The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The First Jaguar: Chief Inspector Alleyn's Splendid Mark IV Saloon

First, click on this youtube recording of "You're Breaking My Heart" by the Victor Sylvester orchestra. You can listen to this tune, which was first recorded in 1948, to put you in the proper historical mood as you read the rest of this piece

Joyce and I have been enjoying another English TV Detective series we found on Netflix, The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. Though the setting is England in the postwar years, 1945-49, the series was produced and originally aired between 1990-1994 and consists of number one (the pilot episode) and 8 other episodes, all approximately 90 minutes in length. Netflix only has 6 (2-7) of the episodes.
The "Inspector Alleyn" series is based on the "Golden Age" detective novels of Ngaio Marsh; there were 32 of them, published between 1934 and 1982. All feature the gentleman detective Roderick Alleyn. Inspector Alleyn is a member of the gentry (his older brother is Sir George Alleyn), and is exceptionally well mannered and polite, although he is at times, quite capable of a blistering stare or a cutting remark.

The three episodes we've viewed so far have all been good fun because of (1) the excellent writing, (2) the superb acting of Patrick Malhide (Alleyn), William Simons ( Inspector Fox, Alleyn's loyal and effective assitant), and Belinda Lang (Agatha Troy, Alleyn's girlfriend) and, of course in my case at least, (3) Alleyn's personal car.

I've spent a couple of days googling around on the internet, comparing the details I noted while viewing the series with images of various British automobiles manufactured during the time frame of the series. I concluded that the Chief Inspector's personal car is a saloon (sedan) model offered by the SS company between 1935 and 1940, and again between 1945 and 1949. The SS company stopped production during WWII.
SS? What's that?

No. It wasn't the first Super Sport Chevy.

Nor was it a car manufactured by the German Schutzstaffel (SS).

It was built by the Swallow Sidecar company who had originally manufactured motorcycle sidecars. Also, the saloon model that year was called the SS Jaguar Saloon and featured a 2.5 liter engine. Wiki says,

The Swallow Sidecar Company was founded in 1922 by two motorcycle enthusiasts, William Lyons andWilliam Walmsley leading to SS Cars Ltd. In 1935 the SS Jaguar name first appeared on a 2.5-litre saloon,[8] sports models of which were the SS 90 and SS 100.

So, what we're talking about here is the first Jaguar.

And I do love Jaguars, remember? I owned a 2000 XK8 which I sold last year (sigh).
The company dropped the SS name after the war "to avoid the unfavorable connotations of the SS initials; in 1945 they began to use the model name Jaguar for the whole company. The company itself never designated the '45-49 Saloons as Jaguar Mark IVs, but the trade did. So, unofficially, they're sometimes called that...Mark IV Jaguar Saloons.

The body style was virtually unchanged during it's run, so the 1935 Saloon looks pretty much like the 1949 model. The SS company changed over from coachbuilt (wood based) construction to all steel in 1938. There were three engines, the 1.5 litre (a four cylinder), the 2.5 litre (a six), and the 3.5 litre (also a six). I'm not sure, but my guess is that the one used in the Alleyn TV series is a six; I'm basing that on the sound. Of course, the Foley artists who work on film and video can do wonders with motor sounds, so the sound on screen could be misleading.

The cars are very low slung and have rakish suicide doors. This is picture of a 1937 Saloon which looks very much like the one in the TV series, including the fender mounted spare. Believe me, the picture doesn't do it justice.
I've never seen one of these cars in the "flesh," but the videos and pictures don't lie about their low down, mean look. These cars are low, not tall at all, at least in comparison to other American sedans of the era; the top seems to be about chest high to an average size man, and when the actors open those handy suicide doors and move in to sit down in the car, they have to crouch quite a bit to make the maneuver.

The SS Jaguar 100, a four place, drop head coupe powered by the 2.5 or 3.5 litre engine was introduced in 1936. Wiki says this coupe is considered by many to be the finest looking automobile ever made. It's the ancestor of my old 2000 XK8 and the new 2013 XK.

