Jaguar cars have long been synonymous with sporting luxury and speed. Yet the company, despite its many successes, has had a turbulent time over the years since the launch of the Jaguar brand in 1935.
Born In Blackpool
The first foundations of the company were laid in Blackpool, where William Lyons met William Walmsley. Walmsley built sidecars which he fixed to reconditioned motorbikes and sold on - Lyons spotted an opportunity for profit. Together they formed the Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922, and began producing sidecars from their small base.
Lyons rapidly expanded the business during the 1920s. It began creating bespoke bodywork to sit on an existing vehicle's chassis and running gear. Named Swallow Bodies after the company, they were produced for a number of mass-produced cars, including the famous Austin Seven, and were popular. As the business grew, Lyons and Walmsley moved the company to Coventry, which at that time was the centre of Britain's automotive industry. The company continued making bespoke bodies for existing vehicles until 1931, when Lyons established a partnership with the automotive manufacturer Standard.
This partnership led to the creation of the SS I and SS II coupé car models, and over the next few years several iterations were produced, including the SS 90. By late 1934 42-year-old Walmsley had lost interest in the business and he left it totally in Lyons' control.
Lyons was unfazed by his partner's leaving, and carried on the development of the four-door SS. The company's advertising agency of the time felt that this vehicle looked so different from Swallow’s previous efforts that an entirely new name was required, and suggested 'Jaguar'. Lyons initially didn’t like the idea, but was persuaded, and so the SS Jaguar was launched in 1935.
The iconic SS 100 was launched in 1936; a revised SS 90, it was used in races and hillclimb events all over the world. When fitted with a revised 3.5 litre engine, it had true sports car performance for its day; 0-60mph (96.5kmh) was reached in a still-respectable 10.5 seconds and it had a top speed of over 100mph (161kmh). For the Motor Show in 1938, Lyons had designed a fixed-head1 coupé body for the SS 100. However, only one of these made it off the production line before the Second World War called a halt to vehicle production.
The War Years and Afterwards
The company became highly involved with the war effort, along with many other manufacturing firms, automotive and otherwise. It increased production of sidecars, and diversified into aircraft and fabrication work, building parts for the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bomber2 among others.
Despite Coventry suffering heavy bombardment during the war, the company's sites escaped relatively unscathed. Production of the largely unchanged pre-war range restarted; however, the SS name was dropped due to the unfortunate wartime connotations. The company was renamed Jaguar Cars in 1945. The sidecar business was sold off, and the company began exporting vehicles to the USA. Development of new vehicles restarted. The Mark V range was launched in 1948, but the main thrust of Jaguar's efforts was focussed on its ground-breaking sports car, the XK120.
The XK120 - The Fastest Production Car in the World
Initially intended to be a limited production model purely to generate publicity, the XK120 was a massive hit when launched at the 1948 London Motor Show. The name came from the car's top speed, which made it the fastest production car in the world at that time. In the face of open scepticism, Jaguar took over a section of dual carriageway at Jabbeke in Belgium for a demonstration. A standard XK120 reached 126mph, and an astonishing 133mph with the windscreen folded down, proving it deserved its name. Demand for the vehicle rocketed, and any plans to limit production were dropped.
Three XK120s were taken to France for the famous Le Mans 24-hour race in 1950 to see how they would fare against international competition; a top three placing was lost after 21 hours when the lead XK120 suffered from clutch problems and had to drop out.
The Mark VII saloon was launched at the 1950 Motor Show. It was large by European standards, although it was fast as well as luxurious. So many orders were taken after launch that Jaguar needed a larger factory - in 1951-2 the company moved to a site at Browns Lane in Coventry, which from that day onwards would be thought of as its spiritual home.
Meanwhile, a group of engineers were working to improve the XK120's aerodynamics and weight in order to develop a highly competitive race car. This car was the XK120C, more popularly known as the C-Type.
