Jaguar traces its roots to the Swallow Sidecar Company that was founded by William Lyons and William Walmsley in 1922 as a manufacturer of sidecars for motorcycles. The two entrepreneurs quickly set their sights on building a car and introduced the luxurious Swallow Sidecar SS1 in 1931.
The accolades bestowed upon the SS1 convinced Lyons and Walmsley to give up sidecar production and focus exclusively on designing cars, and the firm built several...
models before changing its name to Jaguar in 1935.
The Second World War forced Jaguar to briefly return to sidecar production but it also enabled it to gain a sizable chunk of knowledge in the fields of mass-production and aircraft engineering. When peace returned across Europe, Jaguar tapped into the knowledge it had acquired during the war and designed the XK120, a highly-aerodynamic sports car powered by a state-of-the-art twin-cam engine that generated 160 horsepower. The XK120 turned Jaguar into a household name among sports car aficionados.
Jaguar used the profits generated by the XK120 to develop a range-topping sedan called Mark VII, a smaller sedan dubbed 2.4-liter and a race-going version of the 120 that became known as the C-Type. The C-Type won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1951 and again in 1953 thanks in part to fade-free disc brakes developed jointly by Dunlop and Jaguar.
Designer Malcom Sayer created an icon in 1961 when he penned the E-Type, a sleek two-door available as a coupe and a convertible. The car's styling and its powerful engine made it an instant hit among buyers in England and the United States, and over 70,000 examples were built until the car was phased out in 1974.
Jaguar was purchased by British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1966 and merged into British Leyland in 1968, the same year it launched the XJ. Intended to slot at the very top of the Jaguar range, the XJ blazed the path that all of the automaker's flagship sedans would follow well into the 2000s.
Plagued by quality issues and an enormous portfolio of brands that was becoming increasingly difficult to manage, British Leyland was partly nationalized in 1975 and restructured over the following years, and it soon became clear that Jaguar was the black sheep of the family. It was sold through the divestment of shares in July of 1984 and it remained independent until Ford stepped in and started investing in the firm in 1989. A full takeover was completed by the summer of 1990.
In the late 1990s, Ford gradually tried to turn Jaguar into a more mainstream company capable of fighting against big names like BMW by launching cars like the S-Type and the heavily-criticized X-Type. Along with Aston Martin, Volvo and Land Rover, Jaguar operated as part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group.
Faced with the dim prospect of bankruptcy, Ford made the controversial decision to sell Jaguar and Land Rover to India's Tata Motors in 2008. Tata has invested heavily in both brands and today Jaguar offers a lineup of well-executed luxury cars that includes the XF and XJ sedans and the XK sports car, while the F-Type keeps the spirit of the original E-Type alive.