Birth of a Legend
William Lyons’ original vision was to build motorcycle sidecars. To this end, he set up the Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922. By 1927, however, he’d moved on to cars.
In 1931, he launched what would be the first of many legendary vehicles: the SS1. And as his cars improved, he needed a name that would better reflect their speed, sleekness and raw power. In 1935, Jaguar was born.
During World War II, whilst concentrating primarily on the manufacture of sidecars for military use, the company also learned about aircraft design and production techniques. When Jaguar subsequently introduced its new XK120 at the 1948 Motor Show – with an engine output of an unprecedented 160 BHP – it was destined to become one of the greatest sports cars of all time. The Mark VII saloon was unveiled at the 1950 Motor Show and once again Lyons ‘stole the show’.
Jaguar now had a fine reputation, a superb large saloon and a very fine sports car, but it needed a high-volume smaller car. In 1955, the company invested £1 million on designing and developing the Jaguar 2.4 to fill the gap.
A RACING PEDIGREE
After an exploratory trip to Le Mans in 1950, it was realised that Jaguar had the makings of a successful competition car. Consequently Lyons was persuaded that a car should be produced solely with racing in mind. Hence the XK120C was born or, as the car is more generally known, the C-type. Three C-types were finished just in time for Le Mans in 1951. The Jaguars were an unknown quantity, yet the C-type driven by Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead recorded a remarkable victory on its racing debut.
Meanwhile, Jaguar engineers had been working in conjunction with Dunlop on a new development, the disc brake. This was to be Jaguar’s secret weapon upon their return to Le Mans in 1953. With their fade-free brakes the C-types could decelerate at the end of the three and a half mile Mulsanne Straight from speeds of around 150 mph, with complete confidence, and they could leave their braking far later than their rivals. The result was a complete walkover – the Jaguars finishing first, second and fourth. If further proof were needed that Jaguar was now a world force and the XK engine a world beater, then the emphatic Le Mans triumph of ’53, against one of the strongest fields any race had ever seen, provided it. By the end of the decade, Jaguar C-types, and the D-types that followed, had achieved a total of five victories at Le Mans.
THE E-TYPE AND BEYOND
By the 1960s, Jaguar needed to make another quantum leap forward. The E-type, announced in 1961, was just that. Like the XK120 in 1948, it was an absolute sensation, perfectly capturing the spirit of its time. A true automotive icon, and arguably the most famous sports car of all time, some 70,000 Jaguar E-types were built over the next 13 years – with around 60% being shipped to the United States.
In 1968, the XJ6 arrived. It was without question the finest Jaguar saloon yet and met with instant praise. First and foremost, the shape was another Lyons masterpiece. In an era when cars were starting to lose their character, the Jaguar strongly retained its identity.
In 1972, aged 71, Sir William Lyons retired.
1975 saw the launch of the XJ-S, a sports car with saloon-car refinement, which would prove popular well into the eighties.
During the decade that followed, Jaguar competed in the US IMSA, the European Touring Car Championships and the World Championships. In 1988, the company added another Le Mans victory to the five achieved in the fifties. Two years later, the fortieth anniversary of its first Le Mans appearance, saw Jaguar claim both first and second place – its seventh win at Le Mans.
NEW MILLENNIUM, AGE-OLD VALUES
The nineties saw the introduction of the XK8, the XKR sports coupés and convertibles and the mid-sized S-TYPE sports saloon, making up Jaguar’s widest ever range.
In February 2001, the X-TYPE became the highlight of the Geneva International Motor Show. The following year, the XJ, with its revolutionary aluminium body, was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show. Then came the XF; the first sporting saloon to emerge from the philosophy of building beautiful, fast cars. The next chapter is beginning right now - with the reimagining of the iconic XJ.
Today, as in the past, Jaguar cars result from a unique objective, best articulated by the marque's charismatic founder: to be "the closest thing we can create to something that is alive."
SEE JAGUAR'S LEGENDARY PEDIGREE FOR YOURSELF AT THE JAGUAR HERITAGE MUSEUM
You can see many of the cars that made Jaguar famous at the Jaguar Heritage Museum in Coventry. With around 160 exhibits and an archive containing thousands of images and documents dating back to the very beginnings of the company, there’s no better way to see Jaguar’s history first hand.
VISIT JAGUAR HERITAGE WEBSITE