Victory at Le Mans - the Start of an Era
Three C-Types were entered into the 1951 Le Mans race. Despite Ferrari being the favourite to win, the C-Types stormed off into the lead, with Stirling Moss managing to set a new lap record in one of the cars. The car driven by Moss and the second car suffered an oil pipe failure and had to drop out of the race, but Peter Walker in the third and final C-Type hung on and won for Jaguar first time out.
Returning to Le Mans in 1952 wasn't so fruitful. In response to rumours about the Mercedes-Benz car's straight-line speed, Jaguar had hurriedly strapped more streamlined bodies to the C-Types without testing them at sustained high speed. This hasty modification led to all three C-Types retiring from the race early with overheating problems.
Jaguar worked hard to ensure their entry to Le Mans in 1953 was more successful, and took first, second and fourth place. Stirling Moss's car came second; the winning car was driven by amateur3 drivers Major Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton.
In 1954 the D-Type was developed, but despite the high hopes for another victory at Le Mans, the D-Types finished one minute and 45 seconds after the winning Ferrari.
Meanwhile, Jaguar spent £1 million, a massive sum in 1955, on designing and developing a small yet high performing saloon. This new model was powered by a 2.4 litre engine, giving it the name of the Jaguar 2.4.
Jaguar entered Le Mans with a revised D-Type in 1955. British Formula One driver Mike Hawthorn replaced Moss, who had moved to Mercedes-Benz. This race was marred by tragedy when a Mercedes-Benz crashed into the crowd and killed a number of spectators, but the race continued. Hawthorn for Jaguar and Juan Manuel Fangio4 for Mercedes-Benz were fighting for the win until the remaining Mercedes-Benz cars were all withdrawn, granting Hawthorn and Jaguar a hollow victory.
Jaguar's other vehicles were showing sporting prowess, too. In 1956 Ronnie Adams topped off a number of competition wins in a Mark VII with a victory in the Monte Carlo Rally. During that year's Le Mans, the three main Jaguar-backed cars crashed out, leaving the privately-run Ecurie Ecosse D-Type to grab victory. This still meant Jaguar made history as the first manufacturer to ever win both Le Mans and the Monte Carlo Rally in the same year.
Lyons was knighted in the New Year Honours List of 1956, making him Sir William Lyons.
The XK-SS was also launched. Effectively a road-legal D-Type, it was intended to use up surplus D-Type parts as the D-Type wasn't selling well. Production was abruptly halted after only 16 had been made due to a massive fire at the Browns Lane plant. The fire destroyed most of the tooling for the D-Type and XK-SS, and almost wrecked the launch of a 3.4 litre version of the Jaguar 2.4 saloon. Luckily, a lot of the plant and parts were salvageable, and the plant was rebuilt.
Growth and Mergers
Struggling to keep their record on the track and develop new vehicles at the same time, Jaguar officially pulled out of motorsport as 1956 ended. Despite this, five privately-run D-Types entered the 1957 Le Mans race, finishing first, second, third, fourth and sixth.
In 1958 a roadster version of the XK-SS joined the line-up - the Mark IX was launched as a successor to the Mark VIII. While the cars looked virtually identical, the new car had a larger 3.8 litre engine and disc brakes, along with power steering. The smaller Jaguars were updated during 1959 and the Mark II was launched. The Mark II is possibly one of the most famous Jaguars in the world as it featured extensively on television in the 1990s as Inspector Morse's car. Perhaps paradoxically, during the 1960s it was also the stereotypical 'getaway motor' for robbers and other criminals after committing dastardly deeds.
Meanwhile, Britain's motor industry began its transition towards becoming the massive industrial behemoth of the 1970s; while Austin and Morris had merged during the 1950s to create the British Motor Corporation (BMC), Jaguar bought Daimler in 1960.
Birth of a Legend - The E-Type
The E-Type, known as the XK-E in the USA, was launched in coupé and cabriolet form at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. It was beautiful, technologically advanced, and fast; the 3.8 litre triple carburettor engine produced 265bhp, a top speed of 150mph was possible and 0-60mph was reached in 6.9 seconds - impressive even today. Bought by such celebrities as footballer George Best and The Beatles' star George Harrison, the E-Type came to be one of the vehicles that typified the 1960s, as well as being one of the most iconic Jaguars ever.
