The story behind the Jaguar leaper

The Leaper, Jaguar’s famous leaping cat figure was synonymous with the brand and adorned the front of Jaguars for decades. But, what’s the story behind it and why did it disappear?

Miniature works of art

Car bonnet embellishments were originally popular back in the early 20th century when cars had external radiator caps, where cooling liquid could be poured. These caps could be made as unique as car designers could make them and a lot of them were like miniature works of art that would show off the car’s identity.

Apparently, Sir William Lyons disapproved of an after market ornament he saw on an SS Jaguar Saloon and thought it looked like a cat shot off a fence. This inspired him to ask his employee, Bill Rankin, who was an amateur sculptor to design an official, better looking ornament. We believe that Bill knew Frederick Gordon Crosby who was a skilled illustrator and expert at working with metal and he made a bronze prototype of a big cat starting to leap into the air.

Based on this prototype, the leaper was originally offered to the public in 1938. This first version of the leaper stayed until the Mk V saloon went out of production in 1951.

Four years passed before the leaper pounced back onto newly produced Jaguar cars and the original mascot changed most drastically in 1955 when the leaper got reworked and acquired outstretched rear legs. This made it look like the predator cat had now leapt into mid air just before it attacked its prey. As all radiators were now hidden the leaper was fixed onto the bonnet.

This second version of the leaper lived on for 14 years, on models including the Mk1, Mk2, Mk VIII, Mk IX, S-type, 240,340 and XK 150.

The third leaper was a smaller scaled down version, which appeared on the bonnet of the Mark X saloon in 1961.

This sleek and smaller version of the leaper couldn’t be as easily fitted to the larger saloons and it disappeared with the arrival of the XJ saloons which took over from the 340,420 and 420G series.

The Leaper retires

To protect pedestrian safety, EEC safety laws on “the external projections of motor vehicles” in the early 1990s stated that mascots and ornaments should retract, bend or break off when subject to certain force.

Americans however, still demanded the famous Jaguar beast on their bonnets and several versions were worked on for fitting in the US market — all in sprung safety guise. Car ornaments had to meet safety measures to fit in with the EEC legislation and the later Jaguar mascots featured a safety mechanism to allow the body of the leaper to snap off should it be hit.

The famous piece of car art however, eventually disappeared from Jaguar cars in 2005.

The leaper may have disappeared, but the legendary leaping cat design lives on in Jaguar’s logo today and it has become a badge on the boot of all modern Jaguars including the brand new F-Pace.

Get in touch

If you have any knowledge on the Jaguar mascots, history, or memorabilia, or even if you have an interesting Jaguar story then feel free to get in touch contact us — you could even have a feature as part of a guest blog.

The Story Behind The Jaguar Leaper
A first generation leaper. Photo by Nigel Thorley at our Eastern Day in 2015

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