The rigours of racing make for, in most cases, a limited life expectancy. Admittedly, things are a little safer now, but back in, say, 1937 from when this Jaguar SS100 harks, motorsport was more dangerous. Many drivers almost proudly explained that if it all went wrong, they would be thrown from the vehicle. Yes, not wearing a seatbelt was the height of safety. Apparently.
Staying in the era of the Jaguar above, there were other life limiting factors. The fumes, the physical demands, the brandy, the chain smoking. It was a perilous business. However, perilous though it may have been for the men and women of the sport, it was nothing compared to what the cars had to go through.
Walk through a modern pit garage and you will be faced with computer this, digital that and laser-cut the other. The modern race car is a magnet for cutting-edge technology. The screwdrivers and hammers barely get a look in. Back in the Jaguar’s day, all you had was a big hammer and an even bigger bloke to swing it. It was not a refined sport.
As such, the cars had exceptionally hard lives. They were beaten hard out on track, and when they came into the pits, they were hit with hammers until they went out again. Being a race car was and still is a hard job. And that’s the life expectancy we are referring to. Not the ‘best before’ date selected for the mustachioed driver by the Reaper. No, we’re talking about the worrying speed with which a race car can end up in the scrap yard.
Cars like this wonderful, and frankly jaw-dropping 1937 Jaguar SS100 are cars that don’t generally survive. Certainly, many of its peers haven’t. This one has though, and it’s better than ever. So presumably it was built, raced once or twice and then pampered until now, right? Wrong, actually. This car has lived a life of hardcore motorsport campaigning, and more than that, it’s still got plenty competitive spirit left to give. It’s remarkable.
The Jaguar SS 100 was built from 1936 through 1939 and was the first sports car to bear the Jaguar name. Prior to this name, which William Lyons fell for given the impact, Jaguar was actually the Swallow Sidecar company. As the name would suggest, its main business was that of building sidecars. However, over the years, it branched into building complete cars, which would see the company evolve into SS Cars Ltd. However, as the Second World War unfolded, the unfortunate connotations of being called SS couldn’t be ignored, and so the Jaguar name was phased in. It was first used on an SS saloon car in 1935, before being included in the name of the SS100 later.
The SS100 was an out-and-out sports car and was built with competition in mind. The 100 in its name was a nod to both the theoretical top speed of 100mph, and also the 100bhp generated by the then cutting-edge overhead valve, six-cylinder 2.5 litre engine. The Standard-derived engine was heavily re-worked for the project. As mentioned, the valves were moved from the side to being overhead, a new cylinder head was designed by William Heynes and Harry Welake and it was fitted with twin SU carbs that were bolted directly to the cylinder head. It was a serious bit of kit.
Unusually for a car of this era, the car was built body and all. In fact, only a handful of SS100s were supplied as ‘chassis only’ cars. This is no doubt because SS, with its history of coachbuilding, was more than capable of building its own bodies. And it was wise to do just that, as the car is still considered to be one of the most attractive automobiles of the era.
Despite its pace, its power and its drop-dead gorgeous looks, only 198 SS100s were built with the 2.5 engine. Production was sadly and abruptly brought to a halt by the war, never to restart.
So what of this particular car? Well, Jaguar had hoped it would find a home in the world competition, and it did. Just a bit sooner than anticipated. The car was sold new to a Bob Truett in 1937, though Bob had no intention of ordering a standard car. Instead, he insisted the engine be a Works item consisting of a bronze-coated cylinder head, high compression pistons, polished Dural con-rods, Fescol crankshaft and Scintilla magneto. Beefy spec. And Bob wasn’t done. When he took delivery of the car he lightened it significantly by cutting bore holes in the main rails of the car. Countersunk to ensure rigidity, they had no detrimental effect on the dynamics of the car.
The end result was a machine that could outperform the 125bhp 3.5 litre models, and outperform it did. The car was campaigned regularly and hard, with events at Brooklands making up a significant chunk of DYL’s history. Sprints, trails and anything else the SS100 could compete in were attacked and dominated, as evidenced by the car’s impressive collection of trophies the Truett family has passed on with the car.
You’d think that would be enough, but no. In 2013, DYL was converted to current FIA specification, including an all-steel competition engine (but don’t fret, as the original engine is still with the car). The new FIA certification means that this Jaguar SS’s future is one that can still enjoy as much competition as its current owner sees fit. Classic Le Mans, Goodwood, Mille Miglia – DYL is eligible for them all.
This is a truly fascinating car, and one that has survived despite being in the hardest line of work for a car. But perhaps that’s the moral here? Is regular, spirited use of such a car the key to keeping it active, to keeping it young? It certainly seems that way, as this old beauty has no intention of becoming a museum piece just yet.
Huge thanks to Autostorico for letting us photograph this stunning machine. Having now found a new home, this SS100 is off the books. However, do have a look at what Autostorico has in stock, as there is always a wonderful collection of classics available.