'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. Based on that of the 16hp Ensign, the SS1's chassis 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. Indeed, so successful was Lyons' new venture that production of Swallow-bodied cars ceased altogether in 1933 and SS Cars Limited was formed, initially as a subsidiary of the Swallow sidecar-building business.

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 undeniably handsome and 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.

In 1936 the new Weslake-developed overhead-valve 2,663cc power unit appeared in two new models: the 2½-Litre saloon and SS100 sports car. The introduction of the ohv engine 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.) With 104bhp on tap from the twin-carburettor 'six', the newcomers' performance at last matched the style that had already become a company hallmark.

Spurred on by growing demand, in October 1937 the firm turned its back on Swallow Sidecars' coachbuilding tradition, announcing a range of steel-bodied 1½, 2½ and 3½-litre models on new chassis frames.

A luxurious drophead coupé was an addition to the line-up, featuring an ingenious three-position convertible top affording the occupants a choice of open, closed or 'de ville' style motoring. The horsehair-lined hood was substantial, giving the cabin an air of saloon-like cosiness when erected. A total of only 274 2½-Litre dropheads had been made when the coming of war halted production, and today survivors - only 18 known - are both rare and highly sought after.

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