Sir William Lyons, the creator of Jaguar Cars Limited was born September 4, 1901 in Blackpool. After attending Arnold School, he obtained an engineering apprenticeship at Crossley Motors in Manchester, where he also studied at the technical school. He left Crossley in 1919 to work as a salesman at the Sunbeam dealers Brown and Mallalieu in Blackpool.In 1921 he met William Walmsley who was converting army-surplus motorcycles for civilian use and making sidecars. Lyons admired the sidecars and bought one. Lyons and Walmsley obtained a substantial £500 bank guarantee to go into business. So they founded the Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922, which became Jaguar Cars Limited after the Second World War.Their plans were delayed as Lyons was under the legal age, but on his 21st birthday he formed a partnership with Walmsley. It was called Swallow Sidecars and had a staff of “three men and a boy”.The company manufactured stylish sidecars, but after 1927 made increasing numbers of low cost coach-built cars, especially the Austin Seven Swallow which the Blackpool factory produced at the rate of 12 per week. Following several moves to larger premises in Blackpool, in 1928 Lyons moved the company (and his family) to Coventry. His family home was Woodside, Gibbet Hill, on the fringe of the city. Production increased to 50 cars each week. In 1931 they began selling the SS1, and in 1933 the company name was changed to SS Cars Ltd. The following year, William Walmsley left the company.
The first “Jaguar” model, the SS, was offered in 1935, and after WW2 and Lyons also changed the company name from Swallow Sidecars to Jaguar. During the War vehicle production was switched to aircraft manufacture and repair, but engineering development did continue. Some secretive military projects were undertaken but most importantly for the future of the company, Lyons and his engineering team worked on a new engine which was topower his vision of a mass produced sporting saloon car. The XK engine was completed in 1948 and launched in a (supposedly) one-off concept sports car to help draw attention to it. This succeeded far better than was envisaged and both became an overnight sensation, globally. The XK engine went on to power all Jaguars until its last appearance in 1983. The sports car, XK120, went into full production too and led to a string of attention-grabbing (and profitable) sports cars which led to international sporting success (most notably at Le Mans) and helped put the name of Jaguar Cars and Coventry on the world map. But Lyons main focus was on the saloon car which became his last and proudest achievement, the XJ6 of 1968.
He was responsible for the styling of every new model introduced (although the C-type, D-type, E-type and XJ-S were designed by Malcolm Sayer). This was remarkable, as Sir William was not a trained draughtsman, and designed primarily using full scale 3-D mockups, which were continually adjusted by craftsmen working under his instructions. Undoubtedly one of his other great skills was to pick the highly accomplished team that was to remain loyal to him for so long. In 1956 Lyons was knighted for his services to British industry and for the fine export performance of the company. In 1966, faced with a strengthening global industry, he merged Jaguar with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) to form British Motor Holdings, which was later absorbed into British Leyland.
During the final years of Lyons tenure in 1967 he remained as chairman but retired as Manging Director. Sadly he faced a constant struggle against impossible odds to retain the identity and independence of his company, not least its engineering department. He retired completely in 1972. Sadly His health declined fairly rapidly in retirement but happily he did live long enough to witness a remergence of sorts of his company under John Egan before passing away 8 February 1985 at his home in Wappenbury Hall, Leamington Spa. William’s daughter Patricia also married Leeds Jaguar-distributor and rally driver Ian Appleyard, and was his co-driver in many international rallies from 1951 to 53, mostly in an XK120 registered NUB 120, including the Alpine Rally, which they won three times.