William Lyons was born in 1901. His father owned a musical instrument store and his mother was the daughter of a mill owner, but what grabbed William’s fancy were automobiles. Following his studies at The Arnold School, Lyons won an engineering apprenticeship with Crossley Motors, at the same time continuing his studies at a technical school. Leaving Crossley, he became a salesman for Brown & Mallalieu, a Sunbeam dealer in Blackpool.
In 1921, a meeting with William Walmsley started Lyons on a journey that would create one of the world’s most recognized automotive brands. Walmsley was transforming military surplus motorcycles for civilian use and building sidecars for them. Lyons was quite taken with Walmsley’s sidecars, and bought one for his own.
Waiting until Lyons reached the legal age of 21, the two went into partnership with financial backing from their fathers. The company became Swallow Sidecars. At the start, their bailiwick was the creation of elegant sidecars. By 1927, however, they had branched out into the construction of inexpensive coachbuilt cars. Their Austin Seven-based Swallow was built at a rate of 12 per week. In need of larger facilities, Lyons moved his family and company to Coventry, where they started churning out Swallows at the increased rate of 50 per week.
In 1931, the company debuted the SS1. The first model was a fixed-head coupe followed by a sedan and an open-top roadster. By 1933, the new name of the company was truncated to SS Cars Ltd. The first car to include the Jaguar moniker came out in 1935; all but the engine was an in-house creation. After the war, Lyons again changed the company name, to Jaguar, as a way of avoiding the negative association with the infamous Nazi SS.
Another of the early cars to bear the Jaguar name was the 2.5-liter, 105-hp Jaguar SS100, named for its speculative top speed of 100 mph—a speed that was, perhaps more often than not, hypothetical. That speed would ultimately become the mission of the subsequent 3.5-liter car.
Bill Heynes and Harry Weslake were given the task of redesigning the “Standard” six to put out 125 hp. The engine was increased in size from 2663 cc to 3485 cc and mated to a new transmission, driveshaft and differential. Not built as a competition car, this did not stop owners from testing the limits of the 3.5-liter SS100 Jag in the motorsport world. In the late 1930s, there were some very exciting cars being produced in Britain. The Riley Imp and the MG PB very well could have been an inspiration for many cars to follow in their tire tracks. The SS100 might be mistaken for a larger relative of the MB TB or the Flat-Rad Morgan, but where the Morgan was a bit more agricultural, the SS100 was far more refined. While the TB was delicate, the Jag was a robust, solid and powerful machine.
The SS100 exudes a quiet elegance. From its Lucas de Luxe large diameter headlights, right along its marvelously long, louvered hood to its abbreviated back end, it’s every inch the sports car. Its sporting heritage is evident in the basic and effective bucket seats that do a fine job of keeping you in place during spirited motoring. A large diameter, four-spoked steering wheel, found in many Jaguars to follow, gives you proper control over this 77-year-old thoroughbred. The intimate cockpit is an enjoyable place to spend your time. You have your full complement of gauges, plus, all the way on the left, a dial to change from your main to reserve fuel pick-ups. Just pray it doesn’t rain though, as you will then find yourself grabbing the large black knob to the left of the wheel and turning it left and right to operate the wipers manually!
First gear is non-syncro, so—no rolling starts. The rest of the gears require a deliberate and delicate hand to bring you up to speed. On the road the steering is responsive, and light enough that the Jag is easy to handle, but it can be a bit tail-happy at the limit. Yet, even this can be controlled. You simply adapt and overcome. The large drum brakes are up to the task of bringing you back to reality so you can pose for your many admirers: the best prescription for boredom and general malaise. Get behind the wheel and follow the SS100’s long bonnet and expansive wings down a country road, and feel all your vitals go up to the red line (but in a good way.) This is classic British motoring at its finest. “A car should be attractive to the eye…capable of giving pleasure to the owner.” –Sir William Lyons
Job done Sir William! Thanks for the jump start Jim Taylor!
Length 150 inches
Width 63 inches
Height 63 inches
Wheelbase 104 inches
Front track 53 inches
Rear track 53 inches
Weight 2579 pounds
Front suspension: Rigid axle, semi-elliptic leaf spring, Luvax dampers
Rear suspension: Live axle, semi-elliptic leaf spring, Luvax dampers
Steering: Worm & nut
Engine: Inline 6-cylinder, two valves per cylinder
Carburetors: Twin SU Displacement 3486-cc
Compression 7.2 : 1
Torque 184 lb-ft@2000rpm