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Friday, October 31, 2014

Meet the Jaguar That’s Granddad to the F-Type



In the 1920s, two friends – both named William – started building motorcycle sidecars in Britain under the banner of the Swallow Sidecar Company. The venture would eventually evolve into a coachbuilding business, then again to become a full-blown car company (SS Cars Ltd.), and would finally adopt a name you know quite well – Jaguar.

Though quite the drastic transformation, this isn’t the story of how a sidecar became an F-Type. Rather, it’s merely about the starting point. Meet the predecessor to the very first Jaguar ever made, and moreover the forefather of the modern Jaguar sports car: the SS 90.


The SS 90 was born unto this world in 1935; just a few months after one William left the company and the other dreamed up a roadster to rival the world’s top-dollar competition. William Lyons’ resultant SS 90 began production in March and his company cranked out 24 cars – including one prototype – over the following months until October of that year.

This rare bird you see before you is number seven in the production run (chassis #249485). It’s part of the Hilton Head Island Concours, where you can see it in the flesh.


While quite the looker and bearing a name indicative of a claimed 90 mph top speed, Lyons would later admit that his car wasn’t exactly the quickest. The SS 90s borrowed a 2½-liter side-valve straight-six engine from the Standard Motor Company, which in its day produced somewhere in the ballpark of 68 horsepower.

That motor came fitted within a lightweight aluminum body and underslung steel chassis (weighing around 2,000 lbs. all totaled). That made for positive driving characteristics despite its simple leaf springs, but noticeably slower performance than that of its high-dollar contemporaries, like the Bentley 3½-liter.

 Lyons would eventually remedy that power loss with improved over-head valves on his next car, the Jaguar SS100, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This fine example paints a remarkable survival story, befitting of such a pivotal auto. Chassis #249485 got its original registration in July 1935 (BUF 695), which it still wears proudly today, though not much is known of its early years. Post-war, this pre-Jag ditched its fenders, added large carburetors, and was careered in hill climb events across the British Isles. Then the story goes dark again, until it was taken off the road in 1958.

The current owner took possession of the car in 1994, at which point it had been disassembled and strewn between five horse barns. Despite the car’s first restorer running away with almost all of the spare parts, the car eventually made its way to known Jaguar specialist Dave Davenport, who brought it back to its current pristine condition.


Over the years, this SS 90 has claimed 23 Best in Class awards, and it isn’t exactly hard to tell why. BUF 695 sports its original engine, original chassis, and nearly all-original body panels. In fact, the front and rear fenders were replaced with versions that were hand beaten on the exact same ash forms that were originally used in the SS Cars factory, circa 1935.

Notably, this SS 90 is one of only two cars to be finished in this striking shade of Bugatti Blue paint; the other resides in Northern Ireland. This SS 90 makes its roost in Texas. I asked the current owner how it rides. He chuckled, “Stiff.”

The 1936 Jaguar SS100 and the later XK120 might get all the fame for being the first Jag sportscars, but just know that this SS 90 – along with its SS 1 and SS 2 forefathers – started the ball rolling. And if you like the new F-Type, you have these old beauties to thank.