1934 SS 1 ‘Walmsley Roadster’
One of two open cars designed by William Walmsley on SS 1 chassis
William Walmsley, partner of William Lyons in the Swallow Sidecar Company, which became SS Cars Ltd in 1934, designed and had built two special cars for himself. These were both based on the SS 1 chassis which went into production in 1932 and powered by the 20 hp engine.
These were not prototypes intended to go into production but cars for his personal use. He even had a firebell fitted to one of the cars – not something that would ever have been included on a production car.
Early Design Work
There is no doubt that William Lyons was responsible for most of the design work on the Swallow bodied cars and then the range of SS Cars, but this does not mean that Walmsley was not involved. It shouldn’t be forgotten that it was Walmsley’s 1921 design of the original octagonal, aluminium, sidecar nicknamed ‘Ot-as-ell’, one of which was bought by Lyons, that kick-started the formation of the Swallow Sidecar partnership in 1922.
Also in 1922 Walmsley made a four-wheeler, Swallow sidecar-style, push-car complete with wings, running boards, windscreen and leather seat that was used to push his son Robert ‘Bobby’ along instead of the more traditional perambulator.
Later, when Bobby grew out of the ‘pram his father made him a pedal-car; once again complete with wings, windscreen, leather seat and sidelamps atop the wings.
Walmsley was also responsible for the first car to be bodied by Swallow in 1923. This was quite unofficial and neither part of the original business plan nor did it count as a Company product. In the early years the Company was a very tight-knit group with Walmsley’s sister, Winifred, trimming the sidecars. She was married to Fred Gibson who had bought Sidecar Number Two. Fred sent Walmsley the burnt-out remains of an Austro-Daimler car which was delivered to the Back Woodfield Road factory in Blackpool. Here, under Walmsley’s guidance Harry Gill, one of Swallow’s first employees, helped to make a new body while Arthur Whittaker rebuilt the engine and refurbished the chassis. These two and anyone else who worked on the car were paid additional funds by Walmsley as it was not part of their day-to-day tasks. He used the rebuilt car for some time as personal transport before he sold it locally.
Sadly, no photographs of this vehicle have survived, though his first wife, Emily, recalled it as being ‘A very smart-looking car, even though it was not that reliable. I remember having to push it on more than one occasion.’
SS 1 Coupé
For 1931 Swallow expanded into making a complete car to their own design using a chassis designed by them but built by Standard. Lyons and Cyril Holland designed a long, low Coupé which Walmsley thought was impractical to get into or out of, and Lyons and Walmsley had different ideas about the height of the roof. Lyons wanted it to be low and sleek, while Walmsley believed it needed more headroom and the roofline should be higher. When Lyons was taken to hospital to have his appendix removed, Walmsley had the design of the car altered; the roof was raised several inches to make it more practical and put into production.
Lyons was horrified when he saw what had been done but there was no time to change the design before the car was due to be shown at the London Motor Show. The SS 1 Coupé was in production for a year before the design was changed totally for the 1933 season.
Lyons never liked the lines of this car, but looking back, in terms of practicality, if not aesthetics, Walmsley was right on this occasion.
Walmsley’s Personal Cars
Only one of the two cars that Walmsley designed for his own use in 1934, survives. This was built on a standard SS 1 chassis (Number 247564), utilising the Standard 2.5 litre, 6-cylinder, side-valve engine, but was a true two-seater sports car with a disappearing convertible top and fold down windscreen. All designed to provide the “wind-in-your-face” kind of driving that Walmsley cherished from his Motorcycle and Swallow Sidecar days.
This sleek new SS version, finished in Walmsley’s favourite colour of Olive green with matching Olive green leather interior, was completed in March of 1934. True to his roots, Walmsley designed the body to be built out of aluminium, as were his beloved Swallow Sidecars. While utilising the chassis of the SS1, the body was styled to reflect his own unique blend of personal style and panache.
The Walmsley SS 1 was cutting edge in many ways for 1934 – It came from the factory with chrome wire wheels, a very upmarket Ekco CR75 car radio and an Andre Hartford adjustable shock absorber system, all very rare options to be found on any car of this period.
This car was probably Walmsley’s last design under the SS roof and it can be argued that the aluminium bodied Roadster laid down some of the design cues that would be incorporated into future company sports cars, the SS 90, SS 1 Drop Head Coupe, SS 100 and the post war Jaguar XK120.
The partners having successfully floated the Company in 1934, Walmsley announced his intention to retire and in 1935 he accepted a buyout leaving William Lyons in sole charge.
During Walmsley’s time with the company he owned six SS 1s and one SS 2: two 1933 Coupés; a 1933 Tourer, a 1934 saloon and KV 8011 whose chassis started life destined to be a 1934 Tourer. When he left the company in 1935 he had an SS Airline and an SS 2 saloon.
KV 8011 essentially vanished from the known world until much later. Walmsley sold it to a US Army officer based in England, who took it to America in the spring of 1956 when his tour of duty in Europe was up. In 1959, he sold it to a fellow officer.
Forty years later, in 1999, the third owner sold it to Brian Beni, and the Walmsley SS 1 Roadster was rediscovered.
Since most of those intervening years saw the car in storage in various stages of disassembly, it was still complete down to its original engine, ash frame, alloy body and English registration plate KV 8011.
The car was lovingly restored by the Beni Family of Westchester County, New York.
The 1934 SS 1 Walmsley Roadster made its first and only public appearance at the Amelia Island Concours from 10 to 13 March 2016 and then returned to the private Beni Collection, one of the most comprehensive collections of pre-war SS and Jaguar cars in the world.
Main Source: Jaguar Media Blog 2016
Additional information: Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Cars Ltd and Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust