Jaguar, from motorcycle sidecars to luxury cars

The car voted 2008 What Car, car of the year, was the Jaguar XF, an award that it certainly deserved. Leasing and contract hire brokers are experiencing strong interest the car. It is hard to imagine that its manufacturer Jaguar was originally a manufacturer of motorcycle sidecars called the Swallow Sidecar Company. It started when two motorcycle enthusiasts formed a new partnership in 1922, they were William Lyons and William Walmsley. In many partnerships there is one of the partners who really drives the company forward, in this case it was Lyons.

At the time motorcycle sidecars were very much in demand, this continued until the ordinary man in the street could afford a car, which was when car sales really took off in the 1960’s. If someone could not afford a car, they would usually have a motorcycle, which was ideal for the single man but not so practical when they got married and had children. The answer was a sidecar. This would allow them to go out for the day as a family; the children would sit reasonably well protected in the sidecar and the wife would ride pillion. The Swallow Sidecar gained market share by having modern and very attractive designs.

During the late 20’s the company had started to build car bodies. The Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company became their new name, which they felt was more in keeping with the work they were doing and they built the body for the very popular Austin 7. Soon they moved from their premises in Blackpool to larger premises in Coventry, where many of the motor manufacturers were based. Other manufacturers started to ask them to also build their car bodies and the company was really starting to get off the ground.

It didn’t take the company long before they were producing their own car the company launched the SS1 in 1931. It sold for 310 but actually looked a lot more expensive. It was low, had wire wheels and was quite long, the overall impression was of an expensive sports car. It was shown at the 1931 Motor Show and gathered large crowds. The Company name was changed again during 1933 to SS Cars and they launched the SS1 Tourer. William Walmsley resigned from the company.

The SS90 was introduced during the mid 30’s; its cost was under 400, which was very good value for money and the design was very sporty. Next came the SS100, it had twin carburettors and 2,633 cc engine. The car was fast, however an even faster version went on show at the Motor Show in 1938, this time with a 3,845 cc engine. Its production was interrupted by the start of the Second World War.

During the Second World War the company’s manufacturing was switched to military production, as were the car manufacturers in Germany. Just as the allied forces heavily targeted the German motor manufacturer’s factories during their bombing raids, Coventry became one of the most heavily bombed cities in Britain.

SS Cars had little choice but to change its name after the war, sales would not have been helped by having a name that was so closely associated with the recently defeated Nazi Germany. Jaguar Cars became the company’s new name in 1948. That year also saw the launch of the outstanding XK 120.

The Earls Court Motor Show in 1948 saw the unveiling of the XK 120; 120 being the top speed of the car. It may not sound very fast today but it was very fast in those days. It’s speed and road holding were unmatched. Also unmatched was its design it was quite staggeringly beautiful, both then and now. It was a drop head sports car that was so desirable because of it’s combination of speed and looks. Demand was strong and it now very much is a collector’s car.

Jaguar did very well during the 1950’s; the Mark V11 was introduced, which enjoyed a great deal of success in motor racing. Stirling Moss raced the car, as did the Formula 1 world champion Mike Hawthorn. It also came first in the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally. Rack and pinion steering was a new feature when the XK140 was launched in 1954. The other new feature was a rear seat designed for seating small children, perhaps not seen as a great asset by the typical purchaser of an XK140. The new feature of the XK150 when it was launched was disc brakes. Also launched was the Mark 1X and the very popular Mark1 and Mark 11.

In the late 50’s and early 60’successful businessmen drove the Mark 11 but strangely it also became the mark of the successful villain. It was also targeted by car thieves, once stolen they would be used as getaway cars for Jewellery smash and grab and bank robberies. Police then bought the Mark 11 and to give themselves an edge, modified the engines. In a Florida auction in 2008 a Mark 11 was sold for $75,900.

In 1961 Jaguar launched the Mark X, it was a very large car much more suitable for the American market than Britain. It was long and wide and did just seventeen miles per gallon, which was not to much of a problem in the US where they were used to gas guzzling cars but of course they were paying much less for their fuel. In the UK it was too large and expensive to run for most .The car became know in some circles as the poor man’s Rolls Royce. The revolutionary E Type was launched in the same year. It was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, the motoring press and public couldn’t believe their eyes; it was a most extraordinary looking car, long, low and sleek, with a bonnet that seemed to go on for ever. To describe the car as eye catching would be an understatement; when it was first on the road, it stopped traffic and pedestrians in their tracks. Jaguar must have been very proud of their achievement.

