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Apart from Rolls-Royce and Bentley, nothing says British motorcar elegance better than Jaguar, whose illustrious heritage blends beauty with performance. Jaguar's origin lies with the SS company in Britain. William Lyons had partnered with William Walmsley to form the Swallow Sidecar Company, which built motorcar bodies. Established late in the 1920s, Swallow Coachbuilding soon changed its name to SS Cars Ltd., prepared to manufacture complete automobiles.
Lyons designed a rakish body to fit a new Standard chassis. Dubbed SS1, the car appeared at the 1931 British Motor Show, featuring a long hood and styling reminiscent of the massive Mercedes-Benz SSK. A two-passenger SS90 came along in 1935, followed by the shapely, spirited-and ever so memorable-SS100. Gracefully curved front fenders melded into the running boards and rounded rear fenders. SS100s raced at the Brooklands course, as well as at hillclimbs and rally events. The Jaguar name was used for the first time in connection with the SS100.
Saloons (sedans) that had been introduced in the late Thirties reappeared after World War II, but the SS100 did not. Popularity of four-door Jaguars led to a new Mark V saloon in 1949. Meanwhile, Jaguar caused considerable commotion at the 1948 Earl's Court Motor Show with its XK-120 roadster. This sleek, low-slung two-seater captured countless automotive hearts and is considered one of the most beautiful designs ever.
A high-speed demonstration in Belgium affirmed the XK-120's performance claims, showing that the car could reach past 120 mph, yet drive comfortably at 10 mph in top gear. To achieve serious racing success, Jaguar designed the XK-120C (C-Type), which won the 1951 LeMans event. At the 1951 Geneva (Switzerland) Motor Show, a fixed-head coupe with wind-up windows joined the XK-120 roadster. In 1953, a drophead-coupe sprung to life with a fully-trimmed convertible top. A year later, the D-Type racer turned into one of the most famous racing cars of the Fifties.
October 1954 saw the debut of the XK-120's successor, the XK-150, with a larger cockpit and more powerful six-cylinder engine. Four-wheel disc brakes and a one-piece windshield went on the XK-150 of 1957, which displayed a rather different profile.
In 1961, Jaguar's racing D-Type evolved into the next street model: the legendary, sinuously curvaceous E-Type (also called XK-E). E-Types came in open form or as a fastback coupe with an open-up back window. Two further editions were introduced before the E-Type expired in 1975, after abandoning six-cylinder engines in favor of a V-12.
That's when the XJ-S coupe appeared, seen as a "boulevard" sport coupe rather than a true sports car. An open cabriolet version arrived at U.S. dealerships in the mid-1980s, with a roll bar above the seats. By then, Jaguar sedans could have either a six-cylinder engine or a V-12. After a period of financial discomfort, for 1988, Jaguar launched its first new sedan in two decades: a redesigned XJ, first with six-cylinder power, then adding a V-12 choice in 1994. Ford Motor Company acquired Jaguar in 1989, hanging onto it until 2008, when financial consideration made it necessary to sell off several auxiliary makes. First product under the Ford/Jaguar banner was a reworked XJ sedan for 1995.
Jaguar finally replaced the aged XJ-S coupe design with a new XK Series, introduced for 1997. Styling harked back to the elegant E-Type, and the XK held Jaguar's first V-8 engine. A smaller sedan debuted for 2000: the S-Type, sharing a platform with the new Lincoln LS-another close tie to Ford. Moving even farther down the price scale, Jaguar revealed an "entry-level" X-Type sedan, based on the European Ford Mondeo, for 2002. Both the S-Type and the X-Type faded away in 2008 as Jaguar launched a midsize XF sedan, which could be supercharged and featured a rotary-knob gear selector on the console.
Long-term ownership by Ford helped Jaguar weather a difficult period, and rectify some quality issues that had plagued earlier models. Enthusiasts still fall hardest for the richly styled old-timers, but today's Jags exude an enchanting aura of their own.