Carshow Outtake: 1932 Wolseley Hornet Special – Just One Swallow Helping Make A Summer

In late 1922, two young men in Blackpool, on the north west coast of England, started a business building motorcycle sidecars, named Swallow Sidecars. By 1926, the company built its first car, when a new body was put on a Talbot-Darracq chassis that had been damaged racing on the sand at nearby Southport, across the Ribble estuary. One of the partners, William Lyons, saw some potential in this exercise and had a design drawn to fit the Austin 7 chassis, to create the first Austin Swallow. The first cars reached the market in 1927 and the company that became Jaguar was on the way.

Swallow built cars on various chassis through to the mid 1930s – Austin, Morris, Standard, Fiat and Wolseley were used, and arguably the Wolseley was the first sports car, rather than upmarket saloon or sports saloon.

The Hornet was an unusual design, perhaps something only a business as industrially and organisationally complex as William Morris’s would have done.  In 1928 Morris introduced the first Morris Minor, a very simple car except for the four cylinder overhead camshaft 847cc engine, designed by Wolseley, then part of the Morris empire. The Hornet was effectively a Minor with a longer engine bay to take a six cylinder version of the overhead camshaft engine, ranging from 1271cc (a direct conversion of the 847cc block) to 1604cc for later models.

Swallow built a body for the Hornet chassis from 1931, and several hundred were built, for around £225 (say £12500 now). The Swallow badging was not prominent – indeed, you could have missed it as many seemed to at this small show last summer, though the details suggested something unusual about the car. It was also the last Swallow to use a proprietary chassis – it was succeeded by a car built on a Swallow specific chassis, a chassis initially built by Standard around a frame built by Rubery Owen and fitted with a Standard engine and gearbox.

Swallow was now moving to a bigger league, and proved successful with the SS Jaguar branded models. The SS name (Standard Swallow or Swallow Special – no one seems to know now) was dropped in 1945 and the modern Jaguar was born, with the next big leap – the 1948 XK twin cam six cylinder engine. The rest is history, and Jaguar Heritage are now celebrating this with a virtual museum experience,

This is more than just another gallery of photographs and captions – it is more closely akin to a fully curated archive selection of photographs, drawings and supporting narrative, covering the history of Jaguar from 1922 to 1968, and the launch of the first series of the XJ, Lyons’ last car.

The graphics are excellent too, including a simulated building, and you click to go up the steps and into the exhibition.

The site is linked to the Jaguar Heritage website which is the home of many an excellent rabbit hole.

And as a bonus feature, here’s a (rather gentle and sympathetic) TY interview with Sir William Lyons from 1977, after his formal retirement from Jaguar and British Leyland, where he was Deputy Chairman.