Jaguar: A History of Grace and Pace
The famed British marque celebrates its 75th anniversary.
The maxims adopted by automobile manufacturers are an amusing byway of automotive history. They were intended to convey what we now call the brand image. A few well-chosen words could become instantly recognizable and memorable, forever associated with a particular marque. Famous examples in the United States were "Ask the Man Who Owns One" for Packard, and "Standard of the World" for Cadillac. In Britain, Rolls-Royce was "The Best Car in the World" and MG stood for "Safety Fast!" In present times, Audi's "Vorsprung durch Technik" is internationally recognized.
Jaguar, too, has had a number of similar mottos. The classic has to be "Grace... Space... Pace," which was used throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Today, we describe Jaguars simply as "Beautiful Fast Cars," which I suppose is a kind of postmodernist version of the original slogan, still containing synonyms for "Grace" and "Pace" -- I am not quite sure what happened to the "Space."
We trace the lineage of the Jaguar marque back almost ninety years, although the Jaguar name itself was adopted only in 1935, seventy-five years ago, which is the anniversary that we now celebrate in 2010. Of current automobile manufacturers, Jaguar is a comparative newcomer: many marques have been in existence for a hundred years or more. But Jaguar has managed to pack quite a lot into those seventy-five years!
Its origins were humble. In 1922, two young men, both keen motorcyclists, set up a small company in Blackpool on the northeastern coast of England and began to make motorcycle sidecars, a then common means of transport. The younger man was William Lyons, and legend has it that the company's founding date was September 4, 1922, his twenty-first birthday, as he had to reach that age legally to enter into a business partnership. He later became Sir William Lyons (1901-85), the founder who served the company for fifty years as chairman and chief executive.
Lyons was a born entrepreneur, and had a rare flair for styling. The early sidecars bore the name Swallow, and although successful, were not by any means the final goal for the young man's ambitions. Within a few years, he extended the Swallow company's activities to making coachwork on various automobile chassis, starting with the little Austin Seven in 1927. With its Swallow body this car became far more stylish, yet could still be sold at an affordable price. Its success made it desirable for Swallow to find bigger premises in the heartland of the British motor industry, so at the end of 1928, the entire operation was uprooted from Blackpool and moved down to Coventry.
The range was soon extended with Swallow coachwork on other chassis, most notably from the local Standard company. In 1931 Lyons concluded an agreement with Standard for this company to supply him with a new specially designed chassis that would be exclusive to the Swallow company. On this he designed a distinctive and stylish coupé body, which was launched at the London Motor Show in October 1931 as the six-cylinder S.S.I, together with a smaller four-cylinder companion model, the S.S.II. Historians still argue over how the acronym SS should be interpreted, but we may assume that it was derived from "Standard Swallow."
In addition to their distinctive and stylish design, the two new cars offered good performance and sold at very reasonable prices. They were successful from the start; annual production increased from a modest 775 cars in the first year to 2,000 in 1934. The range was extended with a variety of other body styles, and engines were improved. Some were exported, and a small number even found their way to the United States. S.S.I tourers performed well in the 1934 Alpine Trial, and in 1935 a short-chassis sports car version, the S.S.90, was built in small numbers.
Lyons always wanted to improve his cars; his ambition was ultimately to build one of the finest luxury cars in the world. The S.S. cars still used conventional side-valve Standard engines, but Lyons commissioned a new overhead-valve six-cylinder engine, which from the same capacity gave 50 percent more power. This new engine was installed in a new chassis, and fitted with the first four-door sedan body made by S.S. Lyons felt his new model deserved a new name, and he personally selected "Jaguar" from a list drawn up by his advertising people. On September 23, 1935, the new car was duly launched to the press in London, as the SS Jaguar.
The SS Jaguar certainly embodied the Grace, the Space and not least the Pace, with a top speed well over 85 mph. A short-chassis sports car version, the SS Jaguar 100, also lived up to the maxim, with a top speed in 3.5-liter form of just over the magic 100 mph, yet it cost only £445. Although this was a limited-production model, with just 309 cars made, it had an impact with wins in the British RAC Rally. By 1939, annual production of SS Jaguars had grown to 5,000 cars, with three different sizes of engines, mostly sedans but also convertibles.
Then the company had to turn to other activities, contributing to Britain's war effort. Sidecars were still being manufactured, right up to 1945, but the company also became involved with aircraft and made the center section of the fuselage for the Gloster Meteor, Britain's first jet-engined fighter plane, which went into service with the Royal Air Force in 1945. The factory escaped the worst of the bombing that had devastated Coventry in 1940.
At the end of the Second World War, management decided to change the name of the company and the cars simply to Jaguar, since the initials SS had become infamous in another context. The first postwar cars were little changed but the sports car was no longer produced. Exports were now far more important for the British motor industry, and Jaguar began to build up an international dealer network. In the United States eventually two main agents were appointed, Max Hoffmann in New York, and "Chuck" Hornburg in Los Angeles. The cars began to find favor with a Hollywood clientele; Clark Gable bought his first Jaguar in 1948.