Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 26th September 2017

Designer Of The Day is a segment that looks at manufacturers in the automotive industry and examines how influential they’ve been. Sir William Lyons has a reputation for being one of the most famous, having founded Jaguar Cars alongside William Walmsley.

Early life

Lyons was born in Blackpool in 1901 and from an early age had an interest in motorbikes. He lived on the same street at his future business partner William Walmsley, who owned a sidecar called a Swallow. Lyons bought one and hooked it up to the Norton bike he was riding a the time.

At 20 years old, he showed remarkable business sense, convincing Walmsley to partner with him. In 1922, they started the Swallow Sidecar Company and the business flourished. It proved to be so successful that they added coachbuilding to their portfolio.

Car building career

Lyons’ first cars, the SS1 and SS2, were built in 1931. This was done during a time when there wasn’t much originality in the automotive world, so Lyons’ vehicles were a breath of fresh air. While Walsley was happy to let the money roll in, Lyons wasn’t content to rest on his laurels. He set to work on a new engine that was worthy of his new line of cars.

Lyons hired the best engineers he could find and the result was the stylish SS 100 that featured a 3.5 litre engine. But the first official ‘Jaguar’ car was introduced in 1935 and after WW2, Lyons changed the company name to avoid association with the Nazi’s ‘SS’ symbol.

In 1948, Jaguar launched their XK engine that became an overnight success. The engine went to power all Jaguars until the Jaguar V12 engine came out in 1971. The XK 120 was soon introduced and led to success on the racing circuit.

As managing director of Jaguar, Lyons was a hands on type of leader. He oversaw the styling of every new model and worked closely with his team.

Later years

Lyons was knighted for his contribution to the car industry in 1956. In 1966, he merged Jaguar with the British Motor Corporation to form British Motor Holdings, which was eventually absorbed into British Leyland. During his final years as chairman, Lyons struggled to keep the identity of his company intact until he retired in 1972.