Lyons, Jaguar and Tata

A new owner for the cat?

Austin Seven  Swallow Austin Seven Swallow

Unless there is an accident along the way, although perhaps a more tactful thing to say would be a hiccup, Tata Motors of India looks all set to take over the ownership of Jaguar Cars, Coventry. Also Tata has just launched their super-low priced car, the Nano. The UK-based doomsayers got in a tizzy about it for a variety of reasons, the point they missed was that Tata is neither trying to appeal nor sell to them. Some of the comment was not so much environmental in nature but more old colonial disapproval of the the worst sort.

And also most of the doomsayers were perhaps too young to remember the micro cars produced in Europe post World War II, and more on that later. The other point to make is that Tata is, in many ways, going the same route as William Lyons the co-founder, then subsequently the sole owner of Jaguar Cars. He started with a partner in Blackpool making motorcycle sidecars, transport for the poor was as much an issue then as now. But as we see now, a side issue is, who is building it, us or them?

Lyons was both lucky and astute, within just a few years he had moved into making special bodies for cars from larger manufacturers, Austin being typical, to create the Swallow brand name. The Swallow bodied Austin Seven was a posh version of the Longbridge built Herbert Austin peoples' car. In those days the basic design of all cars was a traditional chassis for the structural platform, onto which could be fitted a wide variety of bodies. So, specialist coachbuilders like Lyons could produce attractive designs in small numbers. The work of the coachbuilder was to mix the skills of making shapes in wood, usually ash, and covering this with hand shaped panels in either steel or aluminium alloy, then fitting out and painting the complete car, and in those days there was no shortage of skilled workers! In 1928 Lyons moved to Coventry and became very successful. His most famous pre-war model being the SS100 Jaguar, the model bought by Alan Clark as a young man, and as those of you who have read the Alan Clark diaries will attest, the start of a life-long love affair between man and machine, in fact Clark was a 'Jaguar man' all his life.

Goggomobil micro carGoggomobil micro car
After the WW2 all of the UK motor industry struggled to survive yet, despite being a relatively small company, Jaguar flourished. By the 1950s Jaguar was well into its stride, both in terms of sales and racing success. So perhaps Lyons was unaware of the growing trend of micro cars. The Suez crisis had led to a brief period of petrol rationing in the UK and the cost of motoring was still so high as to be beyond the reach of many. So the demand for a small car was real, the market for these cars was generally supplied by those wily Continentals, my favourite micro of the period being the German made and wonderfully named Goggomobil. Eventually the micro car phase waned, as did the fortunes of Jaguar and much of the UK motor industry. Jaguar was bought by Ford who tried hard with the marque but in the end were overwhelmed by the effects of problems at home in the US and so put Jaguar up for sale.

It is perhaps right that Tata, intent on providing cheap transport with the Nano and ideally placed as part of the growing Indian economy, should take over Jaguar. As already stated, Lyons started off with transport for the poor with motorcycle sidecars before his company surged ahead. I wish the Jaguar workers of Coventry well, I've met one of their trade union shop stewards whose lapel proudly sports an Austin badge. Sadly a great deal of the once famous Longbridge factory where he did his apprenticeship has now been demolished to build a supermarket. These workers want to build cars, good luck to them and Tata. And finally I say it shows that the Commonwealth connection between the UK and India is working positively, further more it also shows that market forces do work. There is little need for the sort of business creation junket recently indulged in by Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. It seems he took 100 people to India, all paid for by Londoners, on the basis that it would be 'good for jobs'. See the full horror story here.

On the other hand if he imported a fleet of 100 Nanos for his team of officials to use about town, and zero rated the Nano for the congestion charge that might be better, but don't hold your breath while waiting.
Tata NanoTata Nano