Jags, Jags, Jaguar... Why so fine?

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.