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A History of the Jaguar Car

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Jaguar XKE

Jaguar XKE

Jaguar Car History

The Jaguar car is world-famous for its stylish designs, thrilling performance, luxurious and comfortable interiors, outstanding handling and ride, quality engineering, and state-of-the-art technology. No other automobile manufacturer has been as remarkably successful at creating both the world's finest luxury sedans, as well as some of the world's most beloved sports cars.

The founder of Jaguar Cars Ltd. was Sir William Lyons. His goal was to create world-class sports sedans with "grace, space, and pace." Lyons once said, "The car is the closest thing we will ever create to something that is alive."

The Jaguar car is produced near Birmingham, England. Its history stretches back nearly eighty years. The company was bought by the Ford Motor Company in 1989. Tata Motors of India purchased Jaguar Cars Ltd. in 2008, and it is rumored it will move the manufacturing plant to India in the future.

The Jaguar car factory

The Jaguar car factory

Sir William Lyons

Sir William Lyons (1901-1985) was from Blackpool, England. His father was an Irishman who owned a musical instrument store. At age 17, Bill Lyons became an apprentice engineer at Crossley Motors, a company that produced cars, buses, and military vehicles in Manchester from 1904 to 1945. The next year, Lyons was hired as a salesman for Sunbeam Motorcars (1901-1976).

By the time he turned 21, William Lyons had founded a company with his best friend, William Walmsley, to make motorcycle sidecars. In 1931, Lyons bought out his partner and began producing his first automobiles. For over thirty years, Bill Lyons personally designed all of the Jaguar cars except the racecars and the E-Type, which were designed by the brilliant Malcolm Sayers.

William Lyons was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1956 for his service to British industry. He was married for 61 years to Greta Brown, and they produced three children. The man known as "Mr. Jaguar" died at his home in Warwickshire, and his wife followed him to the grave one year later.

The Jaguar Car Company Is Born

The original name of Jaguar Cars Ltd. was the Swallow Sidecar Company. The first automobile it produced was named the SS 1 (1932-1936), which would go on to sell 4,200 units—a great success for a startup car company in those days. The "SS" stood for "Standard Swallow."

The First Jaguar Car:  1935 SS 1

The First Jaguar Car: 1935 SS 1

Jaguar SS 1 Interior

Jaguar SS 1 Interior

Mark IV

A new model came out in 1935, dubbed the SS Jaguar Mark IV. It was produced until 1948 in various versions, with over 20,000 sold. The company also produced a model called the SS90 (1936-1940) and a two-seat sports car, the SS100.

Because the British public equated 'SS' with Nazis after World War Two, the name of the company was changed to Jaguar in 1945. From 1948 through 1951, 10,000 Jaguar cars were built of the model Mark V.

Mark VII

The Mark VII was next (1951-1956) and 31,000 of these were made. 6,000 of the Mark VIII Jaguar Car (1956-1958) were produced and the Mark IX (1959-1961) reached sales of about 10,000.

1952 Jaguar Mark VII

1952 Jaguar Mark VII

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Jaguar Mark VII interior

Jaguar Mark VII interior

Mark X

There was no major change to the style of the Jaguar car until 1961, when Bill Lyons designed the all-new Mark X specifically to be marketed to America. This car had a 10-year run, with more than 25,000 sold.

1962 Jaguar Mark X

1962 Jaguar Mark X

Jaguar Mark X Interior

Jaguar Mark X Interior

Jaguar XJ

The flagship of the Jaguar car fleet is the XJ model, first introduced in 1968. It was to be the last Jaguar car designed by Bill Lyons. To date, more than 400,000 of the Jaguar XJ have been built.

The XJ 6 sold 82,000 units from 1968 to 1973. In 1972, the new XJ 12 was launched, which features the Jaguar V12 engine—the world's only mass-produced 12-cylinder four-door automobile. 14,000 XJ 12 models were made. It was the fastest four-door automobile in the world, with a top speed of 140 mph.

1979 Jaguar XJ6

1979 Jaguar XJ6

Jaguar XJ6 INTERIOR

Jaguar XJ6 INTERIOR

Later XJ Models

The XJ (Series II) was produced from 1973 to 1979, with 91,000 sold. These were the first Jaguars ever made that gained a reputation for shoddy workmanship. The problem is easy enough to discern. Labor unions in Britain had grown more and more powerful, and by the 1970s, work rules had been forced on manufacturers that left no accountability whatsoever for job performance by employees. The same thing went on in America. That is why the Japanese were able to take huge chunks of the world automobile market—and the market for nearly all manufactured goods—since the 1970s.

The redesigned 1979 XJ6 is thought by many aficionados to be the most beautiful sedan ever created. From that year through 1992, 133,000 XJ6 (Series III) cars were sold, including some 9,000 XJ Coupes (two-doors). The last Jaguar V12 engine rolled off the assembly line in 1997, the same year that saw the end of the XJ6. It was time for something new from Jaguar.

The Jaguar XJ8

The XJ 8 made its debut in 1998. It featured a new V8 engine, which has become renowned for its excellent performance and dependability.

2004 Jaguar XJ8

2004 Jaguar XJ8

Jaguar XJ8 interior

Jaguar XJ8 interior

21st Century XJ Models

In 2003, the first all-new XJ model since 1986 was unveiled. Its body was of all-aluminum construction, which makes it very light (4,000 lbs.) compared to the competition in its class, even though it is the largest, most spacious Jaguar ever created.

In 2009, the all-new, completely restyled XJ hit the market, a car that is much larger still—both longer and wider.

2011 Jaguar XJ

2011 Jaguar XJ

2011 Jaguar XJ Interior

2011 Jaguar XJ Interior

Jaguar Mid-Sized Cars: S-Type and XF

It should be noted that from 1955 through 1969, Jaguar also built well over 100,000 mid-sized cars, mostly known as the Mark I, Mark II, and the 420.

