Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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William Lyons

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Sir William Lyons (1901–1985), known as "Mr. Jaguar", was with fellow motorcycle enthusiast William Walmsley, the co-founder in 1922 of the Swallow Sidecar Co, which became Jaguar after the Second World War.

1901 September 4th. Born in Blackpool, a son of Irish immigrant William Lyons, who owned a musical instrument shop, and his wife Minnie Barcroft, the daughter of a mill owner.

After attending Arnold School, Lyons obtained an engineering apprenticeship at Crossley Motors in Manchester, where he also studied at the technical school.

1919 He left Crossleys to work as a salesman at Brown and Mallalieu in Blackpool.

1921 William Walmsley moved next door to Lyons, converting surplus army motorcycles for civilian use and making sidecars. Lyons bought one. Lyons and Walmsley obtained from their fathers a substantial £500 bank guarantee to go into business. 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 Swallow which the Blackpool factory produced at the rate of 12 per week.

1924 Married Greta Brown. They were the parents of Patricia Lyons (b. 1927), John Michael Lyons (1930–1955), and Mary Lyons (b. 1937).

Following several moves to larger premises in Blackpool, in 1928 Lyons moved the company and his family to Coventry. Production increased to 50 cars each week. The name was changed to S. S. Cars Ltd.

In 1931 they began selling the SS1, which then became company name in 1933. The following year, William Walmsley left the company. The first "Jaguar" model was offered in 1935. SS Cars Ltd changed its name to to Jaguar after WW2 to avoid confusion with the Nazi "SS".

During his time as managing director of Jaguar, Lyons kept a tight rein on the company and was responsible for the styling of every new model introduced (except for the C-type, D-type, E-type and XJ-S which were designed by Malcolm Sayer). This was remarkable, as Sir William was not trained to draw, and designed primarily using full scale 3-D mockups, which were continually adjusted by tradesmen working under his instructions.

1950-51 President of the SMMT

In 1956 Lyons was knighted for his services to British industry and for the fine export performance of the company.

In 1966, faced with the strengthening global industry, he merged Jaguar with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) to form British Motor Holdings, which was later absorbed into British Leyland Motor Corporation.

Lyons retired as managing director near the end of 1967 but remained as chairman of Jaguar Cars Ltd.

1972 He retired completely and kept prize-winning sheep and cattle on his farm at Wappenbury.

1985 February 8th. Sir William Lyons died at Wappenbury Hall, Leamington Spa, his home in Warwickshire.

His wife Greta died the following year.

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