Welcome to Early Cats, devoted to William Lyons inspirational creations that eventually led to the formation of Jaguar Cars Ltd in early 1945. Our scope starts at the very first Lyons models in the shape of custom Sidecars for the motorcycles of the '20s, through the first of the Swallow bodied coachbuilt cars and the eventual introduction of the SS name, to the creation of SS Cars Ltd in late 1933. 1935 was a landmark with the first use of the 'Jaguar' name with SS Cars continuing right on to the onset of world war that saw the last production of the fabulous SS100s. By the end of the war, the SS name had gathered associations that were no longer desirable and, by an SS Cars Ltd board decision (see an advert of the period), the name SS was dropped to become Jaguar Cars Ltd. The immediate post-war Saloons (usually known as the Mark IV although this was never an official Brown's Lane designation) share much with the pre-war SS Jaguar saloons so are within the coverage of this site.
No one knows what SS actually stood for though. Swallow Sports and Standard Swallow have been logical suggestions but even William Lyons is on record as stating that it was never decided. Since Lyons owned motorcycles including the Brough SS80 and SS100, could this have been the source of that designation for a certain sports model? In fact, he is on record in a little known interview with Andrew Whyte around 1980 as remarking that 'Yes I suppose I did call my first real sports car after it'.
The Jaguar Leaping CatThe pre-war period also saw the introduction of the famous Jaguar 'Leaper' in 1937. Designed by F Gordon Crosby by request of William Lyons after he saw one of the Desmo mascots (shown left) on a saloon outside the factory and took an instant dislike to it (he is on record as remarking that it 'looks like a cat shot off a fence'), the leaping cat was to become the universal symbol for Jaguar to this day.
Crosby had one of the original bronze castings of the leaper (see right) mounted on his own SS saloon and this design was the master for the production version which exhibits a number of differences. There were believed to be six of these castings and only one is still known to exist for sure. This sole surviving example is currently housed in a private collection.
Contrary to popular opinion, these mascots were never made to fit the SS100 - it had a dog bone radiator cap and the standard mascot cannot be fitted although owners do retrospectively fit them on replacement flat radiator caps, as they do the Desmo ones.
The only true SS100 mascot was a one-off made for 39001 (CKV 250), the first of the 3.5L production cars. Reproductions of this mascot (the 'Prince Michael mascot') exist made by the late David Barber. The design is very different to that of the normal leaper though as it necessarily mounts through a hole in the dog bone top of the radiator cap. The original (which has a broken tail) is also owned privately. Examples have come on the market recently purporting to be 'factory prototypes' but they are almost certainly examples from David Barber's castings.
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