1969 Jaguar Mark II

1969 Jaguar Mark II

S-Type

Thirty years went by before Jaguar reentered the mid-size luxury sedan market when it unveiled the S-Type in 1999. The S-Type shared its platform with the Lincoln LS (I once owned one of each of these cars but not at the same time). As with the XJ and the XK, the S-Type was also available in an "R" model with a supercharged engine.

Jaguar S-Type

Jaguar S-Type

The S-Type was discontinued after 2008 when it was replaced by the widely admired Jaguar XF. The XF has won nearly every prestigious automobile award known to man.

2011 Jaguar XF

2011 Jaguar XF

2011 Jaguar XF interior

2011 Jaguar XF interior

X-Type

From 2001 through 2009, Jaguar produced, for the first time, a compact car—the X-Type. Though 350,000 of these cars were sold, it was considered a disappointment to Jaguar, which had anticipated selling twice as many.

Jaguar X-Type

Jaguar X-Type

Jaguar Race Cars

Besides producing automobiles for consumers, Jaguar has a long history in auto racing. In the 1950s, Jaguar racecars won the Le Mans 24 Hour race five times; twice with the C-Type ("C" stood for "competition") and three times with the D-Type. The Le Mans is the world's oldest endurance race for sports cars.

The C-Type Jaguar was produced from 1951 to 1953. In 2009, one sold at auction for over $2.5M.

Jaguar C-Type race car

Jaguar C-Type race car

D-Type

The Jaguar D-Type (1954-1957) is justly famous for being the first automobile designed with aircraft-style engineering for aerodynamics. The D-Type took five of the top six spots in the 1957 Le Mans race. The most recent sale of one was in 2008: it fetched almost seven million dollars!

1955 Jaguar D-Type race car

1955 Jaguar D-Type race car

XJR

Jaguar left the racing scene for a few decades. But in 1988, Jaguar once again won at Le Mans with the XJR-9; and in 1990, a Jaguar XJR-12 won the race and another finished second.

Jaguar has also produced some limited-edition race cars for public consumption. Fifty of the mid-engine Jaguar XJR-15 were sold from 1990-1992 for just under a million dollars each.

Jaguar XJR15

Jaguar XJR15

XJ

281 of the mid-engine Jaguar XJ 220 "Supercar" were sold in 1992-1994 for around $650,000 each. At 7' wide it is the widest Jaguar car ever produced. And it was the fastest street Jaguar with a top speed of 217 mph. It was and is illegal to drive the XJ220 on the street in the United States.

Jaguar XJ 220

Jaguar XJ 220

CX75

In 2013, Jaguar will produce 250 of a new limited-edition race car for sale to the public, the C-X75. The C-X75 will have 778 horsepower and the price tag? $1.5M.

Jaguar C-X75

Jaguar C-X75

Jaguar Sports Cars

The Jaguar Car Company made a big splash in 1948 with the introduction of its new sports car: the XK120. By 1954, 12,000 of the XK120 had been sold. It was superseded by the XK140 (1954-1957), and the XK150 (1957-1961). 9500 of the XK150 were built before Jaguar decided to start from scratch with the legendary XKE in 1961.

The Jaguar sports car XK 120 with its proud owner, Clark Gable, AND "Mr. Jaguar," Sir William Lyons

The Jaguar sports car XK 120 with its proud owner, Clark Gable, AND "Mr. Jaguar," Sir William Lyons

1950 Jaguar XK 120 interior

1950 Jaguar XK 120 interior

XKE

The Jaguar XKE was called "the most beautiful car ever made" by none other than Enzo Ferrari. 70,000 of these internationally iconic sports cars would eventually be produced. Many car enthusiasts still today consider the Jaguar XKE the most beautiful car in the world. It is one of only six automobiles honored with a permanent display—as a work of art—by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

38,000 of the Jaguar XKE Series I were made from 1961-1968. They are distinguished by open headlights with a glass cover. The Jaguar XKE Series II was produced from 1969-1971, selling 19,000 units. It has open headlights without a glass cover and a much larger "bass-mouth," for which Jaguar sports cars have been famous. The Jaguar XKE Series III (1971-1975) produced 15,000 sales. It has a V12 engine.

Princess Grace of Monaco in her Jaguar XKE

Princess Grace of Monaco in her Jaguar XKE

Jaguar XKE interior

Jaguar XKE interior

1963 Jaguar XKE

1963 Jaguar XKE

XJS

From 1976 to 1996, the new Jaguar sports car was the XJS. 88,000 of them were built with the V12 engine; 27,000 were also sold with a V-6 engine. The car is of the class known as "Grand Tourer."

Jaguar XJS

Jaguar XJS

XK

In 1996, the Jaguar XK was introduced. The XK would become the best-selling sports car in the history of the Jaguar Car Company.

In 2002, 500 of a special edition XKR 100 were built to mark the centenary of Sir William Lyons. The vast majority were convertibles but 69 of them were hardtops, of which your author owned one.

The XK was redesigned in 2006. Though it can go much faster, it is electronically limited to a top speed of 155 miles per hour.

We can thank Ian Callum for the design of the XK, the XJ, and the XF. And we should mention William Heynes, who created the Dual Overhead Camshaft inline-six-cylinder engine that had the longest run of any car engine: 1949 to 1992. This was a big part of the success for the Jaguar car as it had a useful life of 200,000 miles.

2002 Jaguar XKR 100

2002 Jaguar XKR 100

2002 Jaguar XKR Interior

2002 Jaguar XKR Interior

2010 Jaguar XKR

2010 Jaguar XKR

2012 Jaguar XKR interior

2012 Jaguar XKR interior

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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