The makings of British royalty
An inimitable automobile, Jaguar is synonymous with sleek style. Those not intimately familiar with the auto house’s history might be surprised to discover that the company got its start manufacturing motorcycle sidecars, a somewhat less stylish type of travel.
Originally launched in 1922 by motorcycle enthusiasts William Lyons and William Walmsley, the two abandoned the sidecar business after a few years to shift their focus to cars. In its first iteration, the company was called the Swallow Sidecar Company, and nodded to this original name by dubbing themselves SS Cars Ltd. when they began designing cars. Under this name, they fashioned car bodies for companies such as Fiat, and by 1931, had joined forces with Standard Motor Company to begin work on the SS 1, their first car.
This comparatively quite affordable first model ran on a 2.0-liter six-cylinder side-valve engine. The iconic name of Jaguar soon followed — in an effort to distance themselves from the German Nazi SS, the automakers rebranded themselves once again as the now familiar Jaguar. With the war upon them, Jaguar did briefly return to sidecar production for the military, but continued to engineer cars as well. The XK120 was a product of this time period — a twin-cam straight-six engine accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in under five seconds.
In the 1950s, Jaguar made a name for itself with racing success, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours race five times in that decade — the first two with a C-type, the latter three with a D-type. The following decade, they launched the legendary E-type, still a lust-worthy classic sports car with clean lines and a powerhouse of an engine. When released, Enzo Ferrari reportedly dubbed it the most beautiful car ever made.
The auto house’s initial forays into sedans was less successful with an underwhelming response to the MK VII line, though the MK II, a smaller sedan, became Jaguar’s second bestselling car of the time. Despite the achievements of the 50s and 60s, when William Lyons retired in 1972, the company began to head towards bankruptcy. The company changed hands several times over the next few years in repeated efforts to salvage it, and was eventually purchased by Ford in 1989.
Although Ford’s purchase allowed the Jaguar name to continue, the union never made a profit. In 2000, Ford united Jaguar and Land Rover to form a powerhouse of two iconic British car brands, a linkage that enabled the two companies to share facilities and engineering mastery. In 2009, Jaguar and Land Rover were sold to Tata Motors, the largest automobile manufacturer in India, and joined to create one company under the name of Jaguar Land Rover in 2013.
This union has ushered in an era of profit and progress, and Jaguar continues to create cars that embody the automaker’s early ideals of luxury and performance.