It all began when Bill Lyons met William Walmsley
who had just moved to Blackpool from Stockport. They both lived in King
Edward Avenue, Blackpool and were interested in motorcycles. Bill Lyons
was a motorcycle enthusiast, and William Walmsley built sidecars in his
parents’ garage, and attached them to reconditioned motorcycles. Bill
met William when he purchased a sidecar for his own motorcycle. He
persuaded him to expand the business with himself as a partner.
On 4th September, 1922 they formed the Swallow
Sidecar Company, funded by financial backing from both their families
and a bank overdraft. They began to produce sidecars in a 2 storey
building in Bloomfield Road, with 8 employees. Space soon became a
problem and two other factory buildings were acquired, one in Woodfield
Road, and another in John Street.
They decided to extend their product range to
include car bodies, which meant that a much larger factory was
essential. As luck would have it, a modern purpose-built coachbuilding
factory was up for sale at 41 Cocker Street. Walmsley’s father had just
sold his coal business and so decided to invest the proceeds in the
building, which he purchased, and rented to Swallow for £325 a year.
Late in 1926 the company vacated their other premises and moved into the
building, which was ideal for their purpose. In 1927 the company name
was changed to The Swallow Sidecar and Coach Building Company.
One of Swallow’s suppliers was A.J.S. of
Wolverhampton. A.J.S. built sidecars at Lower Walsall Street Works and
sold them under the C. W. Hayward name, later changed to “Graiseley”
sidecars. Swallow was one of the company’s best sidecar customers.
Swallow began to produce the Austin Seven Swallow
car, built on a standard Austin chassis. After receiving an order for
500, and only being able to produce two a day, the decision was taken to
move to a larger factory in order to expand production.
From Blackpool to Coventry
The business moved to an old 40,000sqft. ammunition
factory at Foleshill in Coventry, where there was plenty of space, a
large skilled workforce on the doorstep, and in close proximity to the
suppliers, which would reduce transport costs. The move was made late in
1928, and production increased to around 50 cars a week. Although the
company still made sidecars, the name was changed yet again, to the
Swallow Coachbuilding Company. Several new models followed, and the
company began to build complete cars.
Bill Lyons’ wanted the company to go public, but
William Walmsley would have none of it. As a result he decided to let
Bill Lyons buy him out, leaving Lyons in sole charge. By the end of 1934
1,800 cars a year were leaving the factory.
In 1935 Bill Lyons founded S.S. Cars Limited. He
put the Swallow Coachbuilding Company into voluntary liquidation, and
founded the Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Limited. S.S. Cars
Limited concentrated on manufacturing cars and later became Jaguar. The
Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Limited continued to make sidecars,
and was sold to the Helliwell Group when Jaguar was formed in 1945.