Seeds for the Jaguar SS 90 were sown in 1934. It was one of the third-series 1934 SS1 chassis, fitted with the 2.7 engine, that William Walmsley chose as the basis for his final contribution to the company he was shortly to leave. This was an open four-seat Tourer shortened in both body and chassis to become a "proper" two-seater.
The Jaguar SS 90 was visually indistinguishable
from its successor, the SS 100 pictured here.
Little information seems to have survived about this one-off project, but in appearance it must have strongly foreshadowed the later Jaguar SS 90/SS 100. The greatest known difference is that Walmsley's sports car carried its spare tire in a lay-down position in a notably long tail.
That car was apparently finished in March 1934. So were Lyons and Walmsley, just about, but the one William evidently saw merit in the other's toy. Late that year, even as the 12-year partnership was being dissolved, a second two-seater was built. Finished in December, this is the car regarded as the definitive prototype of the SS 90.
As would the production cars to follow, the prototype SS 90 rode a regular SS1 chassis with 15 inches cut from its middle. The X-member was removed at the same time, shortened a little, then welded back in with there maining structure.
Atop this modified frame was mounted a body that resembled the Tourer's but which was, in fact, a new piece of work and lurked lower between tall "racing" wire wheels. The radiator shell and the huge, multi-louvered engine hood were both squarer and seemed to bulge with unspeakable power.
Giant Lucas headlamps stood on great, manly chromed braces. In delightful contrast, four of the most delicate fenders ever drawn seemed more mist than metal.
Unique to this prototype SS 90 was the tail treatment. A truncated cone of body metal that concealed the gas tank, it finished in a cutout carrying the spare wheel at a steep forward cant. Apparently to open some space for luggage and a folding top, all succeeding SS 90s had more rearward, fully exposed "slab" tanks and vertically mounted spares.
What was thereby lost to aesthetics was regained up front, where the side louvers and hood rear edge, initially vertical, were slanted back to match the for-ward edge of the door and the windshield. The "coach-built" body construction itself was conventional for the time, a framing of well-seasoned ash supporting aluminum panels. The fenders, or "wings" in the particularly apt British term, were aluminum as well.
The new wheelbase was 104 inches, which reduced the much longer SS1's ocean-linerish turning circle of 38 feet to a still not very nimble 35. The track measurements, front and rear, remained at 54 inches. Customers had a choice of tire sizes, either 5.25 or 5.5 Dunlop "90"s mounted on big 18-inch rims.
Conventional in most respects for the time, the beam axle/leaf spring suspension did offer one feature of special interest to anyone who supposes new ground was broken some 50 years later: these 1935 shock absorbers, though non-hydraulic, were Andre Telecontrols, adjustable from the cockpit.
Only the larger Standard engine was offered in the SS 90, the "2/2-Litre" that actually displaced nearer 2.7. Compared to its tune in the SS1, it had a higher compression ratio-all the way out to 7.0:1-and a sportier camshaft profile, two carburetors instead of one, and a new cast-aluminum oil sump with greater capacity.
The last was significant, because this engine still had a reputation for marginal cooling, and its connecting rods were still Dural aluminum alloy. Elevated running temperatures would open the rod clearances enough to lower oil pressure.
By adding a cast-aluminum oil sump with greater capacity, SS Cars was tacitly endorsing the use of its new sports car as, yes, a sports car.
In point of fact, William Lyons himself endorsed the idea overtly at least once. Bringing one of the early SS 90s to show off at an SS owners' club meet in his old hometown of Blackpool, he proceeded to set best time of the day in a driving test. So this definitely was the fastest Lyons car yet.
In absolute terms, though, the SS 90 wasn't very fast. No independent tests seem to have been carried out, so any performance numbers are anecdotal, but at best the engine put out no more than 80 horsepower, so the car was capable of only approaching a genuine 90 mph.
Brisk enough, probably, given the roads, tires, suspensions and brakes of the day. But it fell short of generating the aura William Lyons by now had in mind.
The car went on sale in March 1935, but apparently the factory was already working on its successor. Only 22 production SS 90s were turned out before the Jaguar SS 100 was ready to take over.
For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:
- Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cats.
- How Sports Cars Work: Get the lowdown on hundreds of fantastic sports cars from the 1940s to today.
- Classic Cars: Learn about the world's most coveted automobiles in these illustrated profiles.
- Ferrari: Learn about every significant Ferrari road car and racing car.
- New Jaguars: Reviews, ratings, prices, and specifications on the current Jaguar lineup from the auto editors of Consumer Guide.
- Used Jaguars: Reviews, recalls, trouble spots, and more on pre-owned Jaguars starting with the 1990 model year. From the auto editors of Consumer Guide.