Private teams entered three E-Types in the 1962 Le Mans; one retired but the remaining two vehicles picked up fourth and fifth places. Spurred on by this, Jaguar developed a special lightweight racing version of the E-Type. Only 12 Lightweight E vehicles were ever built; with an all-aluminium monocoque5 body, aluminium engine block with a dry sump, stiffened suspension, and wider wheels than the standard E-Type. Three of them were taken to Le Mans in 1963; two failed to finish and the other managed ninth.
The S-Type saloon was launched in 1963. A compromise between the Mark II and Mark X in shape, it was offered with the 3.4 litre and 3.8 litre engines.
1966 saw two launches for Jaguar; the E-Type 2+2 and the 420G. The E-Type 2+2 was effectively a lengthened E-Type with two small seats added in the rear; although the extra weight did slow it down a little, it was a reasonable success in the USA. The 420G was a large car; it resembled a revised S-Type with a Mark X front end, but had a 4.2 litre engine. The Mark II developed into the 240 and 340, and the 3.8 litre engine was dropped completely. By this time, Jaguar's exports since the war totalled £200 million - an astonishing sum.
The XJ13 – a Racer That Never Was
During the early 1960s, competition success was still on the minds of several Jaguar engineers, and it was realised that if Jaguar was to remain competitive in sports car racing, a new, larger, engine was needed. Plans were drawn up for a mid-engined racing car and a new, quad camshaft, 5 litre V12 engine to power it. A prototype of this vehicle, known as the XJ13, was built in 1966. However, Lyons felt that any positive publicity that could be gained by winning with this car would be more than offset by the negative publicity that any failures would generate, and so the XJ13 never saw racing in anger. More detail can be found at this enthusiast's website.
Mergers and More Mergers
By this time, the British motor industry was undergoing many changes as industry magnates desperately tried to keep Britain competitive while the German, Japanese and American motor industries all prospered and grew. Lyons oversaw the 1967 merger with British Motor Corporation and Rover, which created British Motor Holdings, and then the merger in 1968 with Leyland Motor Corporation to create British Leyland.
Sir William Lyons made sure that he retained overall control of Jaguar, and fought hard to keep it an autonomous entity within the British Leyland empire, even managing to get himself into the Deputy Chairman's role. Despite this, the Machiavellian restructurings and power games behind the scenes contrived to keep Jaguar in a minority role within British Leyland.
As British Leyland began restructuring the model ranges of all its brands, the Jaguar range was simplified and updated. The XJ6 executive saloon was launched in 1968 in 2.8 litre and 4.2 litre form and was recognised as a beautiful car which rode and handled brilliantly. All the other saloon models ceased production with the exception of the 420G, which continued for another year.
The E-Type continued in production, although safety regulations and emissions controls in the United States reduced its once-legendary speed. Looking for a new engine to address this, Jaguar engineers began re-examining the V12 that had been planned for the stillborn XJ13. Several alterations were made to the design; the quad camshaft was dropped in favour of a simpler single camshaft arrangement, and the engine block was made of aluminium to save weight.
This 5.3 litre V12 was first fitted into the E-Type during 1971, and made its debut in the XJ saloon in 1972, creating the refined and swift XJ12; 0-60mph was achievable in just 7.4 seconds, and the top speed was just under 140mph. Jaguar could comfortably claim at the time that the XJ12 was the fastest production four-seater car in the world.
Daimler versions of the XJ series were produced; however, they were mechanically identical to their Jaguar twins, and the only cosmetic difference was the Daimler signature fluted grille. Some criticism of the XJ's rear legroom had been made, so in 1972 a longer wheelbase Vanden Plas Daimler Double Six was launched - effectively it was a rebadged and lengthened XJ12. Shortly afterwards this long wheelbase body was also launched for the Jaguar XJ6 and XJ12.
