From TIME magazine
Business Abroad: Jaguar’s Mark X
Friday, Oct. 20, 1961
High in the French Pyrenees, peasants were startled for weeks by two soot-black cars, swathed in tape and disguised by tacked-on boards, streaking under the slim poplars and bouncing up the cruel mountain roads at 100mph. Last week at London’s auto show at Earls Court, the tacky-looking autos showed their true faces. Spinning on twin turntables in peaceful repose were two new Mark X sedans, Jaguar Cars Ltd.’s first newly designed big sedans in ten years. A bustling British maker of luxury sedans and speedy sports cars, Jaguar has become Britain’s most consistently successful post-war automaker by virtue of its ability to produce high-quality cars at relatively modest prices.
Spartan Dedication. The Mark X’s creator is Sir William Lyons, 60, Jaguar’s steel-willed chairman and managing director, who had a very special plan in mind. “We wanted,” he explains, “to introduce the characteristics of a racing car into a passenger car.”
The racing car was Jaguar’s famed, sleek-snouted Type D, which burned up Europe’s tracks in the mid-’50s and won the grueling Le Mans 24-hour race three years in a row. From the Type D Sir William took road-clinging, independent rear-wheel suspension and a 265-h.p. engine that gives the Mark X a top speed of 120 after cat-quick acceleration from 0 to 30 m.p.h. in four seconds.
Jaguar’s Type D racer has also spawned the sleek XKE sports car, of which auto buffs snapped up 2,200 in three days (roughly a full year’s XKE production) after its introduction last April at the New York auto show. Its appeal: with a top speed of 150 m.p.h., it compares with Italy’s hand-tooled Maseratis and Ferraris in both pace and grace (to use Jag’s favorite ad words), yet at its U.S. price of about $6,000 costs only half as much. The Mark X at its basic British price of $4,592 (to which the British Government adds a hefty $2,106 tax) also undersells competing sedans by a wide margin.
How does Jaguar do it? The answer lies largely in Sir William’s Spartan-like dedication to no frills and no featherbedding. Jaguar’s ugly red-brick plant in Coventry is starkly functional: Sir William’s own bare office is ornamented by a single ceramic jaguar. Working nine to twelve hours a day, he doubles unofficially as his own chief inspector, and expects each of his executives to fill at least two posts. The result: Jaguar has probably the lowest ratio of office to production workers of any major British automaker.
Jaguar’s greatest competitive edge comes from combining mass-production methods with a high standard of workmanship. Each car is checked 47 times during its production. Sir William prowls the plant each workday for at least an hour, often singles out one car for a minute personal inspection. He has turned cars back for no greater fault than a slight wrinkle in the leather upholstery. To reduce costly model changeovers, he aims for car designs that will not be quickly dated, makes certain a car is engineered to last.
Up From Sidecars. Lancashire-born Sir William, who started out as a maker of motorcycle sidecars, founded the Swallow Coachbuilding Co. Ltd. in 1928 to build custom bodies for Standard’s chassis, called his car the Standard Swallow (and quickly shortened it to simply the “S.S.”). To avoid the onus the Nazis had given to the initials SS, Lyons in 1945 changed the company’s name to Jaguar. Production has risen from 250 a week in 1950 to the current clip of about 530, and Jaguar’s sales to the U.S. have jumped from 912 in 1950 to an anticipated 7,500 this year.
Knighthood in 1956 has changed Bill Lyons not one whit. He still belongs to no clubs, leads a quiet life with his wife at their Georgian-Victorian country home. His only hobby, says a close friend, “is making Jaguar even better.”
He is also determined to make it bigger. To get more plant space, he last year bought Jaguar’s venerable neighbor, the Daimler Co. Last week Sir William made his boldest move yet: he bought the Coventry plant of defunct Guy Motors, Ltd., where he plans to diversify into trucks. Aim: to have cart horses as well as thoroughbreds to offer when and if Britain gets into the Common Market.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.