Jaguar is more than 80 years old now, and has long been celebrated for its magnificent sports and GT cars. You know the ones: the classic SS-100 of the Thirties, the lusty XKs of the Forties and Fifties, the sensuous E-Type of the Sixties, the lush XJ-S of the Seventies and Eighties. But sedans have loomed equally large in this British automaker's fortunes, each a fast and stylish creation. Though the XJ6 of the Eighties represented only the sixth basic sedan design in Jaguar history, it was as much in the hallowed "Grace-Space-Pace" tradition as any of its predecessors.
The Jaguar story begins in 1921 at Blackpool, where young William Lyons teamed with William Walmsley in the Swallow Sidecar Company to design and produce specially shaped motorcycle sidecars. Six years later, SS branched out into the automobile business with a line of attractive open and closed sports bodies for popular high-volume chassis from makers like Austin, Morris, and Standard. The firm moved to Coventry in 1928, then changed its name to Swallow Coachbuilding Company, Ltd., in 1931, when it began turning out complete cars based on Standard running gear.
Its first offering, the SS I, was a close-coupled long-hood coupe powered by a 2.1-liter side-valve six in a specially fabricated underslung chassis that conferred a distinctive ground-hugging stance. This model and a smaller-displacement companion sold surprisingly well for a new British make in the Depression, prompting the firm to expand a great deal and, in 1934, to change its name again, this time to SS Cars, Ltd.
Lyons took another step forward in 1935 by hiring William Heynes, a successful suspension engineer from the Rootes Group, to run the SS design department. He also recruited a talented engine designer, Harry Westlake. Lyons thought that the fruits of his firm's labors deserved a special identity and, after considering a list of animal names, came up with the SS-Jaguar badge, which appeared that year on a handsome new sporting sedan.
From then until his retirement in 1972, Lyons would be personally involved with the design of every Jaguar. This explains the styling and engineering continuity from one Jaguar sedan to the next, something only a sensitive, single-minded individual can ensure. Thus, for example, the Mark V of 1948 was clearly descended from the prewar-design Mark IV, the original XJ6 of 1968 from the predecessor Mark X/420G.
On the next page, learn more about Jaguar's first sedan, the SS-Jaguar.