New Leadership, New Era
Sir William Lyons, arguably the main force behind Jaguar, retired in 1972 aged 71, but the company continued. The facelifted Series II XJ was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1973, along with the all new XJ Coupé, in XJ6C and XJ12C form. Essentially a shortened XJ, it had just two doors and no window frames; with the door windows and rear quarter windows lowered, the vehicle had a 'pillarless' look.
A pair of XJ12Cs were prepared and raced by Broadspeed for British Leyland to compete in the European Touring Car Championship during 1976; despite using the best drivers at the time, such as Derek Bell, the cars weren't very successful and pulled out the following year. Sales were also not very successful, so production of the XJ Coupés stopped in 1977.
The E-Type had ceased production as 1974 drew to a close, after 13 years of continuous production. More than 70,000 had been built, and roughly 60% of those had been shipped to America. This fact meant that Jaguar kept American legislation and requirements in mind throughout the development of the E-Type's successor, which made it more of a Grand Tourer6 than an out-and-out sports car.
The XJ-S coupé was launched in 1975. Its modern styling bore little resemblance to any Jaguars that had gone before, and it caused some comment; far removed from the simple lines of the E-Type, it was a juxtaposition of angles, slots and curves. Its performance was unquestioned, though; the V12 propelled it from 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds, and its top speed was 150mph. Jaguar had worked hard to give the XJ-S the same refinement as the XJ saloons, from which most of the engineering was carried over.
Unfortunately, it was launched in the wake of the oil crisis, which shrank the already-small market for 5.3 litre V12 coupés. The XJ-S rapidly gained a reputation as a thirsty machine, despite its impressive pace; Motor Magazine recorded 13.5mpg during its test. The XJ-S was a heavy car and, despite best efforts, the V12 was a heavy engine. Rival coupés such as the cheaper BMW M635CSi and more expensive Porsche 928 were almost as fast, and could manage 17-18mpg. Yet against the odds, the XJ-S still sold in sufficient quantities for Jaguar to keep making it.
Jaguar's parent company, British Leyland, was struggling and losing vast amounts of money, so much so that in 1975, British Leyland was effectively nationalised and taken over by the then Labour government. Massive restructuring of the whole of the British Leyland business followed, ostensibly to save money and keep British Leyland and its brands competitive.
There was some speculation about the role a certain Geoffrey Robinson7 would play in the revised management structure. Robinson had joined British Leyland in 1971 as a Financial Controller, and was sent to work at the Italy-based Innocenti division of British Leyland in 1972. By 1973, Robinson had risen within the company to become Chief Executive of Jaguar so he should have been well placed to continue after the restructure. However, his suggestion to expand production during the 1973 energy crisis meant his judgement was called into question, and rumoured financial irregularities at Innocenti meant that he was asked to resign from his role.
However, the Engineering Director, Bob Knight, refused to allow Jaguar to lose its identity. The workforce at Browns Lane was becoming increasingly demoralised, so Knight formed an 'Operations Committee'. Nominally this was formed to smooth the running of Jaguar and to increase efficiency; however, it was effectively used to continue to run the company as a separate entity. Knight refused to report to anyone other than Derek Whittaker, the Chief Executive of British Leyland, even though the 'Operations Committee' was technically not allowed to function.
Jaguar's quality had begun to suffer under British Leyland; at best the build quality could be described as variable, due in part to the demotivated and demoralised workforce at Browns Lane, and in part to various issues with suppliers. Jaguar began to lose some of its reputation for producing excellent cars, and as a result, sales dropped from a high of 32,589 in 1971, to 23,688 in 1977.
The Series III XJ6, launched in 1979, did much to improve Jaguar's image. Despite it not being a tremendous technological advance over the previous model, its Pininfarina-styled roofline and other flairs gave the impression that this was an invigorated car.
When Michael Edwardes took control of British Leyland in 1977, he began instigating a number of management changes which restored the autonomy Jaguar wanted. Initially, British Leyland car manufacturing was split into two groups: the mass-market brands of Austin-Morris, including MG; and the premium brands of Jaguar, Rover and Triumph However, this structure only lasted until 1979 before more reshuffles within the company muddied the waters again.
