SS1 Saloon Review

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Ellen Dewar

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Found in bits this traffic-stopping Jaguar SS1 Tourer was miraculously restored thanks to the ingenuity of a retired NSW farmer

First published in Unique Cars #310 April/May 2010 

SS1 Saloon

Emerging car makers have traditionally begun their journey with simple products then moved steadily to greater achievements. That was never going to be the William Lyons way.

Lyons, via the Swallow Sidecars business he founded on his 21st birthday, had already spent a decade building sleek additions to motorcycles and exotic bodywork for the likes of Austin 7s. If the motoring world hadn’t already recognised Lyons’ ability, it was about to be shocked by a man of extraordinary talent and vision.

Jaguar Ss 1 Onroad 3

Displayed at the 1931 Olympia Motor Show in London, Lyons’ SS1 literally stopped traffic. Only a handful of vastly more expensive models could match the visual impact of this car with its truncated cabin and radically elongated engine cover.

At a time of dire economic calamity, when even the previously affluent struggled to find the price of a new car, Lyons also understood that quality and striking looks had to be matched by a sensational price.

At £310, the SS was just £21 more expensive than a K1 MG Magnette but offered more power from 16 or 20 horsepower versions (12 or 15kW) of its six-cylinder Standard engine and substantially greater presence.

Jaguar SS1 roadster review

Jaguar Ss 1 Onroad

That first SS was supplemented a year later by the compact and even cheaper SS2, followed in 1933 by a completely reworked version of the SS1 with four-seat Saloon or open-top Tourer bodywork.

The low-slung style of Lyons’ cars was achieved by innovative chassis design. The frame rails dipped as they passed beneath the passenger compartment, delivering the low-set seating position that became a characteristic of Jaguar designs. Heavy cross-bracing ensured exceptional rigidity.

The body was framed traditionally in timber with steel panels. Adding further to the impression of a car way more costly than it was, early versions featured vinyl roof covering with landau hood irons.

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For the Second Series cars, Lyons widened the chassis by 50mm and installed extra windows to provide a less cloistered environment for rear seat passengers.

From late-’33, larger engines were used. Still supplied by Standard, the SS offered 2.1 litres for its 16hp (12kW)version and 2.6 litres in 20hp (15kW) form.

LOVES A CHALLENGE

Our featured SS1 is a 16 Horsepower Four-Seat Saloon supplied in 1934 as personal transport for a Mr Dodds who was stationed as a NSW Government official in London. When he left England in the ’40s, Dodds brought the car with him to Australia and it promptly disappeared.

Jaguar Ss 1 Saloon Fuel Cap

After 20 years of anonymity, the disheveled SS was bought by noted pop artist Martin Sharp, who partnered with Richard Neville as publishers of the infamous Oz magazine. When Sharp moved to Britain in 1966 – and went on to design extraordinary record album covers including Cream’s Disraeli Gears – the SS was left to rot. Subsequent owners left it to steadily decay before it was rescued in 1997 by retired farmer and panel shop proprietor Norm Archer.

SS founder Bill Lyons would have liked Archer. He presents as a man for whom no challenge is insurmountable and with the ingenuity to accomplish the near impossible. And in this long-chassis SS1, Norm certainly had a project that would test his creative and technical abilities to their limits.

Jaguar Ss 1 Interior

Growing up in country NSW, Norm worked on many farm vehicles and implements before being apprenticed as a panel beater. Early in his progression to mastery of the vehicle repair craft, he learned that finding your own way around a problem was obligatory.

"If you let the older tradesmen know you couldn’t do something, they’d just look at you and say, ’Well, find a $#@*&^ way’, so you got used to working out for yourself how to do things," he confesses.

For 15 years Norm ran Moree Panelworks, working various mundane vehicles and the occasional local grazier’s Rolls-Royce. In ‘retirement’ he and wife Jude moved to the northern NSW town of Lismore and then to Ballina where their son has a four hectare cane farm.

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On the farm was a large five-bay shed, which Norm converted to a proper workshop, housing the fragmented SS and his already-restored Mark IV Jaguar.

"Through doing the Mark IV I’d made a lot of contacts and that’s how I got to know about the SS1. It looked terrible when I got it with the body in pieces and bits all over the place."

What followed was a marathon that Norm reckons occupied around 2000 hours. The task began with days spent rattling through boxes of parts that came with the car, assessing what was salvageable and what would need to be found or made.

