Sir William Lyons - a tribute

Sir William Lyons started his automotive career in 1919, working as a salesman at the Sunbeam dealership in Blackpool. But it was to be a chance meeting with William Walmsley, who was building and selling sidecars, that would lay the foundations for what would become the Jaguar car company. Lyons bought a sidecar from him and so the friendship began.

On William Lyons’ 21st birthday he formed a partnership with Walmsley to create a compnay in Blackpool called Swallow Sidecars. Founded on a £500 loan from each of their fathers, they manufactured particularly stylish sidecars, but after 1927 made increasing numbers of low cost coach-built cars, such as the Austin Seven Swallow. In 1928, Lyons moved the company (and his family) to Coventry and to the family home of Woodside, Gibbet Hill. Production increased to 50 cars each week and a supply deal struck with the Standard Motor Company for chassis and engines.

In 1931, the SS1 arrived and in 1933 the company name was changed to SS Cars Ltd and then again to “Jaguar” to avoid any confusion with the German SS during the Second World War. The post-war era saw Jaguar building its own engines and running gear.

Sir William Lyons was widely considered a fair, but autocratic leader who managed the company very tightly. He was responsible for the styling of almost every new model introduced (with the exception of the C,D, E Types and XJ-S).

William Lyons married Greta Brown in 1924. They had three children; Patricia, John Michael and Mary. Patricia married Leeds Jaguar-distributor and rally driver Ian Appleyard, and was his co-driver in many international rallies in the famous XK120 NUB 120. John Michael was killed in a road accident driving to the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Although not a trained engineer, Lyons designed cars using full scale clay models, formed by craftsmen working under his instructions. His great skill was in building and leading a team and it was this quality that ensured that so many of his key players remained fiercely loyal for many, many years.

In 1956, William Lyons became a ‘Sir’ as he was knighted for his services to British industry and for the outstanding export performance of Jaguar. In 1966, he merged Jaguar with the British Motor Corporation (BMC), which was later absorbed into British Leyland.

He retired in 1972, to keep his famous prize-winning Suffolk sheep and Jersey cattle on his farm estates at Wappenbury. His health declined fairly rapidly in retirement and he never saw the resurrection of the company as an independent brand under John Egan. Despite this, Lyons remained in a consultative role to Jaguar long after retirement. He passed away, aged 83, in 1985.

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