Jan/Feb 2022 edition
Issue #20 Automobilia Resource Magazine
Written by Ian Cooling
Photos by Ian Cooling - Please do not duplicate without permission.
First thoughts: Frederick Gordon Crosby’s leaping Jaguar is one of the most instantly recognizable motoring symbols in the world.
The Jaguar line of cars was launched by SS Cars in 1935, but the brochures and other sales literature for model year 1935/36 did not feature the feline. The catalyst for SS Cars adopting a mascot may have been the sight of a Desmo mascot on the radiator cap of a car in the Foleshill works in central England, probably sometime in late 1937 or early 1938. The stories vary, but either Bill Rankin, SS Cars marketing chief, or William Lyons himself saw the mascot and described it as a “cat shot off a fence.” Rankin was told to arrange a Jaguar mascot of their own.
This mascot was probably the catalyst for the creation of the Jaguar mascot. It was described by William Lyons as looking like “a cat shot off a fence.” It is the Desmo jaguar, one in a series of animal mascots created by Desmo in the 1920s and 30s. It therefore predated the arrival of Jaguar cars and was not created for those cars, as is sometimes claimed.
Gestation: The story now leaps forward to 1996. At Brooks’ Goodwood Auction in June that year, Gordon Crosby’s own bronze prototype mascot came up for sale with impeccable provenance from the family. On his death, it had passed to his widow, and on her death to his surviving son, Michael, who consigned the mascot to the auction. A few weeks after the sale I was told that Michael was in England and would like to meet me, and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day with him, learning much about his father and the mascot.
This magnificent bronze mascot is the original Gordon Crosby prototype. This is the real thing, with impeccable provenance, having remained in the family until it was sold at Brooks’ Goodwood Auction in the south of England in June 1996. It subsequently sold for £45,750 (approx. $73,200 USD in 2011), including fees, at auction in 2011 – still the world record for a single item of Jaguar automobilia.
Version 1 was designed to fit on a radiator cap and therefore ended around 1951 when the Mark V – the last Jaguar to have an external radiator cap – went out of production. This mascot is 7.25" long, and early pre-war examples were often made from “pot metal,” a variable alloy made from scrap metal thrown into a melting “pot.” Post-war, the alloy stabilized as a zinc alloy.
Version 2 appeared in 1955 for the 2.4 litre Mark I saloon. It was also 7.25" long and made from the same zinc-based alloy as later Version 1 mascots. This version was mounted on the bonnet rather than the radiator cap, and the base was reshaped accordingly. Version 3, a scaled-down lookalike of Version 2 at 5" long, was designed for the Mark X in 1965.
By 1970 these cars were out of production, along with their mascots. There then followed nearly 25 fallow years with no mascots on Jaguar cars until the arrival of the X300 version of the XJ saloons in 1994.
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Ian is a well-known dealer in the Jaguar collectibles market and author of the book Jaguar Collectibles.
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