"A lot of difficult parts like the taillamp cluster and headlights were actually there, but most of the cast items like knobs and emblems were either pitted or broken. At least I had them though, to use as moulds for new ones that were cast by Vintage & Classic Reproductions at The Gap in Brisbane."

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TRIAL AND ERROR

The engine was salvageable but needed a replacement cylinder head, so Norm got one of six brand new heads commissioned by a group of SS owners from Melbourne. Although the sample casting was from the 2.6-litre engine, the new head needed only minor modification to fit his 16hp engine.

Fortunately, the hefty steel chassis was intact and virtually undamaged, but the body required extensive work and significant ingenuity. Most daunting was the missing steel sunroof; discarded decades before in favour of a galvanised iron sheet.

"The sunroof sits level with the roof when it’s closed but as it opens it has to drop down so I had to work out a system of slides and levers that would let it move properly. That took quite a bit of trial and error but it works."

Jaguar Ss 1 Rear

The tapered spears that decorate the SS running boards presented a further challenge that was met with bush-taught creativity. "They’re just lengths of round steel bar that I sliced in half, tapered on the grinding wheel and had chromed."

Other parts were created utilising simple workshop and household items. "I wasn’t out to make a concours car and if an authenticity judge had a close look at it they’d get a few shocks," he claims.

"A lot of what you can see was handmade or specially re-cast and some bits like the cover for the interior light came out of the rubbish bin. It’s a reshaped piece of shampoo bottle but it looks just like the real thing."

Jaguar Ss 1 Headlights

The chromework that plays so crucial a role in the SS1’s style was also a factor that brought work to several unscheduled halts. "I used two different plating shops and I wouldn’t recommend either of them," he says, ruefully.

"One buffed right through the shell of a headlight then went ahead and chromed it anyway. I had to spend a lot of time repairing the damage before it could be done again."

The local business that supplied the car’s lavish and complex interior trim did a much better job. "I used Denny’s Upholstery in Lismore and spent a lot of time there checking every aspect of the job. They were very happy to have me come in every couple of days to look at what had been done so they didn’t get a long way into a job that wasn’t going to turn out right."

Virtually everything that Norm elected to produce personally went to plan – except for the handmade mould he used to recreate the car’s SS emblems.

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"I took quite a while getting the shapes right but when I turned out the first one it was back to front, so I had to do the whole mould again," he confesses.

CROWD PULLER

The SS’s interior is roomy and beautifully appointed. Even the ‘sunburst’ door trim design was accurately replicated using photographs and measurements taken from an SS in Victoria.

While inside the car, Norm was keen to demonstrate the headlights; an example of SS/Jaguar over-engineering and activated not via a conventional relay but a mechanical ratchet system mounted above the front axle.

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On the move, the SS cruises smooth roads with grace that befits its style. Top speed is around 120km/h but Norm feels happier at 30-40km/h below its maximum, admitting, "The brakes are cable and rod and it takes a bit of stopping so I take it easy on the highway."

Finally finished in mid-2009, the SS was displayed at the Summerland Car Show in nearby Lismore and amazed its owner with its crowd pulling power.

"I had hardly parked at the venue when it was surrounded by people; some of them wanting to know what it was and those who did wanting to ask where I’d found it," he laughs.

Norm was smiling even more broadly on his way home, having snared trophies for Best Jaguar and the coveted Car of the Day, which is based on votes cast by fellow show entrants.

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The car’s next major outing was to the Jaguar National Rally held at Easter then to a gathering of SS cars and pushrod-engined Jaguars in Wagga Wagga.

"It’s a long way so I’ll probably tow it down but then use it on the runs when I get there," he says. "After all those years sitting doing nothing it’s nice for a car this interesting to be out where people can appreciate it."

1933-34 SS1 Saloon Specs

NUMBER BUILT: 1145 (all SS1)
BODY/CHASSIS: two-door saloon, coupe and tourer/ separate steel chassis with
timber-framed steel body
ENGINE: in-line 2.1 or 2.6-litre side-valve six-cylinder with single sidedraft carburettor
Power: 39.5kW @ 3600rpm (2.1-litre)
PERFORMANCE: 0-80km/h – 23 seconds (2.1-litre)
TRANSMISSION: four-speed manual
SUSPENSION: live axle front and rear with semi-elliptic springs
BRAKES: four-wheel drums, rod and cable activated

 

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