Why another international classic Jaguar meeting?
While driving to Nigel Webbs memorable barbecue in April 2014 George Donni heard Sir William Lyons talking to him that: as an owner of a S.S.90 and a 3.4 Saloon he is obliged to set up a celebration of the two "Jaguars" that set the foundation to the marques core values: The first Sports Car and the first Sports Saloon. Due to its extreme raritiy both cars are underrated or worse even, overlooked. However most of these cars are nowadays in the hands of, how to say, Super Jaguar Enthusiasts. This is why we believe that we have to come together an celebrate our love and passion.
The importance of the S.S. 90 and the
'Mk 1' Sports Saloon in JAGUAR history
They may not be the most talked about, nor are they the cars with the most prestige in view of all the famous models of the JAGUAR brand, but they have one outstanding common significance: they were firsts. They both were the firsts of new product lines, the S.S. 90 for the ‘Sports Cars Line’ and the ‘Mk 1’ for the ‘Sports Saloon Line’. Looking at it from a purely market development view, they both can be likened to be those Switches that opened new tracks of business for the young SS Cars Ltd. and alike for post war JAGUAR Ltd. trying to find new footholds in an economy still recovering from the wraths of war. That is why the S.S. 90 and the ‘Mk 1’ must be considered to be of highest importance in the unique history of JAGUAR.
The S.S. 90
When [Sir] William Lyons unveiled the S.S. 90 Prototype in March 1935 it signified much more than an important milestone for the then young company. It encompassed nothing less than opening a second line of business. At the end of 1934 William Lyons could look back on four successful business years thanks to the innovative line of Saloon products, a line of cars that had been well received by the British market despite a most difficult economic environment due to the financial crisis engulfing the western world. Yet at that time Lyons correctly judged the S.S. 1- and S.S. 2-lines as having run their course. The sole one-track positioning of the company would be insufficient on the long run. A second track would be essential for the company to meet the future's demand on its business. Thus, intentionally the S.S. 90 was positioned as being the switch that would open a second track in approaching the market. This second track in the company's business strategy is what we refer today to as the 'Sports Car Line' complementing the first track, the 'Saloon Line'. What might not have become apparent at the outset when presenting the S.S. 90 to the press on 15th March 1935, it would be exactly the sports car track that would play the key role to success in future years. With the S.S. 90 the stage was set exactly at that time. The ensuing SS Jaguar 100 line would reinforce the positioning of SS Cars Ltd. as a two track manufacturer with a sports car as well as a saloon line.
However, due to the oncoming world war it took another 15 years until the real importance of Lyons' two track strategy became apparent. Only in the 1950s the unprecedented series of successes of JAGUAR on the race tracks of the world demonstrated the importance of being a sports car manufacturer. The 1951 win of the C-Type at the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race made JAGUAR overnight into one of the world's leading sports car manufacturers. What had its outset with the S.S. 90 would then heave the make onto the pedestal as one of the most prestigious sports car manufacturer in the world. The '90' may truly be viewed as the Switch to all of this.
The Sports Saloons
At the time of its announcement in September 1955 the ‘Mk 1’ as it is referred to today, was simply called the 2.4 Saloon and two years later, in February 1957, the larger engine complement had been announced equally prosaic as the ‘3.4 Saloon’. If we look back to the role of the ‘Mk 1 in JAGUAR history we see that it had opened a third track of business, the ‘Sports Saloon Line’ complementing the ‘Saloon Line’ (then the Mk VII and the Mk VIII respectively) and the ‘Sports Car Line’ (then the XK 140 and the XK 150 respectively). Initially the 2.4 was a long shot from being a perfect automobile, but for JAGUAR it became the switch to a track that would earn an enormous reputation for the brand. At times it appears that the ‘Mk 1’ is often viewed only as a precursor of the Mk 2. Not true. The launch of the sports saloons 2.4 – and of course more so with the 3.4 – hat put JAGUAR into a position to directly compete internationally with the like of other sporty saloons such as the then highly praised Mercedes Benz 220a; the long established Citroën 15 Six, a model which soon would come to an end and was never adequately replaced; the somewhat as ‘baroque’ perceived BMW 501 six and to some degree the 502 V8 Saloon; the rare but most ingenious Lancia Aurelia, replaced in 1957 by the equally ingenious and most attractive Flaminia; on the home market the Rover 105 and the BMC ‘regulars’ Austin A90, Riley Pathfinder, Wolseley 6/90. They all could be considered to be in the range of sporty saloons, although not in the same performance league as the 2.4 litre, leave alone the 1957 launched 3.4. As two exotic sporty counterpoints, highly interesting but very low volume, one might contemplate the Borgward 2400 and the Daimler Conquest.
But keep in mind, it had been the 2.4 that set the Switch to that all important third track of the JAGUAR product line that found its end only with the 1968 launch of the XJ 6. Both Saloon tracks were then amalgamated back into one single product line escorting JAGUAR back to be a manufacturer of only two tracks, one Saloon track and one Sports Car track.
For JAGUAR the Sports Saloon Line positioned the firm in an enviable position: for about the same money – perhaps a trifle more – as the major competitors the line offered a fast, safe, attractive and easy to drive saloon for weekdays and at the same time a sports car with sports car qualities for the weekend, all in one. Already the 2.4 was a milestone for Jaguar, the small but in comparison powerful 2.4 litre XK engine with 112 bhp, the remarkably aerodynamic design of the body built as an unitary structure, the advanced independent front suspension, a rear axle that could be viewed as a simplified version of the D-Type suspension. The public immediately recognized that Jaguar had now added a third track to its offerings and soon it became apparent that the 2.4 would outsell the large saloons. The Mk VII and Mk VII M, followed by the Mk VIII would soon forego their role as the prime money earner and retreat to a position of representative top models for the upscale market. This was amplified in February 1957 with the announcement of the 3.4 litre with no less than 220 bhp, a new rear axle and most of all, disk brakes as an option (which almost everybody was going to choose).
S.S. 90 and ‘Mk 1’ have important birthdays this year, 80 years and 60 years respectively since their announcement. That makes it more than worth-while to celebrate both of these model ranges. And yet, to us even more significant is the outstanding role each of them played at the outset of major new developments that created JAGUAR as the company we admire today.