During 1980, Edwardes finally gave Jaguar complete marketing and product development independence from the rest of the British Leyland empire, and John Egan was headhunted to take over as Chairman. Egan's initial aim was to improve quality, which was some challenge given the ever increasing scrutiny of the now Conservative government and a workforce that was still demoralised and militant; when Egan started at Jaguar, the workers were on strike regarding grading and conditions. He managed to resolve this by negotiating a compromise, and began to give the workers back some pride in the company by reinstating the Jaguar flags and 'leaping cat' statues at Browns Lane.
As Jaguar sales slipped to a new low of 13,360 cars in 1981, Egan began his real drive for quality; he instigated a market research programme that asked not only Jaguar customers and potential Jaguar customers, but also BMW and Mercedes-Benz owners, about why they bought their cars and what made them so loyal to the brands. These findings were fed straight into the development of all future vehicles.
These changes began to have an effect, and Jaguar made a profit in 1982, for the first time since becoming part of British Leyland in 1968. In October 1982, the company was renamed Jaguar Cars Limited, and it became clear that separation from British Leyland was not far away.
In 1983, the AJ6 engine was introduced, replacing the previous engine in the XJ-S. The XJ-S was also made available in cabriolet form. The car was having a resurgence in popularity, and the new engine and body shape helped this along.
1984 - Separate From British Leyland
Much to the Government's relief, given the torrid time the rest of British Leyland was having, Jaguar was privatised in 1984. Despite some board members of British Leyland wishing to retain a 20% stake in the company, the Government refused this, reasoning that Jaguar would be much more attractive to investors if it were completely severed from the parent company. In August 1984, Jaguar PLC was formed, and its flotation on the London Stock Exchange was a resounding success.
Egan remained as Chief Executive of the company, and was knighted after the privatisation as a reward for all the work he put into turning it around. Sir William Lyons passed away in 1985, having lived long enough to see his company return to profitability.
Meanwhile, development had been taking place on the Series III XJ saloon replacement, and in 1986 a new version of the XJ6, codenamed XJ40, was launched. Still recognisable in shape, it was offered with 3.6 litre or 2.9 litre engines.
1987 was a good year for the firm. A modified XJR-8 won eight out of ten races so Jaguar became World Champions at the Nurburgring.
Another New Era
In 1990, Jaguar was bought by Ford and William Hayden was appointed Chairman. Job losses occurred, and the ranges were again simplified - the Series III was discontinued in 1992, after Nick Scheele had become Chairman. However, there was still success in sports car racing - XJR-12's won at Le Mans and Daytona in 1990, and an XJR-14 won at Le Mans in 1991 when Jaguar cars took all three podium places. The sleek supercar XJ220 was released in 1991 - only 350 were made. The XJ-R, blending classic and modern design, was launched in 1994, and the XJ-S was discontinued to make way for the XK8, a model that blended E-Type sportiness with XJ220 sleekness.
The S-Type saloon went into production in 1999 and a Formula One car was also developed. Wolfgang Reitzle took over as Chairman as the firm continued into the 21st Century.
21st Century Concepts
The year 2000 saw the release of the F-Type concept car, and the new X-Type series went into production in 2001, at Ford's Halewood factory on Merseyside. Other new developments in the 2000s were diesel engines and an estate version of the X-Type. Eddie Irvine steered the Formula One car to a third place finish in 2001, but the amount of money invested did not yield enough results so the programme was discontinued in 2004. Another great loss was the closure of the Coventry factory the following year as supply had outstripped demand.
The Jaguar part of Ford's portfolio did not make a profit, so Ford decided to sell the brand. Tata Motors bought Jaguar in 2008 along with Daimler and Land Rover, plus they obtained the rights to Lanchester, the name of a company that was absorbed into Daimler in 1955, and Rover, a name that was bought by Ford in 2006 after the MG Rover company had gone into liquidation.
There was again a period of turbulence as job losses resulted from efforts to regain profitability. Since then, however, as part of the Jaguar Land Rover Ltd subsidiary of Tata, the Jaguar brand has been able to continue producing a variety of cars blending luxury, performance and technology.