1937 Jaguar SS 100
Year of manufacture1937
Number of seats2
The ex-Norman Wisdom
1937 Jaguar 2½-Litre Roadster
Registration no. NW 100
Chassis no. 18064
Engine no. 252321
The SS100 Jaguar roadster offered here was formerly owned by Sir Norman Wisdom, OBE, who acquired the car in June 1962 and kept it until April 1978 when it passed to the current vendor. Born in 1915, Norman Wisdom was an actor, comedian and singer-songwriter best known for a series of immensely popular comedy films featuring his hapless onscreen character, Norman Pitkin: 'The Square Peg' (1958), 'On the Beat' (1962), 'A Stitch in Time' (1963) and 'The Early Bird' (1965). He later pursued an equally successful career on Broadway and in television, and only retired from acting in 2005 at the age of 90. Wisdom was knighted in 2000 and died in October 2010 at his home in the Isle of Man. He was also a dedicated motoring enthusiast, owning two Bentleys (registered 'NW 1' and 'NW 2') as well as this SS100.
Launched for 1936, the SS100 was the first real high-performance model produced by SS Cars Limited and used a new Weslake-developed overhead-valve engine in a shortened SS1 chassis. The introduction of the OHV unit was considered to justify the adoption of a new name for the series, SS Cars boss William Lyons later recalling 'I immediately pounced on Jaguar as it had an exciting sound to me.' ('Jaguar' would be adopted as the marque name in 1943, 'SS' having by then acquired a somewhat tarnished reputation).
'SS' originally stood for the Swallow Sidecar & Coachbuilding Company, which had been founded in Blackpool, England by William Walmsley. The company branched out into motor manufacture in 1926, its first major success being an attractive sports saloon on the Austin Seven chassis, the design being the work of Walmsley's partner, one William Lyons. Relocation to Coventry followed and the Swallow range expanded to include models on Morris Cowley, Wolseley Hornet and Standard Sixteen chassis. Marque status arrived in October 1931 with the launch of the SS1, the chassis of which was supplied exclusively to Swallow by Standard, who also provided the six-cylinder sidevalve engine and four-speed gearbox. Although unspectacular in performance, the SS1 went some way towards establishing the pattern for future Jaguars, combining sporting good looks with a better-than-average specification and all at a bargain price.
By the time the SS90 sports car arrived in 1935, William Heynes had joined as Chief Engineer. Based on a shortened SS1 chassis, re-engineered by Heynes, the SS90 again demonstrated Lyons' consummate skill as a stylist, its long bonnet, smoothly flowing wings, cut-away doors and truncated tail making it every inch the epitome of the 1930s sports car. Although good for 90mph, the SS90 was handicapped by the limitations of its sidevalve engine, a deficiency that would soon be rectified by another of Lyons' new recruits, gas-flow consultant Harry Weslake. Launched in 1936 alongside the 2½-Litre saloon, the SS100 Jaguar sports car marked the company's first use of the 'Jaguar' name. Beautifully styled in the manner of its SS90 predecessor, the newcomer employed a shorter, 102"-wheelbase chassis and a revised version of the 2,663cc Standard six which, equipped with Weslake's overhead-valve cylinder head and breathing through twin SU carburettors, now produced 104bhp.
Although a fine touring car, the SS100 was marketed as primarily for competition work. Its first major success came early, if somewhat unexpectedly, when Tommy Wisdom, crewed by his wife, won the arduous International Alpine Trial in 1936, beating Bugatti and bringing the fledgling marque to the attention of the Continental public. This would be the first of many successful rallying forays, including class wins in the RAC events of 1937 and 1938, and the Alpine (outright) again in 1948. Around 198 2½-Litre and 116 of the later 3½-Litre cars had been made by the time SS100 production was prematurely ended by the outbreak of war.
Chassis number '18064' was supplied new in 1937. The car's early history is not recorded but there is a photograph on file showing it racing while carrying the registration 'DWA 535'. Norman Wisdom had the current registration 'NW 100' transferred to the car when he bought it in 1962 (see continuation logbook on file). The body and trim are different from those of standard cars, and it is believed that these differences were in place early in its life. The only other notified deviations from factory specification are external exhaust pipes, twin spare wheels and different rear lights.
'NW 100' has covered only some 1,000 miles in the last 20 years and will be serviced and MoT'd immediately prior to sale by marque specialist David Wall of Hoveton, Norwich, who has looked after the car since 1991. David's bills are on file together with one for £1,200 in 1995 from SS & Classic Restorations of Diss, Norfolk. Additional paperwork consists of a V5C registration document and a copy of Norman Wisdom's letter (dated February 1985) recalling that he paid £300 for the car, spent considerably more having it completely renovated and kept it at his home in West Chiltington, Sussex until the gardener persuaded him to sell it!
The SS100 was one of the fastest and best-handling sports cars of its day, as its competition record both before and after the war bears witness to. Representing a rare opportunity to acquire an example of the model that can be said to have started the Jaguar legend, '18064' is eligible for a wide variety of the most prestigious historic motor sports events.