Once favored by impecunious young Spitfire pilots and cads about town, the SS 100 is now a blue chip collectible with price to match

Founded in Blackpool by William Walmsley, the Swallow Sidecar & Coachbuilding Company branched out into motor manufacture in 1926, its first major success being an attractive sports saloon on the Austin Seven chassis. The design was the work of Walmsley's partner, William Lyons.

Ten years later, in 1936, the SS 100 Jaguar sports car was launched and marked the company's first use of the "Jaguar" name. Around 190 2 1/2-Liter and 118 of the 3 1/2-Liter cars had been made by the time SS 100 production ceased at the outbreak of war.

A superb and fully restored 1937 2 1/2-Liter Roadster, chassis number 18054 is listed in the SS 100 Registry and known to the Classic Jaguar Association. Its history file is truly extensive and includes period pictures, correspondence between various owners, renovation photographs, original buff logbook, numerous bills, expired MoT safety inspections, etc.

The original owner was Colonel Gray-Cheape in the U.K. The car acquired its special bronze-coated cylinder head early in its life. Factory records indicate that only eleven cars had these special heads and were primarily for competition use.

The car contested many rallies in 1938-39, driven by Mr. John Barlass, before being stored during the war years. Purchased by a Mr. R. Swarbrick in 1946, it was taken on numerous continental holidays during his ownership, including a trip to Le Mans, where it was timed at 98 mph on the Mulsanne Straight.

The history file contains some splendid photographs of these various trips including pictures taken on Alpine passes in Switzerland. The SS 100 was next sold in 1951 to Performance Cars (a dealer) and subsequently appeared in 1955 in Motorsport magazine (a copy of the advertisement is enclosed with the history file). The car then passed to a Mr. A. Lawrence in Portsmouth. He sold the car in 1960 to a Mr. M. Beard in Buckinghamshire.

In 1961, the car passed to Capt. Hunter Moore Alverston, stationed at the U.S. air base in Denham, who exported it from Dover to Ostend (the original ferry invoice is with the history). The Jaguar was driven to Marseilles and then two years later taken to Turkey, where it was temporarily impounded by the Turkish Government. It went to the U.S. via San Francisco in June 1968.

The 2 1/2-Liter Roadster spent the next 17 years in the U.S. in Captain Alverston's ownership (there are many bills dating from this period) and in 1988 was bought from U.S. dealer Terry Larson by Bob Heppel, who brought it back to the U.K. Its new owner then commissioned a meticulous restoration (Jack Buckley/Fullbridge Restoration Company), changing the color back to the original metallic grey.
Accompanying photographs clearly show every detail both before and after restoration. The quality of the work is quite superb and the car has recently been serviced by Davenports. Representing a rare opportunity to acquire a fine example of the model that can be said to have started the Jaguar legend, the SS 100 presented here possesses one of the most comprehensive history files imaginable as well as undisputed provenance.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1937 Jaguar SS 100 2 1/2-Liter
Distributor Caps:Supply and demand, but assume $100
Chassis Number Location:Right side chassis rail, 9-inches behind leaf spring mount, in line with starter motor
Investment Grade:B

This 1937 Jaguar SS 100 2 1/2-Liter Roadster sold for $399,000 at Bonhams’s Goodwood Festival of Speed sale on June 22, 2007.

What became the Jaguar marque can be said to have come of age with the SS 100 series of sports cars (the “SS” initials were dropped after WWII for obvious reasons). Inspired by the swooping lines of the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Zagato roadster, company boss and stylist William Lyons created a car that combined grace and pace (the “space” came later) with a £395 price tag ($1,975), which put the SS 100 within the reach of mere mortals.

If recent generations of Jaguars have conjured up solid British middle class images of gin and tonic and golf clubs, the genesis of the Jaguar legend comes from the SS 100, which for many Brits of a certain age brings to mind Spitfire pilots turning up for action at the wheel with a black Labrador or giggly girlfriend in the passenger seat (or both).

Competition success adds credibility

Of course, even back then there was nothing new about car manufacturers using rakish styling to sell mid-market chassis (Figoni & Falaschi-bodied cars were nicknamed “Phoney and Flashy” in Britain, whilst Lagonda’s extrovert LG45 Rapide gained the “Promenade Percy” sobriquet), but the SS 100 backed up the looks with competition success, which today gives it added credibility. Results included victory in the 1936 International Alpine Trial followed by class wins in the RAC events of 1937 and 1938, and the Alpine (outright) again in 1948.

The demand among collectors for SS 100s is generally consistent, and values, in line with the overall market, are moving perceptibly upward. Although converting European prices into dollars will give a skewed result due to the current record weakness of the dollar, for much of the past 20 years, a 2 1/2-Liter SS 100 typically commanded £75,000-£100,000 ($150,000-$200,000) and a 3 1/2- Liter £100,000-£125,000 ($200,000-250,000). Today, as can be seen from this Bonhams result, prices have strengthened, although I would emphasize that not all 2 1/2-Liters will match the Goodwood price.

Why? Well, for starters, this same SS 100 was sold at an H&H auction just over a year earlier for $243,165 ($50,000 above the then-estimate), without any major work subsequently done to it by the buyer (a U.K. dealer) before Goodwood. Whether you put that down to luck, marketing, or (partly) inflation, it confirms that prices can vary significantly from one sale to another, even for the very same car. Consider also that Bonhams sold a tarty red 3 1/2-Liter SS 100 from the Rosso Bianco collection at their Goodwood Revival sale last year for $296,228 ($67,628 above top estimate), and you see what I mean.

In the case of “DUV 71,” the price was determined by a variety of factors: First, this is a matching-numbers, original-bodied car. It’s surprising how many SS 100s lost their original motors, many receiving XK 120 blocks later in life. The same goes for front fenders, often replaced. Secondly, the car had a well-documented history with some colorful-sounding characters and places-names like Colonel Gray-Cheape and USAF Captain Hunter Moore Alverston make for a better story than, say, a Birmingham accountant followed by a Warren Street used car dealer.

Intrepid exploits and documents

Equally, the thought of this SS 100 Roadster rallying in pre-war Britain, visiting Le Mans in the 1940s, touring Alpine passes down to Marseilles, and then being impounded in Turkey brings to mind rather more intrepid exploits than a cruise down the local high street. Thirdly, the car came with meticulous documentation, something to which European buyers attach great importance; no less than three bulging lever arch files invited prospective bidders to share the car’s story.

Finally, “DUV 71” was well presented, correct in all respects following restoration by the best firms (such as Fullbridge Engineering), with no obvious needs, and liveried in what many will consider the best color combination. My former colleague Tim Schofield, now head of Bonhams’s car department, described it as “a high 80s/ 90% car that attracted plenty of pre-sale interest and at least five serious bidders in the tent before being hammered down to a U.K. collector.”
Taking also into account its wide eligibility, good looks, robustness and usability, I’d say that although the price was 25% above the bottom estimate, time will prove this SS 100’s new owner to be right.

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