Geek Of The Week: Sir William Lyons

Geek Of The Week: Sir William Lyons

Sir William Lyons, known as “Mr. Jaguar”, was with fellow motorcycle enthusiast William Walmsley, the co-founder in 1922 of the Swallow Sidecar Company, which became Jaguar Cars Limited after the Second World War. Lyons was born in Blackpool, son of Irish immigrant William Lyons, who owned a musical instrument shop, and his wife Minnie Barcroft, the daughter of a mill owner. After attending Arnold School, Lyons obtained an engineering apprenticeship at Crossley Motors in Manchester, where he also studied at the technical school. He left Crossley in 1919 to work as a salesman at the Sunbeam dealers Brown and Mallalieu in Blackpool.

The first “Jaguar” model was offered in 1935, and after World War II, Lyons changed the company name to Jaguar to avoid the unfortunate connotations with the Nazi “Schutzstaffel”. Armstrong Siddeley allowed Lyons to use the Jaguar name from their successful aircraft engine range, such was the camaraderie of the car industry at the time.

During the War vehicle production was switched to aircraft manufacture and repair, but engineering development did continue. Some secretive military projects were undertaken but most importantly for the future of the company, Lyons and his engineering team worked on a new engine which was to power his vision of a mass-produced sporting saloon car. The XK engine was completed in 1948 and launched in a (supposedly) one-off concept sports car to help draw attention to it. This succeeded far better than was envisaged and both became an overnight sensation, globally. The XK engine went on to power all Jaguars until the introduction of the series 3 E Type introduced the Jaguar V12 engine in 1971, while the XJ6 continued in production until 1992 with the 4.2 liter version of the XK engine. The sports car, XK120, went into full production too and led to a string of attention-grabbing (and profitable) sports cars which led to international sporting success (most notably at Le Mans) and helped put the name of Jaguar Cars and Coventry on the world map. But Lyons main focus was on the saloon car which he continued to develop until his last and proudest achievement, the XJ6 of 1968. He was responsible for the styling of every new model introduced (although the C-type, D-type, E-type and XJ-S were designed by Malcolm Sayer). This was remarkable, as Sir William was not a trained draughtsman, and designed primarily using full scale 3-D mockups, which were continually adjusted by craftsmen working under his instructions. The Jaguar D-type and E-type are two of my all time favorite cars. Enzo Ferrari himself called the E-type the most beautiful car ever built. I think that makes the founder of Jaguar worthy of Geek of the Week.

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avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.