The origination of the SS letters designated by Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons has always been debatable. As his original firm was known as the 'Swallow Sidecar Company', that seems a logical explanation. The SS-100, was the first in a long line of high-performance production cars that looked as fast as they went. They were one of the first cars to bear the Jaguar name, although at the time it was just a nameplate; it wouldn't become the corporation's umbrella brand name until after World War II.
William Lyons was born in 1901 and became a keen motorcyclist in his teens. This lead to a friendship with William Walmsley, an individual who was building motorcycle sidecars in a garage on his property. Soon, Lyons was assisting Walmsley's business, and soon the Swallow Sidecar Co., was formed.
The company was formed on September 4, 1922, Lyons' 21st birthday. Production was small at first, but soon drew the attention of the motoring press. This led the company to broaden its horizons to motor cars.
The Swallow Sidecar company became the Swallow Sidecar and Coach Building Co., in 1926. It would continue to move towards full-scale car production. In 1931, the word sidecar disappeared from the company's name, became the Swallow Coachbuilding Co., Ltd. The acquired new facilities in Coventry, which was in close proximity to the Standard Motor Co., Ltd, which supplied engines, underpinnings, and other parts for the Swallow company. A short time later, the companies name was again changed, this time to S.S. Cars, Ltd. and became a publicly-held company.
The SS90 made its debut in 1935. It had a long, louvered hood and low slung coachwork. The 2.7-liter Standard side-valve six-cylinder engine was suitable but was not a performance powerhouse. It did, however, served as a transition step between the SS1 roadster and the SS100. In total, only 21 examples were produced.
The SS100 had a similar underslung chassis similar to the SS90. The wheelbase measured 104 inches. Under the hood was a Standard six-cylinder engine with a new overhead-valve design with aluminum pistons, augmented by a robust bottom end and seven main bears. With the help of two SU carburetors, the engine was capable of producing just over 100 horsepower at 4500RPM, compared to 68 horsepower.
The engine was fitted to a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh engagement in the top three gears. 15-inch Girling aluminum drum brakes were rod-actuated and brought the 18-inch center-lock Dunlop racing wheels to a stop. The suspension was typical for the period, with semi-elliptic leaf springs at all four corners.
The SS100 soon earned a reputation for its performance and handling characteristics. Along with performance, the car had rakish good looks. The '100' in its name was supposed to represent its top speed, but in testing the car did not achieve this figure. Its top speed was close, at 95 mph. Zero-to-sixty was achieved at about 12 to 14 seconds.
Further work was done on the engine, increasing the bore from 73mm to 82mm, and the stroke received similar treatment, being stretched from 106 to 110mm. This resulted in a displacement size increase from 2664cc to 3486cc. Valve diameters expanded, connecting rods were a high-strength steel alloy, and the crankshaft turned in sturdier main bearings. The compression ratio was reduced from 7.6:1 to 7.2:1, and the engine's peak output rpm diminished slightly, thanks to the longer stroke—from 4,600 rpm to 4,250.
Horsepower rose from 102 to 125 horsepower. A new transmission, driveshaft, and differential were added. The result was a zero-to-sixty time in just over 10 seconds and finally capable of topping the 100 mph barrier.
There were 190 examples of the 2.5-liter SS 100s to leave the factory. There were 118 examples of 3.5-liter vehicles. A SS100 Coupe was created for the 1938 London Motor Show at Earls Court but never made it past the prototype status.By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2009