The XJ6 was launched in 1968 and it proved extremely popular between 1968 and 1973 almost 100,000 came off the production line. The series two was to follow and various versions of this model continued through to the present day. During 1972 William Lyons retired from Jaguar.

The XJS sports car came out in 1975 and the model ran until 1996. It was produced in both a fixed head and convertible model. The car received excellent reviews from the motoring press but the design seemed to lack some of the previous Jaguar style. Twelve years later in 1997 came the XK8 a beautifully designed sports car reminiscent of the stylish E Type launched some thirty-six years earlier.

In 1966 Sir William Lyons, who had been knighted for his services to industry, was negotiating with BMC. Both BMC and Leyland had shown a keen interest in buying Jaguar. The fact that there was serious competition to buy Jaguar, very much strengthened William Lyons’ hand in his negotiations with BMC. The sale went through and Lyons got everything he wanted; Jaguar would remain autonomous and Sir William Lyons had a seat on the board of the newly formed BMH.

Jaguar became part the British Leyland Corporation in 1968; William Lyons retained a seat on the board and he continued to fight for Jaguar. British Leyland was a very large organisation, which was in turmoil and the situation took a turn for the worse for Jaguar when Sir William Lyons retired in 1972, the company seemed to lose its way. Jaguar Cars ltd became British Leyland Exports ltd. Morale amongst the workforce deteriorated and build quality started to suffer. In 1975 British Leyland became bankrupt and was nationalised by the then Labour government.

Jaguar was then in the hands of Bob Knight a loyal Jaguar man, who was determined to turn the company around. Jaguar reputation for poor reliability was becoming well known and sales were dropping. Knight was convinced that a lot of the company’s quality problems were as a result of outside suppliers supplying components that were of poor quality and subsequently failing, making Jaguar cars look bad in the eyes of the public.

John Egan replaced Bob Knight in 1980 with the aim to carry on the struggle of getting Jaguar back to profitability. Now know as BL, it’s boss Michael Edwards realized that Jaguar needed more independence, which he gave to Egan. When Egan started his first day the workforce were out on strike. He could not really offer them anything concrete because he hadn’t had the chance to access the situation. Instead he asked them to have faith in him and work re-started. In 1981 sales only just managed to go over 13,000 cars.

Bob Knight first identified the problem of inferior components being supplied to Jaguar; Egan also quickly realized that Jaguar’s reputation was being damaged in part by their suppliers. When he made it conditional that the suppliers would pay for the cost of warranty work when their parts failed, the problem was soon solved. This was a big step forward in restoring Jaguar’s reputation

John Egan quickly spotted the problem first identified by Bob Knight; that poor quality components were being supplied by outside companies. Egan very cleverly made it a condition of supplying Jaguar with components, that the third party would be responsible to Jaguar, for the warranty costs if their parts failed. This focused the minds of the suppliers and quality quickly improved.

The company was renamed in 1982 and once again became Jaguar Cars ltd. The Thatcher government returned Jaguar to a private company in 1984 and it became Jaguar plc.

Whilst Land Rover did make some profits, Ford never really made money from Jaguar, in spite of the substantial sums it invested into the company. The ill-fated X Type was launched in 2001, designed to rival the 3 Series BMW but it was a break from the traditional Jaguar. With its Ford Mondeo components, it did little for Jaguar’s bottom line or reputation.

Some were worried when they learned of Jaguar’s sale to Tata, feeling that Jaguar should remain British, forgetting that Jaguar hasn’t been British since 1989.

There has been some comment that Jaguar, that represents everything that is British, has now fallen into foreign hands but Jaguar has been in foreign hands since 1989 and what is most important is that the company survives. It is very clear from the history of Jaguar, that it needs autonomy in order to succeed. Tata have made it clear that it does not intend to “meddle” with Jaguar and that it wants the Jaguar tradition to survive and prosper.

In 2006 of 30,000 Germans polled, the majority favoured Jaguar over the German produced Mercedes, BMW and Audi; Jaguar is also extremely popular in America. The XF model being hailed as a triumph and with contract hire and leasing companies, that are responsible for so many of the cars on the roads of Britain, placing significant orders for this model, there seems no reason why Jaguar will not be around for another 86 years.

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