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Tuesday, January 6, 1998 Published at 09:09 GMT


History of the 'Big Cat'
image: [ Jaguar's most famous production car - the E-type ]
Jaguar's most famous production car - the E-type

The latest car in the Jaguar range is expected to be built on Merseyside. The company became one of the most famous names in luxury cars after a humble beginning.

The X400, which has been dubbed the 'Baby Jag', will be made at the Ford plant at Halewood - less than an hour's drive from the Jaguar's birthplace in Blackpool.

The Jaguar story began in a domestic garage in the town in 1922 where 29-year-old William Walmsley built sidecars to motorbikes.

He went into partnership with Billy Lyons, nine years his junior, and together they formed the Swallow Sidecar Company with a £1,000 overdraft.

They branched out into cars within four years, and in 1927 announced the first Austin Swallow Two-Seater.

Expansion of the business in 1928 forced a move to the home of British car-making in Coventry. The duo began the famous SS series in 1931 - the cars with the "£1,000 look" which cost £310.

The name Jaguar was introduced in 1935 with a new range that attempted to provide the style of a Bentley at a cheaper price.

In 1945 the company changed its name to Jaguar Cars Ltd and the initials SS were dropped due to their wartime connotations.

The 1950s were a decade of success, with Jaguars winning the gruelling Le Mans 24-hour race five times.

The famous Jaguar mascot became a standard fitting on the Jaguar Mark VIII saloon in 1956.

The company's most famous mass-production sports car, the E-type, made its first appearance in 1961 at a cost of just over £2,000.

This was followed at the end of the decade by the XJ6 which became a favourite for company executives.

Jaguar merged with the British Motor Corporation in 1966 but ran into financial difficulties and was taken over by Lord Stokes of Leyland in 1968 to form British Leyland.

The company was privatised in 1984 and finally acquired by Ford for £1.6bn in 1989.

In 1996, Jaguar launched its spiritual successor to the E-type, the XK8.

The new 'Baby Jag' - expected to be an affordable entry-level luxury vehicle - continues an automotive tradition dating back 66 years.

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