It’s possible to believe that a simple desire to go fast has always played an important part in engineering progress.
If you consider Concorde, the master class brilliance of global supersonic travel, took engineers on an ever increasing spiral of design breakthroughs. During Concorde’s twenty year design process, engineers were faced with the necessity of manufacturing a supersonic aircraft that would take passengers into the upper stratosphere and then to safely bring them back down to their chosen destination. Why you might ask yourself? Was it the money they hoped to generate by getting passengers to their destinations more quickly? Was it because they expected that Supersonic travel would become the norm for the future and they wanted to be first?
Well principally yes to all of those, but the underlying theme of the design process was to go faster across the globe than any other airliner had ever been. Speed then was the key!
The Concorde design process began in May 1956 and although it took nearly twenty years to be launched, it was and is still, the fastest passenger plane ever to be produced. On 7th February 1996 twenty years to the day after its first maiden flight, Concorde flew from London to New York in 2hrs 59mins 58sec. It travelled above 60000ft and over 1356mph that’s twice the speed of sound, all while the planes passengers sipped on Champagne and eat truffles and caviar without even knowing they were all making history. Nearly twenty years on, such was Concorde’s success, that time still surpasses the latest offerings from either Airbus or Boeing beating the regular service to New York by some 2hrs 30mins. .
This philosophy and a passion to go faster than anyone else, is also mirrored within the automobile industry, in fact in the early 1950’s personnel from Rolls Royce, Hawker Sidley Aircraft and British Aero plane Company (BAC) often careered between these two industries such was the closeness in engineering practice.
Jaguar Cars, headed by William Lyons was such a company.
Sir William Lyons
Lyons born in 1901 hailed from England’s northern seaside town called Blackpool and at the age of nineteen after purchasing a hand crafted side car for his Norton motorcycle from next door neighbor William Walmsley, Lyons decided that each person could help one another and the two should go into business. A year later in 1922 the two men formed a partnership to build stylish sidecars for other motorcyclists; the business was run out of Walmsley’s parents personal garage in King Edward Avenue (which ironically is only one and half miles from one of the only remaining British car companies TVR).
The company called Swallow Sidecars produced beautiful slim-nosed bodywork and a lightweight design which offered the purchaser of an SS car more leg room for its passenger and more performance from the combination.
William Walmsley & The Swallow Sidecar
Austin 7 Swallow Cars
It was Walmsley who it is thought provided the necessary skill set and vision that carried Lyons well after their partnership dissolved in 1934.
By 1927, Swallow Sidecar had achieved much success, the company now moving away from bikes, started to both design and craft a more exciting hand formed body-shell onto the chassis of an Austin Seven.
By 1928 business was so successful Lyons convinced Walmsley that they should move from Blackpool a hundred miles south of the seaside town and down into the heart of England’s manufacturing hub, ‘Birmingham’. It was rumored that Walmsley hated the industrial city and craved for the water and close community of his hometown. However the move positioned them for more expansion and when Lyons persuaded ‘Standard Motor Company’ in Coventry to make engines, chassis and other components to Swallow’s specifications the company was well on its way to car production proper.
By 1931 Their ‘Foleshill’ factory in Coventry started to produce complete cars and Swallow’s first the SS90 used a big six cylinder engine but only pushed out a paltry 68hp. While the body was elegant and the car attracted lots of attention because it looked better than it went few purchasers came forward and only 23 were made. The SS100 came next and while similar in looks, now had performance to match. The engine now featured a specially designed cylinder head making it produce just over 100hp and more excitingly the car could now wrestle passed the magic ton… (100mph). The car was exhibited at the London Motor Show to rave review and orders came thick and fast, nearly 200 models were produced with a special even faster car with an experimental engine provided to Walmsley . The SS200 soon followed and albeit many suggest that Cyril Holland was commissioned to design this new body it seems unlikely, as the designs were already on the table for the three cars when Holland was brought on, so we can say these early cars where true Walmsley designs. Interestingly on first sight the SS100 was very similar to MG’s L2 Magna two seater sports car that was designed just under two miles away in Alfred Rd at Coventry Coachbodies and was launched in 1933.
