The story of Jaguar began in England in 1922 when motorbike fanatic William Lyons launched his first automobile brand with his friend, William Walmsley. At first, the company, the Swallow Sidecar Company (SSC), exclusively produced motorcycle sidecars with distinctive octogonal-shaped aluminium bodies.

The first change kicked in four years later when Lyons, dreaming of breaking into sports cars, moved to Coventry and started producing car bodies for Austin Seven, as well as Sunbeam, Morris and Fiat. It wasn’t long before Lyons – gifted with a sense of style – released his first car, the SS One, which become successful thanks to its relatively affordable price.

In the 1930s, Lyons became the sole head of the business and launched the SS100, the manufacturer’s first vehicle to go over the symbolic 100 miles per hour. He renamed his business SS Ltd – a name that would be replaced in 1945 by Jaguar Cars, due to unfortunate association with the German SS military organization.

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After World War II, and up to the 1960s, Jaguar produced models that would leave influence auto history, including the XJ, the D-Type (a three-time winner of the 24 Heures du Mans), and above all the E-Type, a motor icon that the great Enzo Ferrari deemed to be “the most beautiful car ever made”. This was an opinion shared by various specialists, including writers for the British magazine Autocar, which in 2002 elected the E-Type as the century’s best car, ahead of the Lamborghini Miura and the short-chassis Ferrari 250 GT. What’s undeniable is that the E-Type, coming in convertible and coupe versions, revolutionized the sports car universe with its speedometer needle swinging up to nearly 150 mph.

Among Jaguar’s major feats, it’s also hard to neglect the XK-120. Legend has it that the model was designed hastily by William Lyons, who was knighted around this period and at the full zenith of his career. This sporty little convertible still is counted as one of the British brand’s big commercial successes in the United States.

Sir William Lyons personally delivering an XK120 to Clark Gable Sir William Lyons personally delivering an XK120 to Clark Gable

In the 1960s, Jaguar went through a troubling downturn, which would stretch out until the end of the next decade. The brand underwent the effects of the economic recession that affected Britain and sales collapsed. The brand made an agreement with the BMC (British Motor Corporation) group – with shares in Austin and Morris – but the new merger failed, prompting the Labour government at the time to order Jaguar’s nationalization.

The ensuing strikes in production workshops and ongoing stagnation led to a drop in the quality and reliability of Jaguar models, in turn pushing William Lyons into semi-retirement. The brand's luxury element therefore began to fade.

1980s Jaguar XJR-5 1980s Jaguar XJR-5

In 1984, Jaguar was privatized and started becoming profitable again. The XJR-5 was born: a sports car equipped with a 6.0 L V12 engine. In 1988, the manufacturer finally joined the winner’s circle with its victory at the 24 Heures du Mans ahead of the Porsche 962C.

Two years later, Jaguar followed up this win with a new victory at Le Mans with the XJR-12. In 1990, this model appeared at the World Sportscar Championship, coming in second behind Mercedes.

The XJ220 Jaguar The XJ220 Jaguar

Riding on this success, Jaguar had returned to its former glory. This was clear with the announcement of the XJ220 at the end of the 1980s. On paper, the model looked exquisite and boasted an extraordinarily powerful engine. So orders flowed in, heavily fueled by speculation. But when the brand was taken over in 1990 by Ford, the project began to drag on. The ‘supercar’ wouldn’t exit manufacturing plants until 1992, with diminished mechanical capacities than had been initially announced. Many buyers withdrew their orders, leading to a wave of lawsuits that hurt Jaguar in the eyes of the public and car connoisseurs. Yet the XJ220 proved at last to be a gem on the racetrack. Chock full of luxury fittings, it could reach 62mph in four seconds from a standing start.

Jaguar and Landrover, sold by Ford to Tata Motors in 2008 Jaguar and Landrover, sold by Ford to Tata Motors in 2008

Despite Jaguar's highflying racing performances and the feline sophistication of the XJ220, and attempts to widen its market through a more affordable models, Ford failed to get things on the right track, and in 2008, it sold Jaguar to Tata Motors along with Land Rover. Ever since, the brand has made a comeback and re-established its elegant, sporty lines in keeping with the Indian group’s ambitions. In 2017, Jaguar even beat its sales record by selling 178,601 vehicles worldwide. Proof that British style continues to roar on…

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