The legacy of Sir William Lyons (1922-1985)
By Allen Crouch
The story begins in the early 1920s in Blackpool, England. William Walmsley was building motorcycle sidecars when he met his young neighbour – and fellow motorcycle enthusiast – William Lyons. With their shared passion for motorcycles, it was logical step for the pair to go into business together. In 1922, shortly after Lyons‟ 21st birthday, they founded the Swallow Sidecar Company, selling Walmsley‟s hand-built designs which were distinguished by their beautiful streamlined shape.
Business boomed, and the company expanded, adding car body repairs alongside their sidecar business, before expanding into building car bodies (and changing its name to Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company) which were bolted onto the chassis of existing models like the Austin Seven (1927) and later, the Fiat Tipo 509A (1929).
In 1927, now firmly established as a coachbuilder, the company dropped „Sidecar‟ from its name to become simply Swallow Coachbuilding Company and the following year, with business prospering, and needing to be closer to England‟s automotive hub, the company moved to larger premises in Coventry.
In 1931, Swallow launched two new models, the SS I and SS II, built on a chassis made by The Standard Motor Company, with competitive pricing, despite their premium styling.
In 1934, co-founder Walmsley left the company, leaving Lyons at the helm. He renamed it S.S. Cars (Standard Swallow) and created an engineering department, hiring a talented young engineer, William Heynes, to oversee the development of new models.
The first car bearing the Jaguar name launched in 1935, the SS Jaguar 2.5 litre Saloon, reflecting the model‟s combination of elegant design, power and agility. Alongside the saloon, a two-seater roadster SS Jaguar 100 launched in 1936, with an advertised top speed of 100mph (161km/h). This car was also the first to carry what would become an iconic automotive symbol, the „leaping jaguar‟ hood ornament.
In 1945, after the difficult years of World War II, and with the SS initials forever tainted by the notorious Nazis, Lyons renamed the company to Jaguar Cars Limited. Production of pre-war models restarted but the engineering department was already working on a groundbreaking design that would change the course of Jaguar’s history…
About Allan Crouch
Allan Crouch studied Sciences at Reading University, UK, and then pursued a career as a production engineer in the telecommunications industry in Brazil and the UK.
Now retired, Allan is the Registrar for SS cars for the Jaguar Drivers Club, and has expanded the register to include all the known cars worldwide by incorporating the major overseas registers in the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and continental Europe.