Just one year later Walmsley decided to return home to Blackpool and Lyons bought out his share of the company. Lyons completely focused on the launch, set about creating new structure within the company and also took the opportunity to rename Swallow to SS Cars. Shortly before he brought in a brilliant new design engineer William Heynes and talented craftsman and coach builder Cyril Holland, the two men staying on with Jaguar for many years following its integration within BMC (British Motor Corporation) in 1966. Indeed it is Heynes design of the 1966 XJ6 which current Jaguar design guru Ian Callum focused his attention on for the very latest beautiful 2010 Jaguar XJ. The team at SS cars continued to produce new models and won many new orders.
By the fall of 1938 Lyons was concerned that the country was heading towards a war in Europe and unfortunately in 1939 his prediction proved troublingly right. The countries war machine quickly got up to speed, and with the British government changing the use of most car plants, the SS plant in Birmingham was no exception. From early in the war effort the factory started to manufacture parts for munitions, tanks, airplanes. In February 1940, Lyons was asked to provide motorcycle parts and ironically started to reproduce motorcycle sidecars for army dispatch riders. With World War two quickly behind them Lyons returned the factory to making cars. However with peacetime a new direction and euforia set about England and Lyons felt now was the time to start production of what was to become the start of the Jaguar marque.
First up for change were the company’s logo and name. The letters SS now having a seemingly haunting effect on many potential British buyers, as the same letters where the trade mark of the elite guard or ‘Schutz-Staffel’ responsible for so many atrocities during the war under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The name then quickly disposed of, introduced for the first time the now legendary name of Jaguar Cars. Incidentally the name was chosen much earlier than many assume. In fact ten years earlier amateur artist and Public Relations Manager Mr. Bill Rankin had created a sculpture of a lioness and stuck it onto one of the big chrome grilles on the first 1935 SS100’s. Lyons, at that time is reported as saying that the sculpture was awful, and looked like a cat shot off a fence. But the name stuck and from that moment internally, the company was known as Jaguar, so the main transition in 1946 was an easy external change for the factory. Now with the right name and belief that he could start to move away from grass root type cars and into the luxury car arena the following few years were all about the design and speed.
1n October 1948 at the then prestigious Earl’s Court Motor Show in London, William Lyons with his team unveiled the stunning XK120. The car was an instantaneous success and recieved many orders, but by now Lyons had already set his sights on yet another target. From his teenage years and his infatuation with motorcycles and speed and following many trips to the Isle of Man to watch the motorcycle TT event, Lyons had seen first hand how people reacted to a product or brand following their success on the small island. The Isle of Man was only eighty miles away from Blackpool and in the early years Walmsley had provided a stripped down sidecar to one of the TT racers. When he won using their sidecar design orders for the road version came flooding in.
As an automotive visionary, he had set out his expectations to his team of his ambition on winning Le- Mans. He had additionally witnessed the global brand exposure that Bentley, Ferrari and Mercedes had already amassed by winning the prestigious annual motor race held in France. He envisaged that if his team could lower the aero resistance at the front of their cars, reduce drag on the super structure just like their sidecar designs and build fast engines based off the production cars, Jaguars could be faster, quieter and more efficient than any of those other competitors already winning at Le Mans.
To that end in 1950 Lyons hired gifted aerodynamicist Michael Sayer with the sole purpose of designing the fastest most efficient car for Le Mans. Sayer a previous employee of BAC was later recognized as the first man in the automobile industry to use mathematical formulas and aeronautical equations and principles in the design of an automobiles superstructure and then confirming these designs using a wind tunnel (owned by BAC) to quantify the results.
If one takes a look at Jaguars first blueprints for the XK series, it’s plain to see how aeronautical principles played so much influence in the company’s designs. The beautiful XK120 had been transformed into the XK 120-C for the assault on the 1951 Le Mans race. The ‘C’ standing simply for ‘competition’ used all the main running gear from the standard XK 120 but with a fabricated special lightweight space frame designed and fabricated by Bob Knight and featured an aerodynamic low drag aluminum body shell designed by Michael Sayer.
Jaguar’s success was immediate. At their first try at the event in 1951; the XK120-C blitzed the competition. The factory had entered three works cars with the paired drivers of Sir Stirling Moss and Jack Fairman, Leslie Johnson and 3-times Mille Miglia winner Clemente Biondetti, and the eventual winners, Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead. This put the British automobile industry in frenzy. Success at Le Mans had indeed added to the penchant of owning a Jaguar and Hollywood legends were quick to order the latest road going versions of the XK120. The first of which was movie star Clark Gable. The XK 120-C had started a tradition of winning and won again in 1953, but it also started a phase within Jaguar which continues to this day to develop cars that lead the way in design creativity, technology and speed.
