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1922-1940 Jaguar


Swallow Sidecar Company
Typical of Swallow production in the early 1920s was the Model 4 Supersports.
Typical of Swallow production in the early 1920s was the Model 4 Supersports.

The Swallow Sidecar Company "factory" was moved out of the shed behind the Walmsley home into more suitable premises. Since the firm was building only bodies and was buying its frames from outside suppliers, the actual move was surely accomplished quite rapidly.

One larger building was rented, soon to be followed by two more. Lyons decided that Swallow should be turning out 10 sidecars per week to start; Walmsley, who had thought of building perhaps one per week, finally agreed, and took his place in the shop with the first new employees as Lyons began his selling efforts.

Swallow sidecars were stylish, well-made, and priced aggressively. From the first Model 1 with its unusual but easy-to-fabricate octagonal cross-section body (which gave it something of the appearance of a miniature Zeppelin) to the more conventional Model 15, they sold well, in part due to their innate good qualities, but also because Lyons publicized them tirelessly. At this time, both Lyons and Walmsley were still riding motorcycle/sidecar "combinations;" each had a Brough-Superior "SS100."

After four years, business was good enough to justify yet another move, this time to a large structure on the north side of town owned by Walmsley's father. Lyons, as was his wont, took out newspaper ads to publicize the change of address.

In them, he made his own ambitions clear: The name shown in the ads and painted on the new building was "Swallow Sidecar & Coach Building Co." Services listed included repairs, painting, upholstering, and the manufacture of tops and side curtains. It was a step, he felt, in the right direction.

The Swallow name was added to the cars bodied by the firm. This Austin-Swallow dates from 1931.
The Swallow name was added to the cars bodied by the firm. This Austin-Swallow dates from 1931.

One complete car body had already been built at Swallow, but Lyons had nothing to do with it. Walmsley had acquired an Austro-Daimler that had been severely damaged in a fire, and he set a couple of Swallow employees to work rebodying it.

A second body, mounted on a Talbot-Darracq chassis, was completed not long after Swallow occupied its new premises. This body was built under the supervision of Cyril Holland, one of those rare craftsmen capable of handling every aspect of the body-building process, from making detailed drawings, to making the wooden understructure, to forming the metal panels.

While Holland was laboring on the Talbot, Lyons was well aware of the popularity of the Austin Seven -- the small car some were calling "England's Model T" -- and was certainly thinking about building a custom body for it.

Swallow bodies also graced cars such as this roadster on a 1932 Wolseley Hornet chassis.
Swallow bodies also graced cars such as this roadster on a 1932 Wolseley Hornet chassis.

While this was not an original idea (a few enterprising coach-builders had already followed up on the notion that economy-minded enthusiasts might shell out a few extra quid for a snappier Seven), Lyons had the craftsmen and the space needed to come up with one of his own. And he had Holland, who had been sketching ideas for a two-seat "sports" body without any particular end result in mind. Lyons saw the drawings and told him to make up a full set scaled to fit the dimensions of the diminutive Seven.

To move this process from the drawing board to the road, a chassis would have to be bought, which presented a problem: At that time, Austin frowned on its dealers selling bare chassis. Lyons convinced Parker's, a dealership serving Bolton and Manchester, to sell him a chassis on the promise it would have the first dealer franchise for Swallow conversions. One duly arrived -- at a cost of £114.50 -- and work began in early 1927, with the first public announcement made that May.

For more on the 1927 Austin-Swallow, continue to the next page.

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