The Jaguar brand was born in 1935 in Coventry, England, from the passion of William Lyon, an engineer that had worked for Crossley Motors as a teenager and then went on, in a joint effort with William Walmsley, to establish Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922 where they manufactured and sold sidecars.
By 1928, the company began to produce coachwork for chassis provided by Fiat, Austin, and Alvis and was renamed to Swallow Sidecar and Coach Building Company. Working with other manufacturer's engine and chassis placed severe styling restrictions on Lyons, so he styled his own chassis and found a proven powerplant and began building an entire car. His "SS" product line offered four engine sizes, two chassis, and a choice of sport coupe, salon or touring coachwork.
The comfort in the SS car's interior design, the elegance of the car's body lines, and its reliable engine performance gained the company rave reviews in automotive publications of the day such as The Standard Car Review, The Autocar, The Motor, Motorsport, and The Motorist.
Even with the SS car's success, William Lyons felt it needed a better name that could capture the imagination of the motoring enthusiast and hired the Nelson advertising agency to create a new image for his automobiles. Although donning the car maker's name had worked for Porsche, Bentley, Bugatti and the like, Lyon decided on Jaguar.
The first Jaguar SS 100 was introduced in 1935 and the SS 1 and 2 product lines were dropped. Sales increased dramatically with the new name and by 1938 SS Cars, Ltd. was producing more than 5,000 Jaguars per year.
With the onset of World War II, Lyon's factories and plants were reconfigured for military use by the British government and the production of cars came to a standstill. The sidecar production side of the business was still active and it manufactured over 10,000 units for the British army's motor corps.
After the war, when the production cars could resume, it was their saloons and drophead coupes, later referred to as Mark IV's, were the first to come off the assembly line. Also, the management at SS Cars, Ltd thought it would be best to change its name to Jaguar Cars, Ltd. due to the negative connotation Germany had brought to the initials SS.
Jaguar's sports car production began with a new two-seater sports car, the XK 120, powered by an engine with hemispherical head and twin overhead camshafts; it debuted at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show in London to overwhelming success. The XK 120 was named simply to reflect the engine and its ability to reach 120mph. Subsequently the next generation was a XK 140 introduced in 1954 and the XK 150 in 1958, both receiving additional speed and creature comforts.
By the early 1950s Lyons was investing heavily to achieve success in motor racing which he believed would increase Jaguar's appeal to ordinary motorists. He hired Malcolm Sayer, a gifted design engineer in aviation to develop a competition model or C-Type racing car. The mathematical principles and aerodynamic testing techniques, including wind tunnel and smoke tests, that Sayer brought to Jaguar have been attributed to the C-Type's wins at Le Mans in 1951 and 1953.
The second racecar Sayer helped Jaguar develop, the D-Type, took three wins at LeMans in four years. But Jaguar's racing success was bittersweet for Lyon when his son died in a car crash on his way to the 1955 race in LeMans. The tragedy caused Lyons to withdraw from motor racing and only a limited number of productions of D-Types were sold to private racing enthusiasts.
Focusing on passenger cars, Lyons took Jaguar's very capable and reliable XK engines and put them into stylish salons to meet the demand of the newly prosperous industrialists. The 2.4 Mark 1 saloon was developed and introduced in 1955. A larger engined version became available in 1957, known as the 3.4 and by 1959 both versions were replaced with the Mark 2 and a third engine option, the 3.8 litre.
In the sixties, Jaguar Cars, Ltd. decided to expand by acquired various companies, including the purchase of Coventry Climax Engines, Ltd., a small but world-famous producer of racing and passenger car engines, and Daimler Company, Ltd., of Coventry.
In addition, Jaguar's popularity expanded with Malcom Sayer's new, sexy and sleek design on the E-Type sports car that was launched in 1961. The E-Type was a two-seater with a top speed of 150 mph and was half the price of an Aston Martin. Jaguar made 72,500 E-Types from 1961 to 1974.