We get behind the wheel of a restored gem of a 1934 SS1 Saloon
By Terry Shea from April 2013 issue of Hemmings Sports and Exotics
What is it about a long hood, low roof and a short trunk that just looks good in a car? Have we been trained to appreciate its proportions after witnessing an unending string of performance and GT cars for close to a century now, or is the human brain hardwired at conception with a hidden, third type of chromosome that just tells us so?
Whatever the case, the form makes for a visual delight. The 1934 SS1 Saloon pictured here represents the archetype, a cream and tan treasure that is equal parts sinister, sexy and sublime, a machine that is adorned with just enough panache without seeming even remotely overwrought. Startlingly low for a 1930s car that had to deal with the likes of, well, 1930s roads, the SS1 looks the part of a coachbuilt saloon, but it was an everyday offering from S.S. Cars Limited, the Foleshill, Coventry, concern of William Lyons and William Walmsley that would one day become Jaguar.
Although not blazingly fast, the SS1 debuted in 1932 as the car to have from the upstart maker with a history that started with building sidecars in the early 1920s before moving to coachbuilt car bodies later in the decade. Though the chassis was manufactured by the Standard Motor Company, it was custom designed for S.S.
Allegedly inspired by the rakish Cord L-29, Lyons penned the SS1 himself, but a lengthy hospital stay kept him away from the drawing board when the final design came down, a compromise that saw Walmsley call for a raised roof, which affected the car's proportions. Simple bicycle fenders adorned the front wheels. Beauty rarely emerges from compromise, and the 1932 SS1 was, at the very least, an ungainly compromise with its high roof, and not entirely the striking car Lyons had in mind.
None too happy at the changes, but resigned to the fact that the car needed to be finished, Lyons waited a year, until 1933, to make the car he wanted in the first place. He called for a new chassis--again supplied by Standard--that was wider and much lower than the first-year car. With an underslung rear axle, the car looked like it could scrape the pavement at any point. This allowed for the passengers to be seated much closer to the ground.
Lyons got his lower roof and added more sweeping front fenders that ran the length of the body to complete a look that still excites. The longer wheelbase gave rear-seat passengers some of the legroom they needed. In 1933, to go along with the Coupé, an open-top Tourer was added and, in 1934, the four-light Saloon, a machine that shared almost everything with the Coupé, instead with new glass rear windows in lieu of the Coupe's carriage top with false irons.
Under the hood, buyers had two options from Standard in 1934: the base 2,143cc straight-six, known by its government horsepower rating and called the 16hp; or, for a mere £5 extra, a larger, stroked 2,663cc 20hp version of the smaller mill. In reality, these engines made 53hp or 68hp, the latter enough to propel the 2,853-pound car to 75 MPH. An aluminum cylinder head was also new for 1934, though the block remained cast iron.
But if you are looking for some heritage with that engine, try this on for size: Both engines featured a 106mm stroke, a dimension that all subsequent SS and nearly all future Jaguar six-cylinder cars would use well into the 1980s. Most buyers were still financially cautious in the early 1930s, and more 16hp engines left the factory than did 20hp versions. Still, S.S. Cars Limited was selling a lot of car for the £340 they were asking for the fixed-roof Saloon. The SS1 was a runaway success.
One thing you did not get for your £340, though, was hydraulic brakes. Braking, thus, was one weak point in an otherwise strong package. Frequent adjustments to the mechanical brakes were--and still are--a regular part of SS1 ownership. Hector Castro, whose Denver, North Carolina-based company, HRC Jaguars, restored the example shown here, remarks, "They go out of adjustment real quick. They are the old mechanical brakes. In normal conditions, if you drive the car every day, you have to adjust the brakes every week. That was the standard, and typical of those cars."
Hector's restoration was as thorough as it gets, including removing all of the bodywork from its wooden frame and restoring both wood and metal as necessary. "The car was brought to the country in original condition in the 1960s," he says, "and then it got donated to a museum, so it remained pretty much original until this guy from Colorado bought the car. He had it partially restored, which kind of destroyed a little bit of the originality on the wood frame, the body and stuff like that. We had to completely redo that. It was complete, but the fenders, bumpers and stuff like that were modified, so we had to search for and redo those things.
"These cars were basically made by hand. There are a lot of wood pieces, so it's not really difficult to duplicate. Most of the panels are nailed to the wood. They're pretty much flat, so there are not too many stamped pieces. It makes it a little bit easier to do the work, but it still needs a tremendous amount of skill to figure it out. In this car, we replaced about 50 percent of the wood. The original metal panels were in good shape, so we were able to reuse them, clean them up, and nail them back to the body."
In addition to the structural woodwork, which Hector did himself, the restoration of the ornamental woodwork was sent to a specialist in England, who re-veneered and refinished it, delivering not only that spectacular dashboard, but also the signature sunburst patterns on the door that were part of the SS1. The flourish of these patterns is yet another example of the panache that the proto-Jaguar delivers.
Hector's restoration, which has garnered awards since debuting at Pebble Beach in 2011, included a complete overhaul of the mechanicals as well. Although the car remains largely original, a few liberties were taken with an eye toward reliability and usability. In lieu of the aluminum connecting rods, Hector chose steel units. The single-row timing chain was modified to a double-row system. New pistons came from a specialist in South Africa and the compression was set at around 7.0:1 on the 2,143cc engine, bumping power a bit to perhaps 60hp.
"They lost the original transmission," says Hector, "and they put in what was maybe a Mark VII or an XK120 Jaguar box, which are basically the same dimensions, but it wasn't original any more. So, we decided to put in a Toyota five-speed because it is a full synchro and you have overdrive on fifth gear, so it makes it a lot more driveable. And it's really not a butchered modification because everything fit real well. We still have the original clutch, pedals and linkage."
Sourced from a 1980s Toyota truck, the five-speed transmission fits well, meeting an original bell housing with an adapter and utilizing a driveshaft modified to fit the longer tail of the Japanese gearbox. "Since these cars never had a transmission support," Hector points out, "everything was just hanging from the engine. We didn't need to worry about the crossmembers or anything like that."
The rich and creamy Old English White paint, deep chrome and the smattering of fabricated-from-scratch parts like the door handles and the "S.S. One" grille badge all smack of a quality restoration. Given an opportunity to drive this restored gem, we jumped at the chance.