Jaguar Cars 1940 to 2009

If Sir William Lyons can take credit for anything, he can take credit for demonstrating that it was possible to match the bespoke coach built individually made car to one on a production line, at half the price. He did it so well that within a decade, only Rolls Royce and Bentley were still making luxury cars in the old craft tradition. In 1945, the name SS, which by then had the implication of the notorious Nazi Police, was officially dropped from Jaguar's title.

Once Jaguar offered something much better at a lower price, their rivals not only lost their market, they lost their point. Until the recovery of the German industry in the 1970s, and the Japanese assault on the luxury market in the 1980s, the Jaguar had no equivalent. It was a phenomenon, whose influence may have been difficult to comprehend in the 1990s, following the remarkable improvement in the style, status, and quality of middle class volume produced cars such as the Ford Mondeo. Jaguar reigned supreme, and it carved its own niche in what had been the upper premium segment and the opposition was annihilated.

If the key event that led to Jaguars recognition in 1951 was winning Le Mans, the key technical ingredient was the XK engine. In the closing years of the war, it seemed to Lyons and his engineers that a new technically educated generation would demand something better than a pushrod engine.

Post war Jaguar engines would have to emulate the racing engines of pre war, and must look the part. Twin overhead camshafts, and polished cam covers would be needed for efficiency and under bonnet elegance.

Lyons did not set out to make a sports car. His intention was to make the sort of touring cars and luxury saloons that a later generation would call executive class. He knew that the best means of publicizing his new engine would be to create a short production run of 200 dramatic looking sports cars. They could be raced a few times, gain a bit of a reputation, and be put away again. Lyons had a flair for publicity as well as keen business acumen, an aptitude for engineering and a genius for car styling.

When the XK120 appeared at the Motor Show in 1948, the response was so enthusiastic there was nothing for it; it had to go into production.

Yet it was not until the advent of the XK 120C version that the racing world took the car and Jaguar to heart. The classic status sports car makes remain in contention, AC, Allard, Alvis, Aston Martin to name a few. There was also a trickle of imports from Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, but Jaguar occupied a niche of its own with a car whose appearance on a street could halt traffic. One by one, the British classics died, all but Aston Martin, Morgan and MG.

In the 1960s, the racing XK120 known as the XK120C, quickly became the C type and was followed logically by the D type. Far from being a small series produced for publicity, more than 12000 XK 120s, 9000 XK 140s and 9400 XK 150s were sold, so Jaguar sports cars paid their way.

By 1960, the XK was no match for modern, low built, space framed sports cars with less body roll, less weight and a lower centre of gravity. Tall and narrow with big wheels and heavy gearshifts, they were dignified tourers, rather than the avant-garde sports machines they had been in 1949.

Yet, if the XKSS represented Jaguar sports cars lost generation, when the E type came in 1961, it was a striking descendant. It became the yardstick by which almost every other road going sports car was judged. It was breathtakingly beautiful and its road manners were near faultless. It rode bumps like a limousine and handled with an exquisite precision. Performance was unparalleled, its steering and cornering were matchless. In addition, it was a third of the price of a Ferrari.

The succeeding XJS in 1975, although less of a sports car than the E type, was a resounding success, surviving more than 20 years with V12 and 6 cylinder engines, open and closed bodies, despite styling which compromised both the intuitive Sir William Lyons and the clever aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer.

A sprinkling of XJS character and even one or two of its components were carried over to the XK8 of 1996, which quickly took Jaguar to new sales records. Its first quarter 1997 sports car sales were the best in the company's history.

Jaguar saloons had progressed through the warmed over post war series to the Mark V and then the Mark VII, that not only made its mark in the executive car park but turned out to be an unlikely winner of the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally.

Jaguar acquired Daimler in 1960 and by the time Sir William Lyons died at the age of 83 in February 1985, the group included Coventry Climax engines, Guy Motors, and Henry Meadows the engine makers. In 1966, Lyons had to accept a proposal from Sir George Harriman for a merger with the British Motor Corporation after Pressed Steel, Jaguar's source of bodies became part of BMC.

The combined company, British Motor Holdings, was absorbed into British Leyland two years later despite misgivings about its structure, which its subsequent nationalisation more than justified. Sir William retired in 1972, but lived to see the revival under Sir John Egan, which led Jaguar back into private ownership in 1984.

The Egan regime restored Jaguar's self-confidence but failed to staunch the losses that followed a downturn in the American market. Jaguar had been starved of investment under Leyland, and they no longer generated the cash to finance its own new model programme. It needed a partner and at first, it looked like just what General Motors might want, a swanky European up market marque to which buyers of its mass produced cars could aspire.

However, Ford wanted Jaguar too. GM was ready to take a 30 per cent share. It already owned Lotus and had been talking to Vickers about taking 40 per cent in Rolls Royce in 1991 in an effort to pre-empt BMW.

Ford paid 1.6 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) for Jaguar, and quickly learning the extent to which its new purchase was burdened with high costs and out of date plant.

Jaguar entered the century old motor industry at barely one third of its span, and with graceful styling, superior ride and handling, high performance, and world-class sporting fame became one of Britain's cherished symbols. The XK8, the car that marked the second watershed in Jaguar history some 50 years after the first, was emblematic of the new perspective at Jaguar. This was the recognition that it could not survive without the backing of Ford, and that the way forward was to take all that was good about Jaguars in the past and recreate its reputation with all that was best from Ford in the present.

On 1st January 2008, Ford made a formal announcement, which declared Tata Motors as the preferred bidder for Jaguar, and on 26 March 2008 announced that it had agreed to sell Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors of India. Included in the deal were Daimler, and two dormant brands Lanchester and Rover. The sale completed on 2 June 2008 for 1.7 billion pounds.

Dawn Martin has been interested in motor vehicles since an early age. She has recently commenced a blog on the history of classic vehicles and is currently researching trucks, motorcycles and cars and producing downloadable publications which can be found on her website and in the members area.