Mr Jaguar | Who was Sir William Lyons?
January 11th 2021
Often referred to as Mr Jaguar, Sir William Lyons was the co-founder of Jaguar, along with William Walmsley, a fellow motorbike devotee. Originally named the Swallow Sidecar Company, the business was rebranded to Jaguar after World War II after the departure of Walmsley.
Under Sir William Lyons’ watchful eye, Jaguar flourished to become one of the true giants of the British motoring industry. But who was the man behind the famous Jaguar E-type and other iconic cars?
Here’s everything you need to know about Sir William Lyons and his passion for Jaguar.
His Early Life
Despite his title, Sir William Lyons was born into a very modest home in 1901. The son of a mill owner’s daughter and an Irish immigrant, he was brought up to understand the meaning of hard work and respect. Although his father owned a musical instruments shop, William was to go in a very different direction, choosing to take an apprenticeship in engineering at Crossley Motors.
After qualifying in 1919, he left to work as a salesman in Blackpool. Just two years later, the paths of William and Walmsley crossed, and the pair bonded over their shared love of motorbikes. With help from their fathers, William and Walmsley obtained a hefty £500 bank guarantee and opened up their business.
Their company began by producing sidecars but had expanded to coach-built cars by 1927. William had married in 1924 and, after moving his family a number of times, eventually settled in Coventry in 1928. By 1930, the burgeoning business was producing 50 cars per week but it wasn’t enough to keep Walmsley’s interest; he left in 1934.
Despite Walmsley leaving the company, Sir William did not falter. The name change occurred because Swallow Sidecars had been abbreviated to SS, and he was keen to avoid any accidental association with the German Nazi SS.
During the war, the business supported the military, offering aircraft repair and manufacture. However, car production hadn’t been entirely forgotten; very quietly they were still continuing to develop an engine that could power a sports saloon, with a vision of creating a knock-out road sports car. The concept was finalised in 1948 but due to the overwhelming success, went into production right away.
Although the success of the engine and the sports car made Sir William Lyons extremely proud, his sights were still on the development of the saloon car - a feat which he eventually achieved in 1968: the XJ6, arguably his defining career moment.
He received a knighthood in 1956 for his export performance and his services to British industry.
During his time as managing director of Jaguar, Sir William took a close and active role. Every model was styled by him personally, despite the fact he wasn’t a fully trained engineer. The handpicked craftsmen who worked under him became used to his unusual instructions and simply tweaked the models to fit. Some would say that his ability to choose loyal and gifted workers was one of his most impressive talents.
The Later Years
In 1972, at the age of 71 Sir William Lyons retired completely. The final years in the business had been hard, following the merger between Jaguar and the British Motor Corporation. Battling to retain Jaguar’s independence and separate identity, as well as preserving the engineering team had been a constant challenge.
After retiring he played golf, enjoyed travel and raised prize-winning Jersey cattle and Sussex sheep on his farm estates. His family were also very important to him; after marrying Greta in 1924, they had three children: Patricia, John and Mary. Sadly John died in a car accident on his way to take part in the Le Mans rally in 1955.
Sir William’s health rapidly declined just prior to his death and he passed away in 1985 at his family home. During the latter years of his retirement before he became unwell, Sir William acted as a consultant for Jaguar but didn’t survive long enough to see the company’s fortunes start to soar once more.
With such a rich and interesting history, the Jaguar E-type is a car to behold. If you’re interested in finding out more about this wonderful vehicle, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.