning the Le Mans race, and reaping all the publicity and prestige which would follow. Wind-tunnel testing had been used extensively in the design of the “D-Type”, something of great importance when considering that the Le Mans circuit included a four-mile long flat out straight – and the current lap record for the entire circuit stood at an astounding 110mph.

The competition XK engines were now fitted with modified heads and triple weber carburettors, making them good for 250bhp at 6000rpm. Dry sump lubrication systems were installed which allowed the engines to be lowered – and in turn the bonnet profile and subsequent centre of gravity of the “D” to be lowered. Independent front suspension was by longitudinal torsion bars and wishbones, the rigid rear axle was located by trailing arms and transverse torsion bars, and Dunlop disc brakes were at all four wheels.

But the first outing of the “D-Type” at Le Mans was to prove exasperating for Jaguar. Although the cars performed well, sand had found its way into the fuel tanks and caused sporadic fuel starvation. After the problem was finally diagnosed and rectified, the Jaguar returned to the track (driven by Rolt and Hamilton), only to be forced off the track again, but this time by a slower car. But despite these problems, the “D” would finish in second place, only 105 seconds behind the first placed Ferrari. The sweet smell of success was to prove only a few weeks away, the D-Types finishing the “Rheims” 12-Hour race in first and second position.

For 1955 the 'works' D-Types had even better aerodynamics, with a longer nose and smoother tail fin – and with a new side-angle head power was increased to 275bhp. But it was the Mercedes 300SLR driven by Sterling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio that was setting the pace, the D-Type being driven by Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb being some 2 laps down. 3 hours into the race tragedy would strike; a lower positioned 300 SLR (driven by Levegh) colliding with an Austin Healey, and then launching itself into the grandstands.

Tradgedy At Le Mans, And A Hollow Victory

The crash and ensuing fire killed the SLR’s driver and over 80 of the spectators. Mercedes-Benz immediately withdrew the remainder of its team – including the Moss/Fangio SLR – and the Hawthorn/Bueb team would go on to register a rather hollow victory. The fact that Hawthorn had set a new lap record of 122.39 mph prior to the accident was quickly forgotten, and many believed the Jaguars superior disc-brake setup would have allowed the “D” to catch and perhaps pass the “air-brake” SLR, but that was only speculation. Amazingly the Austin-Healey involved was driven by Lance Macklin, who survived, and the car stayed on the track only moderately damaged. The Healey did no damage to any other car or person and Lance walked away.

The following year Jaguar were keen to win the race “on their own merits”. But this time an accident on the second lap would eliminate 2 cars, while another fell well down the leader board after encountering mechanical woes. Fortunately for Jaguar a privateer, one Ecurie Ecosse, would win the race. In 1957 Jaguar withdrew their works team, and so it was left to Ecurie Ecosse to win for the marque – and he did!

1957 also saw the introduction of the M50 – based on the same chassis as the M40 – but employing the wonderful Dunlop disc-brakes. The M50 had a wider bonnet which in-turn provided more interior room and easier access to the engine bay. The wing line profile was now almost straight, and a one-piece semi-wrap-round windscreen made the car appear far more modern. The vast majority of XK150’s were sold with the 210bhp 'special equipment' engine, through there was a less powerful 190bhp tuned version still available.

By 1958 the basic XK design was now some 10 years old, and the car was beginning to show its age, particularly when compared to the competition. It did, however, have a major price advantage over its rivals, the XK150DHC costing a relatively cheap £1783 when compared with £2889 for the Aston Martin DB2/4, £4201 for the equivalent BMW, and £4651 for the Mercedes 300SL. At first there were only drop-head and fixed-head types, but one year later the two-seater Roadster (with wind-up windows in the doors) was also announced, along with a 250bhp triple-SU carburettors 'S' engine tune option. In 1959 there was both a 3.8 litre 220bhp tune and a 265bhp “S” tune available.

The New Flagship, And The Most Beautiful Car The World Had Ever Seen

By 1961 Jaguar desperately needed a new flagship. And we all know the answer, a car that today evokes as much passion and prestige as it did back then, the legendary “E-Type”. Largely based on the construction of the famed “D”, the “E” was a great leap forward in visual design, and caught the imagination of press and enthusiasts alike. Known as the XKE in the United States, the car was an instant success, and earned millions of dollars in Jaguar's most important export market.

Based on a monocoque construction, the E-Type had a bolt-on front tubular sub-frame that carried the engine and front suspension. At the rear there was a 'cage' type of sub-frame supporting the final drive, and coil spring independent rear suspension, a new departure for Jaguar. This had already been tried, briefly, on the E2A prototype which raced at Le Mans in 1960, and helped provide a supple ride to this, and also to future Jaguar saloons.

Using the 3.8 litre 'S' engine from the XK, the “E-Type”, with its vastly improved aerodynamics and light weight made the car good for a top speed of 150mph, and able to do the 0-60mph dash in an amazing 6.9 seconds. There were two body styles offered, an open two-seater and a fastback fixed-head coupe with opening rear window. These cars sold in the UK for £1830 and £1954 respectively.

Like the XK120 before it, the E-Type won its first race, this time driven by Graham Hill. However the on-track success of the ‘E’ was to be relatively short-lived, due mainly because racing sports-cars were becoming far more specialized, and the Italian marques (particularly the Ferrari) were priced in the stratosphere, so any car with a semblance of affordability was being position out of the European racing circuit.

Lightweight Race Bred E-Types

Before succumbing to the inevitable, Jaguar would built a dozen 'Lightweight' E-Types, some with an aluminium monocoque and aluminium cylinder block for the engine. This engine, in fuel injection form, produced a staggering 320bhp – more than twice that of the original XK 120 of 1948. Despite racing greats such as Graham Hill, Roy Salvadori and Jackie Stewart driving the new cars, they attained only moderate success and were soon retired from the track.

In 1964 the E-Type was given the latest 4235cc version of the XK engine (replacing the 3.8 litre), and though the peak power output remained the same there was significantly improved torque. At the same time a new all-synchro gearbox replaced the old-style box, which had always been noted for 'slow,' rather weak, synchromesh. Production figures for the 3.8 had been 7827 Roadsters, and 7669 Fixed Head Coupes, but the 4.2-liter was a little more popular, selling 9548 and 7770 respectively.

In 1966 the E-Type range expanded, to provide a nine-inch longer wheelbase fixed-head coupe, with more vertical windscreen and 2+2 seating. In 1968 the cars would undergo even further modification, mainly to keep up with the ever more stringent US safety legislation. Changes included the deletion of the front headlamp covers, the fitment of larger tail lamps, and the raising of bumpers. To identify the new model Jaguar referred to it as a “Series 2”.

By the end of the 1960s Jaguar decided to give the “E” another lease on life, this time courtesy of a fabulous 5343cc single cam per bank V12 engine. Producing a very healthy 304bhp, the engine was more noted for it’s incredible torque, and despite more stringent US pollution requirements the upgrade in power helped maintain the E-Type Series III’s hold on the status of “Supercar”.

Body styles included the two-seater Roadster and 2+2 Fixed Head Coupe. The last of all were built at the beginning of 1975, there being 7990 Roadsters and 7297 Fixed-Heads, respectively. The replacement for the “E-Type” can in the form of the XJ-S Coupe. An entirely different type of sporting car, it used a single monocoque construction, based on the under-pan of the 12-cylinder XJ 12 saloon. Many considered it more an executive-express rather than a sports-car, however they were perhaps selling it a little short!

Walkinshaw Takes The XJS To Tourist Trohpy Success

The Jaguar XJ-S was technically superior to the E-Type, and featured an auto transmission and 2+2 seating. Both the front and rear suspension were independent, by coil springs and wishbones at the front, and by a modified E-Type /XJ12 system at the rear. The concept was significantly improved in mid-1981, when the more efficient and more economical 'HE' engine was introduced, the car then becoming known as XJ-S HE.

From 1982 the XJ-S began to make its name in production touring car racing, when Tom Walkinshaw prepared two cars for the European Touring Car Championship. Initial success included victory in the Tourist Trophy, after which Jaguar gave official support for 1983 and 1984. Jaguar would go on to score five outright victories (compared with BMW’s six) in 1983, then with a full three-car team went on to win the Manufacturer's and the Driver's (Tom Walkinshaw) series in 1984.

Another variation on the XJ-S theme came in 1983, when Jaguar launched a cabriolet version of the XJ-S featuring a fixed roll-over bar above the seats and a completely new 3.6-litre twin-cam six-cylinder engine good for 225bhp mated to a five speed Getrag gearbox. The 80’s were not, however, halcyon days for the marque, reliability and build quality issues soon tarnishing what had, until then, been such a highly regarded marque.

Certainly any pre-1980’s Jaguar is very collectable, however provided you do your homework a 1980’s Jaguar may represent exceptionally good buying. Consider that now most problems should have been addressed, such examples represent a much cheaper entry into what is undeniably a fabulous marque…

Recommended Reading:
Swallow Sidecars - The William Lyons Story
Jaguar - A Racing Pedigree
Jaguar History and Heritage (USA Site)
Jaguar Colour Codes
Jaguar Specifications
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

Sell Your Car or Parts Browse the Classifieds It's Absolutely Free! - Find Out More
You may also like...