NY Auto Show: the 2nd coolest car here
Next to the A-Team van, of course.
With all the flash-in-the-pan golly-gee wizardry that passes for an auto show these days, it’s nice to see one manufacturer actually remember where it came from. And standing quietly and with dignity in the middle of the show floor, away from the booth babes and Hyundai’s laser light show, is where Jaguar rolled out a very special model.
The “SS” in this, the Jaguar SS100, stands for “Swallow Sidecars,” the original company that would later evolve into Jaguar. Founded by, yes, the Sir William Lyons, the company repurposed WWI motorcycles and built sidecars before their moderate success allowed them to break into the coachbuilding business. It wasn’t until 1945 when the company changed its “SS” name to “Jaguar” to avoid some relatively recent Teutonic military connotations. Look past the unfortunate name and suspicious eagle logo, however, and you will find a car that exemplifies what it is that makes Jaguar such a special company — and why the big cat is worth keeping around despite its frequent attempts at financial implosion.
The company was only just starting to move out of sidecars and rebadged Austins, but Lyons had ambitions for the small firm. He knew that a rakish, beautifully-proportioned sporting machine would lift his small company out of obscurity and into the realm of an actual automobile manufacturer, and the long, low SS100 would do exactly that. It came soon after the company’s first car, the SS Jaguar saloon that marked the first use of the name “Jaguar.” When it was unveiled at the Mayfair Hotel in London, it was one of the few cars available to the public that could reach 100mph; most cars would struggle to reach 60. Like the XK120 and E-Type to follow, and a defining Jaguar trait, it was fast, inexpensive, stunningly good-looking, and miles ahead of anything else on the road. And like any Jaguar we can think of today, it was raced with success at the RAC Rally and the Brooklands circuit.
This particular example is one of only 118 3.5-liter-engined models still with us today. If you can find your hands on one of the 198 2.6-liter-equipped models, however, don’t despair — you’ll most likely get £100,000 out of it. If you were around in 1935, you could have plonked down £395 for a new one — approx. $9,000 today. And if you want one yourself, Suffolk Jaguar will happily build you a faithful replica if you can scrounge up the running gear from an XJ6.
And if the SS100 or its saloon counterpart hadn’t been the smashing successes they were, Jaguar most likely wouldn’t exist. There’d be no fabulous E-Types, XJ coupes, aluminum-chassis D-Type racecars, or the car near and dear to this author’s heart, the XJS and its famous Jaguar V12. Motoring would have suffered the loss of a great icon, and we wouldn’t be sitting around pontificating on whether or not the XFR next to it is a worthy successor or not. Is it? It’s certainly a better vehicle in every regard (80 years of progress can make that happen), but is it as romantic, historically significant, or just plain cool as the SS100? You decide.
You know what? On second thought, I’d take this over the A-Team van.
— Blake Rong
Image credits: Jag Lovers