Swallow Sidecar Company

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Coventry Transport Museum

The Swallow Sidecar Company was a British manufacturer of Motorcycle sidecars and automobile bodies in Blackpool, Lancashire. Under its co-founder William Lyons its business continued to prosper and grew into Jaguar Cars. The sidecar manufacturing business was sold by Jaguar to an aircraft maintenance firm, Helliwell Group, in January 1946.

Lyons and Walmsley[edit]

Swallow Sidecar Company was founded by two friends, William Walmsley aged 30 and William Lyons then aged 20. Their partnership became a legal entity on Lyons's 21st birthday, 4 September 1922. Both families lived in the same street in Blackpool, England. Walmsley had previously been making sidecars and bolting them onto reconditioned motorcycles. Lyons had served his apprenticeship at Crossley Motors in Manchester before moving to Brown and Mallalieu as a junior salesman.[1]


Lyons, having recognised the commercial potential for these sidecars, joined Walmsley and together they obtained premises in Blackpool using a £1,000 bank overdraft obtained with the assistance of their respective fathers. With a small team of employees they were able to begin commercial production of the motorcycle sidecars.[2]

Automobile bodies[edit]

Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding[edit]

1929 Austin Seven Swallow

They changed their business name to Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company in 1926 and moved into the car coachwork business.[3] The first car that Lyons and Walmsley worked on was the Austin 7, a popular and inexpensive vehicle. Lyons had persuaded a dealer in Bolton, Lancashire to supply him with an Austin 7 chassis and commissioned Cyril Holland, a coachbuilder from the Midlands, to create a distinctive, open tourer body. The result was the 1927 Austin Seven Swallow.

Priced at only £175, the Swallow, with its brightly coloured two-tone bodywork and a style that imitated the more expensive cars of the time, proved popular at a time of financial hardship for many. Soon after, a saloon version was produced: the Austin Seven Swallow Saloon.

In 1927 the "Sidecar" was dropped from the name, and it became the Swallow Coachbuilding Company.[4]


2-door saloon on a
1930 Standard Big Nine chassis
2-seater sports on a
1931 Wolseley Hornet chassis

The increasing demand for Swallows made it necessary to move the company closer to the heart of the British car industry and so, in 1928, they moved to a part disused First World War munitions factory at Holbrook Lane, Coventry. Business continued to grow and in 1929 the company was sufficiently confident to go to the expense of taking a stand at the London Motor Show.

Three new Swallow models appeared in 1929 on Standard, Swift, and Fiat chassis. Also in 1929 John Black and William Lyons realised a long standing dream and produced a one of a kind sports car, This "First" SS (Standard Swallow) was a sleek Boat Tail Roadster with a flowing, streamlined design and pointed to an obvious attempt at making a fast car, possibly with the intention of venturing into racing. This car is believed to have been shipped to Australia in the late 40s.


Bodies on the Wolseley Hornet chassis fitted in well with Swallow's product range. They were the first 6-cylinder Swallows, production began in January 1931 with an open 2-seater. A 4-seater car followed in that autumn. In April 1932 the new Special chassis arrived and these cars were quite popular. They were the last of the special-bodied Swallows, replaced in the summer of 1933 by their SS1 tourer first announced in March 1933.[5]

  • Special Hornets: 2-seaters — 21; 4-seaters — 185
  • standard Hornets: 2-seaters — 100+; 4-seaters — 224 (the quantity of 2-seaters made in the first part of 1931 is unknown)

Advertising slogan for the Wolseley Hornet-Swallow cars: "The Swallow touch that means so much".[5]

SS Cars Limited[edit]

Lyons wanted to move away from just being a coachbuilder and reliance on other manufacturers' existing chassis. He commissioned a custom chassis from the Standard Motor Company, fitted with either a 2 or 2.5-litre Standard engine. At the 1931 Motor Show he unveiled the S.S.1 coupé and a smaller 1 litre version, the S.S.II.

The continued success and expansion of the SS range resulted in the creation of the S.S. Cars Ltd motor company by Lyons in 1934. Walmsley, who did not share Lyons' ambitions, left the company at this time.

Jaguar Cars Limited[edit]

On 23 March 1945 the shareholders in general meeting agreed to change the company's name to Jaguar Cars Limited. Said Chairman William Lyons "Unlike S.S. the name Jaguar is distinctive and cannot be connected or confused with any similar foreign name."[6]

Sidecar production was now by Swallow Coachbuilding Co. (1935) Ltd. of Albion Road, Birmingham, 11.[7]


In January 1946 the Helliwell Group, an aircraft maintenance firm, bought Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Limited from Jaguar Cars Limited.[8] Sidecars produced at Helliwells' Walsall Airport works were built in the same way as the originals and used the same patented trademark.[9] They closed shop in the late 1950s.

The Swallow logo has been registered with the Intellectual Property Office in England as #2591789 by the Swallow Coachbuilding Co. (1935) Ltd.


  1. ^ [1] (Retrieved 18 July 2007)
  2. ^ [2] Jaguar Enthusiasts Jaguar History (Retrieved 18 July 2007)
  3. ^ [3] Jag-Lovers Early Days (Retrieved 1 December 2006)
  4. ^ [4] CarType Standard Swallow Logo (Retrieved 1 December 2006)
  5. ^ a b c Jaguar, the definitive history of a great British car, Andrew Whyte, Patrick Stevens, Wellingborough 1985 ISBN 0 85059 746 3
  6. ^ S.S. Cars Limited. The Times, Wednesday, Apr 04, 1945; pg. 10; Issue 50108
  7. ^ [5] Scooter-Sidecars Swallow (Retrieved 1 December 2006)
  8. ^ Jaguar Cars Limited. Preference share issue. The Times, Wednesday, Mar 13, 1946; pg. 9; Issue 50399
  9. ^ [6] Doretti Swallow Doretti (Retrieved 1 December 2006)

External links[edit]