Jaguar

Some cars are, well…just cars. Others live by their name. The mere mention of it conjures up a history and heritage full of color, daring, and glamour. You may include Jaguar in a place of honor on that esteemed list. The forebearer of the Jaguar was the Swallow Sidecar Company which was founded by the visionary William Lyons when he was only 21 years old, along with the help of a friend, William Walmsley. Jaguar was thus first known for motorcycle side cars, not automobiles. After being in that business for a time, the company began building car bodies under the Swallow name that were used for makes such as Fiat and Austin. That soon was followed by Swallow producing its own cars in 1931. These were known as SS, elegant, low slung, two passenger coupes. The name “Jaguar” didn’t appear until 1935, when the company introduced the SS Jaguar 2-liter sports sedan, and after a time, that was followed by the 100 mile per hour SS 100 sports cars. This was during some tough economic times, and Jaguar struggled along with everybody else. But the company’s founder, William Lyons backed it with his own personal fortune, thus guaranteeing the company’s survival. By this time, Jaguars were as well known for its “works,” or factory in Coventry, England, as it was for the products it produced. By 1945, the company was formally renamed Jaguar Cars Ltd., thus taking on the identity that it holds to this day. The first Jaguar of real note to Americans was unquestionably the low slung, powerful, two seat XK 120, which was first shown as an aluminum bodied sorts car at Earls Court, London in 1948. The XK 120 was one of the few cars at the time that could hit 120 miles per hour. In 1950 Jaguar unveiled its glamorous Mark VII sedan, one of the earliest true performance luxury sedans made. Its bloodlines and heritage have of course, been passed down to today’s XJ, S and X-Type luxury performance sedans. In 1957, Jaguar suffered a horrific fire, which destroyed much of the Browns Lane factory in Coventry. But Lyons was ever the visionary, urging the company forward into the future. It was during the 1960s when it began acquiring several other companies including Daimler and Coventry Climax. In 1966, the Jaguar group joined with the British Motor Corporation to form what would eventually be known as British Leyland by 1968. Another model which no doubt will be immortal for Jaguar was the swoopy, two seat XK-E or E-Type, as it also is known, back in 1961. When one considers all of the cars made at the time, only Ferrari could rival the XK-E in terms of styling. The XK-E was a futuristic looking automobile, with its sensuous curvaceous body, huge headlights and sparkling wire wheels. In 1968, Lyons gave up his position as Managing Director of Jaguar Cars Ltd., but until 1972, he still held onto the title of Chairman and Chief Executive. He retired in 1972, remaining Honorary President of Jaguar until he died in 1985. Like so many other distinguished brands, a changing world economy and increasing competition meant troubles for Jaguar in terms of keeping up with other brands in its field. It became harder to find the money to develop and build new models, which was an increasing pressure for the company—and for others around the world. By December 1989, Ford Motor Company became Jaguar’s new owners—and that arguably saved the Jaguar brand itself. Not only did the new arrangement provide access to badly needed research and development funds, but it also meant Ford’s resources and technological prowess was now available to help improve Jaguar’s flagging quality and reliability. Though some car enthusiasts were opposed to Jaguar’s takeover by Ford, and feared it would mean dilution of the car’s sense of self, nothing of the sort has occurred. In fact Jaguar has introduced a number of highly respected cars since Ford’s takeover, and recently, Jaguar initial quality soared to the number three position in J.D. Powers’ initial quality survey.

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