Is this Britain's oldest surviving Jaguar?

A 1936 SS 1.5-litre saloon claiming to be the oldest Jaguar on British shores is to be auctioned by Brightwells on September 26 – but beware, as there is a secret under the bonnet

Produced from 1935-39 and again after WWII from 1945-1949, surviving examples of the SS Jaguar 1.5-litre saloon are incredibly rare. As such, when a healthy specimen does appear for sale or auction, collectors go a bit mad.

This particular example hints at provenance above all others – and that’s because it’s believed to be the oldest living example, making it the oldest surviving Jaguar of them all still on British shores. There is a twist however, and it lies underneath the bonnet.

Coming up for auction with Brightwells on September 26 during the auction house’s Leominster sale, estimates are a surprisingly low £25,000 - £30,000. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if it goes for far more than that.

First registered in Brighton in May 1936, CUF 415 is one of the exceedingly rare ‘Coachbuilt’ ash-framed saloons. All vehicles were constructed from steel as of 1938.

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Within the cabin, the early dashboard layout has been retained with the speedometer on the far left, and boasts four side windows without the quarter light, as this wasn’t introduced until later in 1936. The rarely seen Art Deco sunrise pattern doorcards have also been kept, an option which was deleted from 1937 onwards on grounds of cost.

By 1952, CUF 415 was in the custody of Elsie Miller, who passed the vehicle down to further members of the family. Gerald E Miller became the next owner only 12 months later and kept the vehicle well into the 1990s. After his death, the SS 1.5-litre was registered in his wife’s name until 2001.

Mr Miller was an aircraft engineer and, when the car was in need of TLC in the 1980s, he introduced a few modifications, installing a Ford 1600 OHV Kent cross-flow engine and accompanying Ford synchromesh gearbox. The original engine was removed at some point in the mid 1980s, having already been rebuilt in 1952.

In August 2001, CUF 415 was sold to Mr JW Scott from Flintshire before being acquired by the current vendor in 2005. In the same year, the SS 1.5-litre featured in Channel 5's production of ‘Worst Celebrity Driver of the Year Award’.

After a televisual starring role, the vehicle was taken off the road and restored. The Ford engine and gearbox remained, however. The sunburst doorcards were also restored and the car professionally repainted in its original Old English White livery.

The current keeper – a lifelong Jaguar collector and enthusiast – believes the saloon to be the oldest roadworthy Jaguar in Britain and one of only five 1936 Jaguars still out there.

Supplied with a large history file, this exceedingly rare SS Jaguar is in remarkable condition throughout and easily capable of keeping up with modern traffic thanks to the later Ford engine. It might not be the chariot purist would hope for, but as a blend of contemporary usability and age-old styling, little comes close to the sense of occasion offered by this example.

Why is the SS 1.5-litre so special?

After cutting his teeth in the motor trade at the helm of a small Blackpool-based company founded in 1922 – Swallow Sidecars (SS) – producing motorcycle bodies, William Lyons set about designing and producing car frames.

Initially fitted to the Austin 7 chassis, the Swallow Sidecar Company soon branched out and cemented a reputation for offering beautifully styled and reasonably priced coachwork. It was only a matter of time before Lyons felt the urge to delve in and design a car from scratch. That first complete car was the SS 1.5-litre Saloon of 1935.

Employing a 1609cc side-valve engine supplied by Standard Motors, the engine size was complimented by 2.5 and 3.5-litre models before the staggeringly beautiful, 100mph SS100 sportscar changed the world.

Before long, the engine on the entry level SS 1.5-litre Saloon was enlarged to 65bhp through a 1776cc unit. By 1938, bodies were made entirely of steel, bringing earlier ash frame construction to an end.

Performance of the 1.5-litre was not its strongest aspect, even if 70mph was eventually breached with help from a rearward gust of wind. Road tests of the day praised the SS 1.5-litre for its refinement and efficiency, whereas the public flocked to the pavement's edge as one passed for a glimpse at the styling.

In fact, the vehicle was soon dubbed the ‘Wardour Street Bentley’ because of its aristocratic aesthetics at a bargain price. Favoured by the raffish up-and-coming socialite, it wasn’t long before Lyons' creation enjoyed a foreboding street repute.

However, the Second World War soon put a stop to production, and after the war a fast name change was required. SS (Swallow Sidecar) held Nazi connotations and so Jaguar Cars Ltd was born. While production of the old pre-war model range continued, the SS Saloon was retired in 1949 after some 10,980 examples had left the factory.

Survivors are seldom found and highly prized by car collectors, which is why this example coming up for auction with Brightwells is well worth your attention. Even if it wasn’t the oldest surviving example, this would make for a solid investment. The fact CUF 415 is believed to be the oldest surviving example just heightens its provenance.

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