The origins of Jaguar can be traced back to the northern seaside town of Blackpool in the early 1920s. It was here that a young motorcycle enthusiast, Bill Lyons (b. 1901), not yet 21 years of age, met William Walmsley (b. 1891) who was building attractive motorcycle sidecars and attaching them to reconditioned motorbikes. Walmsley had not long arrived in Blackpool with his parents from Stockport, and both families happened lived in the same street – King Edward Avenue.
As soon as William Lyons came of age, he and Walmsley formed the Swallow Sidecar Company on 4th September 1922 with a bank overdraft of £1,000. Securing first and second floor premises in Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, they commenced commercial production of the sidecars together with a small team of eight employees, including a young Arthur Whitaker. Although initially employed to help with sales, Whitaker’s strength lay in purchasing and he was to remain with Lyons for some 50 years, proving himself to be one of the most shrewd purchasers in the business.
Lack of factory space soon became a problem, and two further Blackpool sites were taken over – in Woodfield Road (mainly for despatch purposes) and, shortly afterwards, in John Street which was fortuitously situated close to the main Swallow premises.
n mid-1926, plans for producing motor-car bodies were well under way, and this – together with the year-by-year increase in production of the sidecars – made it necessary for Swallow to move into a larger building. Lyons had heard that a building erected specifically for coachbuilding was coming on to the market. The previous occupant, Joseph Street, had run into trouble and the property was now up for sale, but at a price beyond which the partnership could afford. Fortunately, Walmsley’s father had just sold his coal business and was looking for somewhere to invest the proceeds, offering to purchase the building and lease it to Lyons and Walmsley junior at an annual rent of £325.
The entire removal to 41 Cocker Street took just one weekend with no assistance from outside sources, other than the unofficial assistance of one pantechnicon and driver, which on the Friday had delivered new sidecar chassis frames from Haywards of Birmingham.
The Austin Swallow proved popular and was followed in 1928 by the Austin Seven Swallow Saloon – a car that looked much more expensive than it actually was. By aping the style of the more luxurious cars of the era, the Swallows allowed their owners to “keep up appearances” at a time of economic hardship for many.
1928 also saw the brief introduction of the Morris Cowley-Swallow. Relatively few of these cars were produced. Although the price was right, the Cowley-Swallow was very slow, and would have struggled against the Oxford-MG. This was not the only Morris connection, however. Produced as a “one-off”, was the Morris Minor-Swallow.
In 1928 the business was moved from Blackpool, where there was a serious shortage of skilled labour, to an old ammunition factory at Foleshill, Coventry. Capable of only producing 2 cars per day in the existing factory, an order from Henlys for 500 Austin Swallows effectively forced this move. With a fivefold increase in floor space, Swallow production could be upped from twelve to fifty cars per week. The move also reduced costs as it was no longer necessary to transport the chassis from their manufacturers in the Midlands up to Blackpool.
At the annual London Motor Show in 1929, three new Swallow models appeared for the first time. These were based on the existing Standard Big Nine, Swift Ten, and Fiat Tipo 509A chassis. The Standard Swallow was a rather larger saloon than the previous models, selling for £245, but still offered a more extravagant body style than the manufacturer’s own car.
Labels: Luxury Cars