Matters of Moment, June 1969

• Sir William Lyons on the Future of the Specialised Car

At the end of April, Sir William Lyons, F.R.S.A., R.D.I., Deputy Chairman of the B.L.M.C. and Chairman and Chief Executive of Jaguar Cars, adopted as the subject of his Lord Wakefield Gold Medal Paper to the I.M.I. the success story of his Company and his views on the future prospects of specialised cars.

Criticism that Sir William used the occasion to feather his own nest is countered by the fact that the Institute’s President had invited him to speak about Jaguar history. This Lyons most certainly did, from his humble beginnings in 1922, with three men and a boy, as one of two partners in the Swallow sidecar concern, with an overdraft of £1,000 and guarantees of £500 each by their respective fathers, through all the subsequent industrial, engineering and competition achievements stemming from Henlys’ order for 500 Swallow Austin Sevens on being shown the prototype saloon.

Interesting historical facts emerge from this paper. The boy at the Blackpool sidecar works stayed on and today holds an existing senior position with Jaguar. When Swallow moved, late in 1928, from Blackpool to Coventry they rented a factory adjacent to two buildings occupied by a firm making fabric bodies for Hillman. Lyons employed his own labourers to restore and paint the building, but suffered a setback when the main electric feed cable, worth £1,200, was stolen. Introducing jig assembly of bodies at this new factory, Lyons increased output from 12 a week to 50 before Christmas, working a 15 to 16-hour day.

Labour troubles were coped with by paying each worker the equivalent in today’s money of £40 a week, on a voucher system, the amount provided in the price build-up for labour costs being adhered to—a state of affairs Sir William would be very happy to see operating in 1969! Large notices on the factory walls said “No Day Work Paid” and when there was objection to the jig-assembly methods and the crude time-study Swallow operated, the workers were told “If you don’t like it, you need not work here”.

By mid-1929 Swallow had swallowed the adjacent factory, and were building about 100 bodies a week on Standard, Swift, Fiat and Wolseley Hornet, as well as on Austin, chassis. Body design was dictated by chassis design, but the special Swallow Austin Seven radiator cowl was made to fit by placing a block of wood on top of the filler neck, which was ½ in. too high, and striking it a sharp blow which, said Sir William “resulted in a very neat depression in the brass header tank, thus lowering the filler to the required height—I am sure Sir Herbert Austin would not have approved”. [Members of the Austin Swallow Register will no doubt pause here to go and look for this depression, on their cars.—Ed.). The desire to be free from such restrictions caused Lyons to design his own chassis frame in 1930, which Rubery Owen supplied to the Standard Motor Co., who sent it to Swallow as a complete chassis with 16 or 20 h.p. Standard power unit. Thus was born the S.S.1, a designation arrived at after a long argument with R. W. Maudslay of Standard and John Black, who had joined that company from Hillman. Lyons does not know whether S.S. stood for Standard or Swallow Special, but Harold Pemberton’s Daily Express publicity sold a lot of them when the new car was introduced at Olympia in 1931; which is an interesting admission in view of Jaguar’s odd ideas about advertising specialist cars in specialist magazines, today! Actually, the Daily Express had not, apparently, kept faith with its public, for Lyons admits that the S.S.1 hybrid “did not live up to the promise of its appearance” . . . .

It is a brave man who can stand up in public and blow his own trumpet, but in his speech Sir William had a great success story to tell. Using a completely new body and the excellent Standard seven-bearing six-cylinder engine converted to o.h.v. by Weslake and made at the Standard factory, the S.S. Jaguar was born. “It was a really good car”, says Sir William, tactfully refraining from memories of the days when it was called “The Bentley of Wardour Street”. At the Mayfair preview its price was guessed as £765, averaged by polite guests, but was, in fact, £395. Sensation! That was the beginning of the value-for-money Jaguar family which Motor Sport has so often praised and proclaimed. Lyons’ paper went on to eulogise the financial and engineering achievements of his Company after W. M. Haynes had joined it from Humber, and its contributions to the war effort.

Jaguar’s impressive competition career was launched by the S.S. Jaguar 100, “superior to all its competitors, except perhaps the B.M.W. 328, which was its equal”. The name Jaguar was chosen by Lyons in memory of the Armstrong-Siddeley Jaguar aero-engines, after permission had been obtained from Sir Frank Spriggs, at a time when S.S. smacked too much of German storm troopers!

Recently B.A.C. had to ask permission to use the name for their jet strike-fighter, but Lyons would not permit the French Breguet Company to incorporate the name.

Tycoons will be tycoons and Sir William told, seemingly with relish, how he quickly bought the Jaguar engine manufacturing plant from Black when the latter started the Standard Vanguard one-model policy and how, when Black pressed very hard for its return, Lyons told him : “No thank you, John, I have got the ball now, and I would rather kick it myself”. Triumph, in a works next door to Jaguar, went into liquidation and, after Lyons had rejected it, John Black bought it, saying that as Sir William refused to join forces he would go into competition with Jaguar, remarking, recalls Lyons, “that he couldn’t see Jaguar surviving”.