Michael Sayer continued to work with some of the very best engineers and fabricators in the world at that time to create the next era of timeless classics for Jaguar. The design team consisted of Sayer, US born sheet metal craftsman and genius Bob Blake, brilliant design engineer William Heynes, talented coach builder Cyril Holland and engineer Bob Knight. Bob was much later recognized for his contribution to Jaguar by being appointed to the Jaguar board taking over Heynes duties following the designers retirement . Together the team set out on an adventurous plan to surpass their own success of the XK 120-C by creating the superlative D & E Types with all their racing derivatives. It is rumored however that Lyons, so passionate about the Jaguar product, continued to oversee every detail and sign off on every piece of the D Type design phases.
The Jaguar D-Type, like its predecessor the C-Type, was a factory-built race car. Although it shared the basic 3.4 litre 6 cylinder engine from the earlier car it was now bored to 3.8litres, however the majority of the car was radically different. Perhaps its most ground-breaking innovation was the introduction of a monocoque chassis, it was usual prior to this application that a separate chassis was attached to an equally separate body shell and while the older system had some advantages, it was costly to produce and much heavier than the one piece unit.
Michael Sayer again used his prior aeronautical experience to insist on the monocoque design not only to save weight and money, but also to allow him to design a much smaller frontal area than was standard of that time to reduce drag and lift even further. This also provided its now famous dramatic aero wing type shape. While this aerodynamic efficiency was primarily used for competition purposes people began to recognize the appealing shape and wanted it on their road cars too.
The D-Type though introduced purely for competition once again dominated the racing scene taking Le Mans in 1955,56 & 57 even though Lyons had withdrawn the works team in 1955 following a devastating personal blow when his son was killed on his way to France for the Le Mans event . The company offered the remaining built race cars to private teams like the race winning Le Mans team of Scotland’s Edinburgh based Ecurie Ecosse, but during 1956 Heynes and Knight convinced Lyons that with a few modifications the unfinished race chassis could be turned into a road going super special and this was to be called the Jaguar XKSS.
By adding an extra seat, another door, a full-width windshield, lights and indicators some more instruments and a primitive folding top, as concessions to practicality, the first of these cars rolled out of the factory in late 1956.
On the evening of 12 February 1957 however, a fire broke out at the Browns Lane plant destroying nine of the twenty five cars that had already been completed or in semi-completion. Production is thought to have included 53 customer D-Types, 18 factory team cars, and 16 XKSS versions. The surviving D type’s however still proceeded to dominate at all forms of motorsport globally at national and International club level racing.
A racing pedigree that originated from their inaugural wins at Le Mans onto the prestigious Rheims 12 hour event in 54 & 56 in France.
In 1957 Jaguar took the top six places at Le Mans even though no factory where cars entered. It’s alleged that Competition Manager Lofty Williams from the Jaguar factory heavily backed the efforts of the small privateer teams in order so they could win.
Jaguar was continuing to build prestigious road cars introducing the Mk1 & Mk2 with the smaller 2.4 litre engines and the bigger Mk v11 sedans with 3 ½ litre engines now designed specifically for American market such was the draw to own this fast becoming exclusive marque.
Not one to rest on their laurels, the team of Heynes, Sayer and Knight wanted an all new challenge and following the success of the road going D type they forged a plan to create a master piece. It was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland in 1961 and was called the E Type.
E Type Jaguar pictured with Lyons at his home in Coventry
This car still makes me salivate even today. My all time favorite the 3.8 litre fixed head coupe is breathtaking and a hoot to drive.
I had the pleasure some years ago while working as a long time race instructor at Oulton Park race circuit in Cheshire England, to drive an early factory example. Then owned by a very fortunate BRDC member, it reminded me of my childhood ambition of driving the E Type. This childhood image, captured when I saw an old black & white television film of the soon to be World Motor racing Champion Graham Hill driving around Oulton Park enroute to victory. The film discussed Hill having taken delivery of the recently launched and supposed standard E Type entering his car into a clubman’s event and thoroughly crushing the competition. He later went onto say that he wanted something quick to drive so he could get to know the circuit and didn’t expect to win with so much of a margin.
