Sir William Lyons (1901-1985) was, with fellow motorcycle enthusiast William Walmsley, the co-founder in 1922 of the Swallow Sidecar Company, maker of motorcycle sidecars, and which became Jaguar Cars Limited after the Second World War.
He was born in Blackpool on 4 September 1901 son of William Lyons from Ireland, who ran a music shop, and Minnie Lyons (maiden name Barcroft) daughter of a mill owner. After attending Arnold School he decided not to follow his father into the musical instrument business and obtained an engineering apprenticeship at Crosley Motors in Manchester where he also studied at the technical school. He left Crosleys in 1919 to work as a salesman at the Sunbeam dealers Brown and Mallalieu back in Blackpool. In 1921 William Walmsley moved in to the next door premises converting ex army motor cycles to civilian use and making his sidecars and William Lyons bought one. On his 21st birthday the two men formed a partnership and Swallow Sidecars was born. The company specialised in the manuafacture of stylish sidecars, but from 1927, produced increasing numbers of low cost coach-built cars, such as the Austin Swallow. The business succeeded beyond their expectations and following several moves to successively larger premises in Blackpool they moved to Coventry in 1928. William Walmsley left the company in 1934 and it changed its name to SS Cars Ltd.
The first car sold under their own brand was the SS1 of 1931. The company name changed to SS Cars Ltd. in 1933, and the first "Jaguar" model was offered in 1935. The company changed its name to Jaguar after WW2 because of the unfortunate connotations of the "SS" name.
William Lyons was knighted in 1956 for his services to British industry and for the fine export performance of the company. In 1966 faced with the strengthening global industry he merged Jaguar with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) to form British Motor Holdings, which was later absorbed into British Leyland. In 1967 Lyons retired as managing director but remained as chairman of Jaguar Cars Ltd. He finally retired in 1972 and kept prize-winning sheep and cattle on his farm at Wappenbury.
He married Greta Brown in 1924 and they had one son, John Michael (born in 1930) and two daughters, Patricia (born in 1927) and Mary (born in 1937). His son was killed in a road accident in 1955 while driving to the 24hr Le Mans race. Patricia married the rally driver Ian Appleyard and was his co-driver in his XK120 in the 1951, 1952 and 1953 International Alpine Rally, which they won. They had no children. Patricia remarried in 1962 and had two children, a son Michael (Quinn) who is Patron of the [Jaguar/Daimler Heritage Trust], and Jane.
During his time as managing director of Jaguar, Sir William kept a very tight reign on the company, and in particular, was responsible for the styling of every new model introduced, (except for the C-type, D-type, E-type and XJ-S which were designed by Malcolm Sayer). This was more remarkable, as Sir William was not trained to draw, and did his design mainly using full scale 3-D mockups, which were continually adjusted by tradesmen working under his instructions. Sir William died at his home in Warwickshire on 8th February 1985 and his wife Lady Lyons died in 1986.
The Guild of Motoring Writers' Sir William Lyons award is presented every year to young motoring journalists by Jaguar Cars Ltd.
Historic Models: X-Type · E-Type · XJS · XKSS · XK120 · XK140 · XK150 · XJ220 · 240 · 340 · Mk. VII · Mk. VIII · Mk. IX · Mk. X · Mk. V · Mk. IV · Mark 2 · Mark 1 · 3.5 Litre · 2.5 Litre · 1.5 Litre · S-Type (1963-1968) · 420 · S-Type · SS100 · XJR-15
Concept Cars: C-XF · R-Coupe · RD-6 · Fuore XF 10 · Pirana Concept · XK180 Concept · F-Type Concept · XK-RR Concept · XK-RS Concept · Concept Eight · XJ Limo Green Hybrid Study Concept · XJ75 Platinum Concept · C-X75 Concept
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Sir William Lyons: The Official Biography by Philip Porter and Paul Skilleter. Publisher: Haynes Group. ISBN 1-85960-840-X