The rest of this paper was the success story of the twin-cam XK Jaguar cars, and the Jaguar Company’s many take-overs in the Industry, with which we need not occupy our readers. Sir William Lyons claims that Jaguar and M.G. virtually pioneered the U.S.A. market for imported cars and he can claim some of Volkswagen’s import success in America, too, for the East Coast Jaguar distributor insisted that all dealers who ordered a Jaguar must take two VWs as well!

Where Sir William was interesting was in the field of labour relations with management and the future, as he sees it, of the specialist car. On the former subject he said : “I do not believe that, as presented, the Government’s plans will have the desired effect—indeed, certain aspects of the proposals could well increase the problems from which we suffer in achieving efficient productivity within our factories”. As for the specialist car, keen competition has killed off many of its producers and Jaguar’s ability to cut prices of cars offering high standards of design, manufacture and performance, quality and luxury, by making them in relatively large volumes, may be the solution to survival. Sir William is clearly very impressed by the sales of “personalised” cars in the States, led by the Ford Mustang, which he called “the phenomenon of the U.S.A. market”, and he obviously realises that large volume producers have at last achieved the flexibility which permits them to “provide cars which are different and offer a particular type of motoring “.

While he did remark that these modern equivalents of the earlier specialist cars “may not represent a thoroughbred version . . . . particularly in terms of engineering design”, Sir William Lyons is obviously greatly impressed by the supply of many options in engines and equipment on American models, and by the luxury and high-performance versions of production European cars. We hope this is not the pattern on which future Jaguar policy will be based. Apparently not, for the lecturer spoke of the steps a specialist manufacturer can take to compete with these trends, such as employing “truly advanced standards of engineering concepts and design—he must always try to be first with any new development”. Does this mean that a four-wheel-drive, Maxaret-braked, rotary-engined Jaguar with central power-pack will soon make its appearance?

Whatever the future of Jaguar under B.L.M.C., it is good to know that its experienced Chief appreciates the subtle difference between “personalised” and “specialist” cars; interesting that he advocates more frequent changes in style and design of the latter than in the past. We have yet to sample an XJ6, which Lyons, using his lecture for some blatant publicity, called “a car which it is the ambition of every keen motorist to own”! But it would seem that as soon as there are built into this latest Jaguar an engine smoother and less fussy than the out-dated long-stroke XK which peaks at 1,500 r.p.m. below the safe speed of many modern power units, a lighter gear-change, a bit more fuel economy, a smoother and less heavy clutch, somewhat more “feel” to the power steering, even better brakes and seats, and a revised instrument layout, the 4.2 manual XJ6 really will justify extreme eulogisation, until supplanted by something sufficiently advanced to compete with rotary-engined and V8-powered “personalised” rivals. Motor Sport has previously drawn attention to how fast production vehicles and their “personalised” variants are catching up with small-output, expensive specialist cars, especially for use in a country where a 70 m.p.h. speed-limit prevails (to which Lyons made no mention). So we were intrigued to hear how Sir William Lyons thinks such opposition should be met and we hope Lord Stokes will go along with Sir William in his future efforts to build cars possessing, in his own words, “very high standards of refinement, silence, handling and comfort to give its owner that indefinable sense of satisfaction” which “by the judicious use of the right type of promotion” . . . . will be endowed with “that aura of ‘exclusiveness’ which is the hallmark of the true specialist car”.

In short, as Jaguar used to advertise “A special kind of motoring which no other car in the World can provide”. But apparently not the kind keen drivers, usually known as “enthusiasts” will want. Because, on their own admission, the vast majority of people who buy Jaguar cars are not “enthusiasts” in the generally accepted motoring sense. This can only be regarded as a very remarkable statement from the makers of the E-type, production of which is running, according to Sir William in his speech, at record level, with 95% exported to the U.S. market alone. The assumption can only be that the 5% of British E-type buyers are of far less concern to the Coventry company than sales of specialised saloons to non-enthusiasts. Which makes rather a nonsense, surely, of the Lord Wakefield Gold Medal Paper?

• Lord Stokes’ Reply (see letter on page 664)


Thank you for your letter of May 8th (received this morning) and for giving me an opportunity of commenting upon Mr. Potter’s letter

Because the allegations have been made we are gladly complying with the requirement of the Court that we produce documents on what are said to be unexplained complaints of steering uncontrollability.

You will not expect me to comment on the case which has given rise to this order, this being “sub judice”, but I can assure you that our investigations have always been able to establish the probable cause of “unexplained” accidents and that we are satisfied that there is no basic problem in the design or construction of the 1100/1300 range of Austin Morris cars.

Donald Stokes.
London, W.1

For An Enthusiast?

Sir William Lyons, Chairman and Managing Director of Jaguar Cars Limited, has unrivalled experience in dealing with export orders. But one recent overseas request must be causing him some mental exercise. A Canadian living in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, has written to order a new Scimitar after seeing an advertisement in a British glossy magazine. His letter was addressed to “Sir William Lyons, Reliant Motor Company Limited.” Reliant’s Managing Director, Mr. Raymond Wiggin, passing on the letter to Sir William, said in a covering note “it’s a pity the letter is muddled in many respects—when it comes to preference for a motor car it is obvious that the writer is a man of great discretion!”. Mr; Wiggin disclosed this story to a conference of Bond dealers who assembled in Tamworth to hear the new management’s plans for promoting sales of the Equipe range.—Reliant Press Statement.