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A brief history of Jaguar cars

Aug 10, 2008
The new Jaguar XF was voted by What Car magazine, car of the year 2008 and quite deservedly so. Contract hire and leasing companies are seeing a strong demand for the vehicle. It seems strange that a vehicle so beautiful and technologically advanced should have its beginnings with a motorcycle sidecar manufacturer; during 1922 two keen motorcyclists William Lyons and William Walmsley formed the Swallow Sidecar Company and stared manufacturing aluminium sidecars. Of the two William Lyons was the driving force behind the company.

During this period and right through to the 1960's motorcycle sidecars were very popular; many people could not afford to buy a car so a motorcycle was usually the answer. However as motorcycle owners got married and had children they wanted to be able to go out on day trips as a family, so they would purchase and permanently attach a sidecar to their motorcycle. The sidecar would accommodate their wife and children, or their wife would ride pillion and the children would sit, reasonably well protected from the elements, in the sidecar. Sidecars were big business and the Swallow Sidecar Company had some of the most attractive designs on the market.

The company's next venture was building car bodies for other motor manufacturers; they built the body for the Austin 7, which was very popular. This prompted them to change the company's name and became The Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company. They also moved premises from Blackpool, to the heart of the British motor industry, Coventry. Their high quality work had started to become recognized and they were in demand to build car bodies for other manufacturers.

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.

In keeping with the company's move into car production the company name was changed to SS Cars in 1933, not long after this William Walmsley resigned. The SS1 Tourer was launched, followed in the mid 1930's by the sporty SS90, costing less than 400. Then came the 2,663 cc, twin carburettor SS100, for its day it was very fast. However a 3,845 cc version was launched and shown at the 1938 Motor Show. It never properly went into production because the Second World War started soon after.

Normal production stopped during the war as it did for all motor manufacturers. Both German and British motor manufacturers switched their production to military vehicles. Because of it's concentration of manufacturing industry, Coventry was heavily bombed by the Germans. Equally Volkswagen BMW and Mercedes were prime targets for the allied forces.

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 XK120 was first shown at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1948. So called because that was the top speed of the car, very fast indeed for it's day. At the time there was nothing that could match its speed and excellent road holding. It was however the design that made it so breathtaking, a design that even today is so admired, an open sports car with wire wheels often seen with a leather strap over the bonnet. Men dreamed of owning one, girls dreamed of being driven around in one. It became know, perhaps a little unfairly, as the cad's car; with images of a rather unchivalrous Terry Thomas type character behind the wheel.

Jaguar enjoyed enormous success in the 50's; it saw the launch of the Mark V11 it was a large impressive car that enjoyed motor racing success. Britain's Mike Hawthorn, the country's first Formula 1 driver raced the car, as did Stirling Moss. The 1956 Monte Carlo Rally was won by a Mark V11. 1954 saw the introduction of the XK 140; it had new features such as rack and pinion steering and a rear seat suitable for small children. It is debatable whether the typical buyer had small children in mind when buying an XK140. Next came the XK150 this model had disc brakes. Jaguar launched the Mark 1, the Mark 11 and the Mark 1X.

The Mark 11 came out in 1959 and proved to be an extremely popular car with successful business people but also became associated with the criminal world; successful criminals tended to favour the Mark 11 Jaguar. It also became a target for car thieves; they were often then used as getaway cars for bank and jewellery robberies. Later the police bought a number of them and modified the engines so they could keep up. A Jaguar Mark 11 was sold at a Florida auction in February 2008 for $75,900 USD.

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.

In 1968 Jaguar launched the XJ6, between 68 and 73 they manufactured nearly 100,000. The series 11 was launched and in one form or another, the XJ continued in production for many years. It proved to be an ideal car for the owner to either drive him or herself or be chauffer driven, it was neither two large or too small for either option. William Lyons finally retired from the company in 1972.

The XJS was produced from 1975 until 1996. The design appeared to fall short of what had become expected of Jaguar it nevertheless was very well received by the motoring press. Jaguar appeared to be back on track when they launched the XK8 in 1997. Its design was sleek and elegant and reminded some of the wonderful E Type launched 36 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.

In 1968 when Jaguar became a division of British Leyland, Sir William continued to fight Jaguar's corner but the company was in chaos. Jaguar's workforce were demoralised further in 1972 when Sir William retired. Inevitably build quality suffered. British Leyland Exports became the new name for the company that had previously been Jaguar Cars ltd and morale plunged even further. After British Leyland's bankruptcy in 1975 the Labour government nationalised the company.

Jaguar was then run by Bob Knight, very much a Jaguar man who was determined to reverse Jaguar's poor reputation. There was no doubt that the employees' low morale was causing the quality to suffer but Knight felt that outside suppliers were taking advantage of the situation and supplying inferior components. Jaguar were becoming know as a car to steer clear of, unless you had very deep pockets; there were no three year warranties in those days.

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.

The problem that was first recognised by Bob Knight; outside companies supplying poor quality components to Jaguar, was one of the first areas tackled by Egan; supplying Jaguar with components became conditional on the supplier taking responsibility for the reliability of their components and having to cover the cost of the replacement warranty work if they failed. Perhaps not surprisingly, quality improved very quickly.

The company and had survived and was secure once more, John Egan was chief executive. Jaguar was bought by Ford in 1989 paying $2.5 billion a very large investment indeed and in the following year invested many more billions into the two companies they had bought; Jaguar and Land Rover.

Jaguar never made money for Ford, Land Rover on the other hand did make a profit. 2001 saw the launch of the X Type, which was pretty much a disaster; it had Ford Mondeo components and a real image problem. It was intended to compete with the BMW three series market but became a favourite amongst retirees; it was not good for Jaguar's reputation.

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.

Ford had problems of its own and needed to concentrate on their own core business, Jaguar was eventually put up for sale along with Land Rover. Ford had sold most of its stake in Aston Martin in 2007 and in March 2008 both Jaguar and Land Rover were sold to Tata the Indian motor manufacturer for $2.3 billion. It must have been a bitter pill for Ford to swallow, made even more bitter, by having to find a further $600 million to make up the shortfall in the two companies' pension funds. Furthermore Ford will miss out on the success of the new XF model.

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.

30,000 Germans were polled in 2006, this revealed that the majority of Germans preferred Jaguar to Mercedes, Audi and BMW. The new XF has been an enormous success and contract hire and leasing companies are placing large orders for the car. After all it's ups and downs Jaguar seems to be as strongly placed as it has ever been.
About the Author
For more information about contract hire, lease purchase, finance lease or vehicle hire purchase in the UK please contact Bowater Price plc 01494 536 536.
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