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Jaguar: 100 years since the birth of a British icon

14 September 2022

This year incredibly marks 100 years since a young William Lyons, met an equally youthful William Walmsley in the back streets of Blackpool. After admiring Walmsley’s custom-built sidecar, the pair went into business together at the tender age of 21 to start Swallow Sidecars, the legacy of which gave us one of the world’s most loved and iconic brands, Jaguar.

The story of Jaguar is one of a manufacturer that would become, and remains, one of the most exciting and innovative car brands in the world. It is a story of sophisticated engineering, beautiful and elegant design, and a determined quest for the ultimate in motoring refinement.

Classic Jaguar on track

100 years since it all started…

The pair were young when it all started, William Walmsley (aged 30) and William Lyons (aged 20). Their partnership became official on Lyons’s 21st birthday, 4 September 1922 and both families lived on the same street in Blackpool.

William Lyons, despite his young age, was already well versed in the motor industry having served his apprenticeship at Crossley Motors in Manchester before moving to a Blackpool Sunbeam dealer, Brown & Mallalieu, where he was a junior salesman.

Lyons and Walmsley found premises in Bloomfield Road, Blackpool using a £1,000 bank overdraft obtained with the assistance of their respective fathers. With a small team of employees, they were able to begin commercial production of the motorcycle sidecars.

Soon they needed to expand. Walmsley’s father bought a big building in Cocker Street, Blackpool which they moved into and began to repair, paint and fit new hoods and upholstery to cars. They added coach building to their business name at this point.

Their business partnership was known by three successive trading names:

  • Swallow Sidecar Company
  • Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company
  • Swallow Coachbuilding Company

The first car that Lyons and Walmsley worked on was the Austin Swallow 7, a coach-built version of a popular and inexpensive vehicle. For their show car Swallow’s Bolton, Lancashire agent had persuaded a dealer in Bolton to supply him an Austin 7 chassis under-the-counter (at a time when coachbuilders required Austin’s prior approval or warranties might be voided).

By the end of the 1920s Swallow Coachbuilders, using the chassis and running gear from the Austin Seven and then from the Standard Motor Company, were responsible for some of the most stylish and classy saloons and sportscars of the pre-war period. In 1928, moving the materials and components for car building from the supply base in Coventry to Lancashire was proving too costly and so the pair relocated themselves, and the company, to Coventry.

1930s and 1940s

In the late 1930s, the SS90 quickly gave way to the SS100 Jaguar. It was to be the company’s iconic sportscar of the 1930s and the first to wear the Jaguar name.

The war effort saw the company deeply engaged in the production of military equipment including a humble but essential lightweight trailer. Their engineering prowess really came to the fore in the 1940s with the arrival of the XK engine and after public support rallied to encourage production of the XK120, so Jaguar’s attentions turned to the power of motorsport to sell their cars to a wider audience.

1950s

The racing evolution of the XK120, the curvaceous C-type gave Jaguar their first Le Mans win in 1951 and lead to the production of the unmistakably shaped D-type.

C-Type Jaguar - the curvaceous C-type gave Jaguar their first Le Mans win in 1951

1960s

This racing application of aerodynamics combined with stunning design gave rise to arguably one of the most iconic road cars ever made, the Jaguar E-type in 1961.

Whilst Jaguar continued their aristocratic large saloon ranges through the 1960s with the likes of the 420G, they also pioneered the idea of the compact, high-performance saloon, with the Mark 1 and 2 then S-type.

The XJ6 arrived at the end of the 1960s to take the world by storm and to re-define the Jaguar saloon experience, a design and motoring ethos that would last until the beginning of the 2020s.

1970s and 1980s

Whilst other British manufactures fell on the British Leyland sword throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Jaguar endured and became independent to shape its own destiny once again. It was during this period, under Sir John Egan that Jaguar saw more success in motorsport.

Firstly, with the Grand Tourer that had replaced the E-type, the XJ-S won the European Touring Car championship, drastically improving sales and forging a close relationship with TWR.

Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) would give Jaguar another of their momentous occasions in history when the XJR9 Group C racers, wearing their purple Silk Cut livery would win at Le Mans in 1988 and 1990 as well as numerous World Sportscar Championship wins.

The supercar mad 1980s didn’t pass Jaguar by either and for a short time, the XJ220 was the fastest road car on the planet that money could buy.

1990s and onwards

Ford ownership arrived and took Jaguar into a new era during the 1990s with the return to more traditional curvy shapes for the XJ6 after the more radical and angular design of the XJ40 series of saloons. Ford also brought significant investment which saw Jaguar return to the compact saloon market with the X-type and the mid-size saloon fans were kept intrigued by the nostalgically designed revival of the S-type model name.

The engineering pioneers at Jaguar continued their ground-breaking work with the introduction of performance diesels into their first all-aluminium XJ6, the X350. Meanwhile the XK8 was keeping the sportier at heart satisfied with an elegantly designed sports GT that evolved throughout the next decade until it made way for the launch of the E-type’s true successor – the F-type.

GT Jaguar on track
Today, the Jaguar brand has every corner of the car market served with their perpetuation of the original ethos of Sir William Lyons, “Grace, Space and Pace”. They continue to forge on into the future with all electric cars and SUVs whilst never losing sight of their place in the world as automotive pioneers of the quintessentially English variety.

Jaguar is now synonymous with style, refinement, aspiration, heritage, and state-of-the-art tech and through our club partnership with The Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club, the largest one-make Jaguar club in the world, Peter James Insurance provide a range of insurance products tailored specifically for the Jaguar enthusiast.

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