History of Jaguar
Written for CMC by Jaguar author Philip Porter
The great Jaguar story started in 1922 when 21-year-old Billy Lyons formed a company in partnership with a neighbour to produce motor cycle sidecars in Blackpool where they lived. From the very start, Lyons knew the importance of style. Until then they had been rather ugly appendages but the Swallow sidecars, as they were known, were very striking and attracted a lot of interest and healthy sales.
Lyons then turned his attention to cars, offering stylish bodies on popular chassis. The first and best known of these was the little Austin 7 Swallow, in open and saloon versions. Again the style caught the eye, and they proved very popular. With the introduction of the S.S. Models in 1931, Lyons evolved his thriving company a step further by arranging for the Standard Motor Company to produce engines and chassis of SS design for the company to fit long, low rakish bodies which suggested great performance but did not quite live up to that promise.
In 1935 the name Jaguar was adopted and the improved range were then known as SS Jaguars. The first real sports car, the SS100, had stunning good looks and performance to match.
Following the war, the SS name was dropped, for obvious reasons, and the company became Jaguar Cars. During the later stages of the war Lyons and his senior engineers, Bill Heynes, Claude Baily and Walter Hassan designed a new engine for a planned radically new saloon car (sedan). Lyons wanted a glamorous engine that would give real performance and offer potential for development. A twin overhead camshaft configuration was chosen as it satisfied those criteria and gave the company great technical credibility. Such a complex design had not really been produced in serious quantities before and it was a brave move.
The new saloon was not ready and so several, more traditional models were introduced after the war. However, the company had an excellent chassis and a new engine. In 1948 it was decided to launch the engine in a sports car which would gain some useful publicity, garner a few sales and enable Jaguar to try out the engine on a more tolerant bunch of customers. Only a relative handful would be built. That was the plan.
The XK 120, with the new XK engine, stole the 1948 Motor Show. Lyons had designed a sensationally beautiful and ultra modern open two-seater body. With the powerful engine, the 120 promised racing car performance on the road, yet with practicality and comfort. The orders flowed in and the XK 120 led Britain’s crucial post-war export drive, being especially popular in Hollywood. Around 60% were exported to the USA, earning vital dollars to rebuild war-torn Britain.
The new large saloon appeared in 1950 and was christened the Mark VII. It was to be another great success. Meanwhile, the XK was making a tremendous name for itself on the world’s race tracks and provided an important breakthrough for a young man called Stirling Moss. XKs also distinguished themselves in rallying and record-breaking, proving the car was far more than a very pretty face. The Roadster was joined by the Fixed Head Coupé and Drop Head Coupé, before all three were succeeded in 1954 by the XK 140 range.
The Le Mans 24-hour race provided unparalleled publicity worldwide and Lyons was determined to win it. The competition model, designed the XK 120C or simply C-type, was based on the XK 120 but with a lighter body and chassis. Jaguar took famous victories in 1951 and 1953. The D-type, often dubbed an aircraft on wheels, came next missing a winning début by seconds but won in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
The Jaguar range had been enlarged in 1955 with the addition of a new compact saloon. Known as the 2.4, a larger 3.4-engined version became available in 1957. As the later, more developed 2.4, 3.4 and 3.8 models became known as the Mark 2s, so the originals are now referred to as Mark 1s.
The Mark VIII succeeded the Mark VII and the XK 150 supplanted the XK 140. A handful of roadgoing D-types were produced and known as the XKSS – the supercar of its age. The Mark XI followed the Mark VIII and was fitted with an enlarged 3.8-litre version of the amazing XK engine, this power unit also being optionally offered in the XK 150, the range being supplemented by the higher spec XK 150 S models.
In 1961 the E-type was launched in Geneva and caused as big a sensation as the XK 120 had in ’48. The three carb 3.8 XK engine gave virtual 150mph performance and superb acceleration but also typical Jaguar docility and torque for high speed but relaxing motoring. The new independent rear suspension transformed the roadholding and ride. Introduced in Roadster and Fixed Head Coupé styles, both were blessed with pure, very beautiful sculptural shapes. The E-type was, of course, another enormous success with the vast majority being exported.
In 1964 the 3.8 engine was replaced by a new 4.2-litre version, and two years on a 2 + 2 model was added. In ’67, the three styles were upgraded and named the Series 2 models (hence the earlier cars have become known as the Series 1 models). A year later Jaguar introduced Sir William’s (he had been knighted in the ’50s) final masterpiece, the brilliant XJ6 saloon. Still powered by the extraordinary XK engine, the car offered new standards of ride and refinement, thanks to Bob Knight who was pre-eminent in this field.
Another superb engine was introduced in 1971. As with the XK engine, Jaguar’s V12 was the first to be produced in quantity and enhanced Jaguar’s reputation for engineering integrity and innovation. Once again, the engine was intended for the XJ12 saloon but was offered in the lower volume sports car first. The V12 E-type was known as the Series 3 and offered in just Roadster and 2 + 2 forms.
On the large saloon front the completely new Mark X was launched in 1961. The smaller saloon range was supplemented by the S-type and 420 models, and the Mark X became known as the 420G. In 1967 the Mark 2 models became known as the 240 and 340 (the 3.8 was dropped). With the announcement of the updated Series 2 XJs, an additional and very stylish 2-door Coupé model was added in six-cylinder- and V12-engined versions. In 1975 the XJ-S replaced the classic E-type and the XJ saloon continued to be updated, including the very advanced all-aluminium cars, until replaced in 2009 by a completely new design.
In the ’90s Jaguar dropped the XJ-S and launched the XK8 which was reminiscent of the E-type; the later supercharged version was known as the XKR. These were replaced by the completely new all-aluminium XK and XKR.
A new generation S-type saloon, a new small Jaguar – the X-type and X-type Estate – plus the current XF model complete our brief look at the Jaguar story.