Jaguar Cars was born out of the Swallow Sidecar Company Ltd, which became SS Cars Ltd in 1934 when Sir William Lyons bought out his founding partner William Walmsley. The first cars to wear the ‘Jaguar’ badge were the 1.5- and 2-litre Jaguar saloons, launched in 1936 – and the SS Jaguar 100.
The first Jaguar sports car, it was William Lyons’ rakish and flamboyant masterpiece, its ‘100’ nomenclature indicative that the 3.5-litre version could reach 100mph – which was a big deal in the late 1930s. It made for a lasting legacy to live up to.
The Standard Motor Company supplied Lyons with 2.5- and 3.5-litre six-cylinder engines. These were enlivened with the help of leading engineers Harry Weslake and William Heynes, who designed efficient cylinder heads that enabled 100bhp in 2.5-litre guise and a heady 125bhp with the 3.5-litre. Over 100mph all day!
Only 198 of the 2.5-litre and 116 3.5-litres were ever constructed, making these sports cars extremely rare Jaguars, hence their strong values today. And their superb styling means that any SS100 is always welcome at the most prestigious auctions and events around the world.
Yet the SS100 was a proper competition car as well, winning the 1936 International Alpine Trial driven by Tommy Wisdom and then the 1937 RAC Rally driven by Jack Harrop. In 1948 Ian Appleyard crowned it with a Coupe des Alps on the tough Alpine Trial.
Which SS100 to buy?
Survival rates are low and prices have been rising steadily. Most of these cars will have seen a nut and bolt restoration and are generally in excellent condition and kept in collections. Modifications during the four-year production run were limited to minor mechanical changes, except for the increase in capacity to 3.5-litres in 1938.
Such is the popularity and limited supply of these British classics, a number of companies have created replicas. The Birchfield motor company produced around 20 Birchfield Sports in the 1980s using XJ6 running gear. It was a complex design and not very successful commercially, however they do look the part and are cheaper to buy and maintain than the original.
The Steadman TS100 is not really a replica, more of a car built in the spirit of the original. Its dimensions and running gear are very different and there is a separate enthusiasts club catering for the handful of cars that were produced in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
If you’re after a more accurate reproduction, then take a look at the Australian based Finch Motor Company’s SS-100. Chassis are based on Mk4 and SS saloons, while original Jaguar parts are used when available, making these one of the most accurate reproductions available.
Closer to home Suffolk Sportscars still manufactures a handful of SS100 replicas every year. Based around Jaguar XK6 engines with GRP bodies, these are the ones you are most likely to come across if you expand your search to include replicas. There are many more replicas and conversions around, stick to ones that have been built by reputable firms and bear in mind that you get what you pay for.
Original SS100s seem to fall into one of two categories, they are either well loved one or two owner cars with mostly traceable histories, or are ground up restorations generally from rotten old chassis. Tracing these cars histories can be tricky so beware of inaccurate representations.
Such is the nature of the Jaguar SS100 that many were raced or used for classic events, a chequered history can have a positive effect on the cars value. The most desirable models are the 3.5 litre models built from 1938-on.
Performance and specs
1938 Jaguar SS 3.5
Engine 3485cc 12valve OHV I6
Power 125bhp @ 4250 rpm
Top speed 101mph
0-60mph 10.9 seconds
Fuel consumption n/a
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Working on these cars is not as daunting as one might imagine, however parts are not always easy to obtain, so joining the SS100 register is a good idea to be kept in the loop. The Jaguar Heritage site is another good source for parts.
• Bodywork on most examples should be pristine, however if rust or rot has set in, specialist tools and jigs are required to repair body panels.
• The convertible roof frame can wear out over time and the roof lining can perish with age. There are a number of upholstery specialists who can replace these parts but the original specification colours and materials should be used to maintain the originality of the vehicle.
• Interior trim is usually a mix of leather and vinyl, individual trim pieces will need to be custom made if they are missing or damaged.
• Due to the popularity of these cars, there are fake cars being presented as the original article. If you are in doubt then get in touch with the Jaguar SS register and have a thorough check carried out.
• If you opt for a replica or recreation then the most important thing to consider is the integrity of the build and the attention to detail. Most cars have been built on Jaguar XJ6 running gear so parts should be widely available.
1936: Jaguar 100SS launched with 100bhp 2.5 Litre inline 6 engine
1938: Uprated 3.5 litre model released now with 125bhp and true 100mph capability
1940: Production ends with 314 units built.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
If you are after an original SS 100 you will need to have patience and deep pockets as they rarely come up for sale, and change hands for well over £350,000 when they do. Very few will be in need of any major restoration, but only consider letting a specialist work on the car’s body and trim, as badly restored examples will lose a lot in value.
Recreations and replicas are slightly more numerous and generally cost a fraction of what the original cars go for. A Birchfield Sports can go for around £15,000, while some of the more accurate recreations featuring original components may go up to £100,000.
If you’re after the real SS100 experience then there is no substitute for the original, however recreations that are faithful to the original design can provide a very close approximation of the real thing and may be more readily available.