Here's a 1948 Saloon model with the uncovered fender spare. This angle shows the car's sexy looking, curvaceous rear end.
That rear end reminded me a little of one of those fabulous '32 Ford three window coupes after it had been hot rodded and cutomized. Remember those beauties?
The rear end also reminded a little of this car, said to have a "bustle back" styled rear.
Those Cadillac Sevilles from the early '80s did okay at first (which suggests that the public liked the style) but poor engine choices and mechanical failures eventurally did them in.

The old Jag Saloon is a classic beauty with graceful lines and a purposeful stance. The silver one below shows that and sports the famous "leaper" hood ornament as well.

What is it about an old car like this that is so heartbreaking?
Is it simple nostalgia, a longing for the good things of the past that are gone? Is the sadness caused by knowing that people worked very hard on this machine, made it the best they knew how at the time, and now, except for a few remaining copies, it's gone and won't come back? Is it because the car's production dates remind us of the great struggle of WWII and the millions of hearts broken from separation and loss during its horror?

I don't know the answer. I just know that there's more than beauty--and there's a lot of that in this case--working on my emotions when I look at a car like this.

The Victor Sylvester orchestra has probably finished with its smooth rendition of "You're Breaking My Heart" by now.

Suppose we conclude our look at Chief Inspector Alleyn's beautiful SS Jaguar Saloon with a nice, walk around video. This was prepared by a proud present day owner of one of these splendid automobiles. Pay special attention to the clever and complete tool kit in the trunk. It's a fine luxurious touch that shows the careful attention the car's designers paid to each detail. It also reminds one that this is, indeed, a Jaguar, and even though its beauty is beyond question, a tool kit might come in handy.


6 comments:

  1. Thanks, Dan, for the blurb about Inspector Alleyn's car. I've long been an admirer of Ngaio Marsh's detective and own both series, but I must say I didn't pay much attention to the nifty car. As usual with the Brits, they are scrupulous about period detail, which makes watching the various shows so fascinating. Another series with cars and a fun detective is Lord Peter Wimsey, by Dorothy L. Sayers, starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter. I can watch those three stories many times over and still be delighted with the fine writing and excellent productions.

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  2. Jeanne, You're so right about the Brits' attention to period detail and it is one of the things we enjoy about watching the British shows. I will definitely look for that Lord Peter Wimsey series on Netflix. I remember Don and Sue G were big fans of Sayers' fiction. By the way, I made a comment over at Scandia South about your excellent Writers' Group post. I may have forgotten to hit the "publish" button. If it doesn't show up today, I'll do it again.

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  3. Thanks for this. You know I'm a gear-head and I LOVE stuff like this.

    The guy who made the walk-around vid sure was a heavy breather. Right at the end I thought he was gonna open the bonnet and show us a lovely in-line six.... but noooo. That said, what a lovely machine.

    I don't find these old cars to be heartbreaking, unless it's in the sense that I know I'll never have one. Oh, to be Jay Leno... just for a month or two!

    You know I don't have much truck with movies these days. While we're on THAT subject, just think how much better the Bond movies would have been if they had been period pieces, with period CARS, like in Fleming's books. Those classic Bentleys would have had so much more charisma than the Aston-Martins or... God Forbid... the Beemers, Audis, and other abominations (where Bond is concerned).

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    1. I really enjoy doing these posts on classic cars; they also are among my most read. The posts about Peter Kingdom's Alvis TE21 Drophead cooupe and the one about my 1959 Fiat have moved into my top ten.

      Yeah, the vidmaker seemed to be struggling to open the bonnet. I think he planned to do that but couldn't release the latch or something. This vid is part 1 of 4 and he does show the engine (a twin carb straight six) in part 2.

      What you said about the heartbreak is where I was coming from too, that and nostalgia for times gone by.

      I agree regarding the Bond movies too. I've come to really like the period stuff and, as Jeanne says above, the Brits do it so well. Doing the Bond movies set in the time period of the books would've been great.

      A lot of the time when modern American film makers try to do a period piece, they muck it up. Take those recent remakes of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey which make abundant use of CGI and other FX tricks. That's stuff seems off kilter and jarring to me when I first view them. It's almost like watching a movie made from Charles Dickens' novel "David Copperfield" and suddenly in one scene a Toyota Prius drives up.

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