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Jaguar XK120

Jaguar XK120

By Jack Nerad

Jaguar XK120 During his early years in the English midlands William Lyons gave little inclination that he would eventually achieve legendary status for the creation of sports cars. The son of an Irish muscian-turned-turned-piano-repairman, Lyons was a motorcycle enthusiast who was fond of racing his Harley-Davidson in local events during the bleak years of the First World War. He wasnÕt particularly enamored of working the piano shop, so his father helped him secure an apprenticeship with Crossley Motors, a Manchester-based car builder. But at just 17, Lyons was not ready to settle into the drudgery of the machinists trade.

With the Great War over, Lyons returned home, puttered about the piano shop for a while, and began contemplating what he really wanted to do with his life. As have so many people before and since during this period of contemplation, he took a temporary job as a car salesman for an agency that handled Morris, Rover and Sunbeam.

The early turning point in his life came when he met William Walmsley, who moved into his neighborhood at the conclusion of World War I. Walmsley was a bit older than Lyons, but the two both had a passion for motorcycles, and they hit it off fairly well. Walmsley was a tinkerer, and after purchasing a military surplus Triumph, he fitted it with a sidecar of his own design.

Now the British have always exhibited a peculiar affection for sidecars, as they do for other dubious items like warm beer and cold toast. So WalmsleyÕs uncommonly attractive and well-made sidecar offered a business opportunity that his ambitious young car salesman-acquaintance encouraged him to pursue. With loans from their fathers, Lyons and Walmsley established the Swallow Sidecar Company.

Under Lyons steady hand the business grew apace, and soon it branched out from building sidecars to the manufacture of automobile bodies. In those days custom coachwork was all the rage in Britain (much more so than in America, where it was largely confined to the most expensive luxury automobiles) and Swallow began to earn a good deal of income building attractive and sporty bodies for the ubiquitous Austin Seven.

In the Thirties, Lyons moved forward again, shifting from coachbuilding to building entire motor cars, albeit with engines derived from the Standard line of vehicles. In 1935, he successfully floated a stock offering to help fund the new venture, then moved forward quickly to display the SS 90, the companyÕs first sports model. Drawing on his car salesman experience, Lyons realized that he couldnÕt base his business on sports cars, so he was very careful to build his line around sedans, but he always seemed to have a special love for two-seaters. The SS 90 soon begat the SS 100, one of the best all around sporting machines of the mid- and late-Thirties.

World War II put a huge crimp in the progress of the British auto industry from 1939 until the late Forties, and it also cost Lyons his companyÕs good name. "SS," as his company had come to be known (Swallow Sidecars) had taken on an ominous connotation because it connection with Nazi storm troopers, so the company adopted the Jaguar name that it had first used on a mid-Thirties sedan. By 1948 Lyons was chomping at the bit to kick his company up into a higher gear. The end of World War II created a boom of pent-up demand both in Britain and the United States, but Lyons was forward-thinking enough to know that the boom wouldn.
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