During my drive though, I soon realized that the four famed disc brakes are not much use after five laps of healthy speed and the skinny series tires lose their grip even quicker, but after that education you can have so much fun. It’s actually quite easy to drift the car into the corner and using whatever is left of the braking system to trail-brake well into the apex as the car scrubs off its own speed, then go back on the throttle early to drift back out to the exit under acceleration. Driving that car, I realized the start of my own ambition to drive interesting historic cars.
Recently I have been working at the impressive Historic Pebble Beach event for Jaguar in Monterey California. (I know what you are thinking, but this really was hard work)…. Making sure all of the remaining Historic Jaguar XKSS cars found their way to Laguna Seca for a few hot laps to blow out the cob-webs. Looking in my rear view mirror from the vantage point of the new XJSS as each priceless XKSS joined the convoy, it got me thinking of how beautiful these timeless classics still are and how many designers both new and old have considered their stunning form before putting pencil to paper (or perhaps turning on Cad Drawing aids planner) countless I would imagine.
A collection of 14 Jaguar XKSS models & XK120C Laguna Seca 2010
Additionally to see current Jaguar designer engineer Ian Callum looking so at home behind the wheel of #766, a 1955 XKSS was truly a majestic moment.
Ian Callum Chief Design Engineer Jaguar Cars
Additionally when you see the number of race winning Jaguar’s at the event it shows the depth of history and pride from a manufacturer such as Jaguar. All of the Jaguar series cars where represented at Pebble Beach and while the standard road cars of course hold an interest to me it’s the racers that spark my enthusiasm. A number of XK120-C’s, D & E Type racers and the stunning XJ12R of American Davy Jones’s Le Mans fame. Davy sadly wasn’t on hand as he is always great to chat with and is such an ambassador for Jaguar Cars. Jones currently works on new car launches for the company and instructs at the prestigious new Jaguar Race School, principally run for new Jaguar owners to become accustomed to the high performance nature of their cars performance. The school is the brainchild of Jaguar Executive North American Sales Marketing Manager BJ Colaric. BJ along with his professional duties at Jaguar is a passionate racer and car enthusiast. The school is run by Chris Munroe out of the terrific Willow Springs circuit near Las Vegas.
If we revisit Jaguar Cars winning ways we can see that they have won events in every decade since Lyons first win in 1951. The company has not only prepared and raced in Le Mans, Jaguar’s competition cars have been entered and won events across the globe with wins in the Australian GT Championship with Bob Jane, in the North American SCCA series with wins by team Group 44 and the Group B championship in 1975 with Bob Tullius. They have also won in touring cars Tom Walkinshaw’s prepared XJRS raced in the British and German touring car events and of course won Le Mans in 1951, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1988 and 1990 with the beautiful Tom Walkinshaw’s Silk Cut XJR12 with drivers Martin Brundle, Price Cob and John Nielsen and The 24hrs of Daytona in that same year, this car was also represented at Pebble Beach. Jaguar put a factory team together and entered the 2010 Le Mans with successful racer Paul Gentilozzi with a modified XFR but sadly the car failed very soon into the race with fuel pump failure.
The other amazing thing to me is that Jaguar’s C; D & E Types are still winning races irrespective of age.
My good friend and fellow British instructor the awesome talented Malcolm Hamilton competed and regularly beat the competition in an awesome Rob Beere race prepared V12 E Type. It was rumored to be at 650 hp the fastest privateer E Type around. Competitors in modern machinery were regularly amazed at the speed of the 1973 based car.
Malcolm Hamilton E Type
The 2008 Le Mans Classic was won by Class 2 winners Vary Paerson & Nigel Webb in a C Type. Webb and Paerson not happy with just the one win went on to stand on the podium again concurrently winning the Class 3 race in another Jaguar, a D Type.
D Type Jaguar (image courtesy of Dirk de Jager)
Pebble Beach was used as the chosen venue for Jaguar’s 75th birthday celebrations as well as the introduction of the all new 2010 Jaguar ‘XJ SS’, nearly sixty years after the first special. This time it’s a road car as opposed to a special track racer but with 510 bhp, special color combinations and beautifully crafted charcoal grey alloy wheels this is sure to be a future classic. A road test specific to this new car will follow soon on Wide Open Throttle, however it would appear that as the international press and on line media continue to be inspired by each new product iteration that Jaguar produce, the future looks bright for Jaguar, you could say a bright future defined by its past achievements.