Casimir Brau’s Panthère. MG’s Tigress. Jaguar’s jaguar

Jaguar’s leaping jaguar was not always a jaguar. It is third from bottom right in the 1925 catalogue of French sculptor Casimir Brau who describes it as a Panthère. In 1930 it appeared at the Olympia motor show in 1930 on an MG — as a tiger. Five years later SS Cars’ founder William Lyons instructed Bill Rankin, his publicity chief, to commission a mascot to go with his cars’ new name, Jaguar.

Brau’s 300 Franc mascots are now collectors’ items (below). Survivors auctioned by Sotheby’s in the 1990s went for upwards of £500. By 2010-2011 Brau originals sold by Bonhams as “Leaping Jaguar, circa 1925, retailed by Hermes, Paris, signed, nickel silvered bronze, 8¼ins long, on a wooden display base,” were going for £4400.

The link from Panthère to Tigress may have been Frederick Gordon-Crosby, a sculptor and artist whose work appeared in The Autocar and who was a close friend of Cecil Kimber, general manager of MG. One appears on Kimber’s desk as a paperweight in this official portrait, taken in 1933.

Michael Gordon-Crosby, the artist’s son, suspects that Kimber’s Brau statuette inspired the mascot on the 18/80 special edition Mark III (see below) that Kimber wanted to call the Tigress. A magnificent 2.5litre, six-cylinder car, it almost matched a Bentley in grandeur. Crosby liked the leaping animal so much he even had one on his own 18/80 saloon’s radiator cap. Only five Tigress MGs were made and probably only a handful of mascots, one of which was presented to author and MG historian the late Wilson McComb, from colleagues at Abingdon in 1969.

Lyons wanted to add a fast bird or animal to SS. The name may have stemmed from Standard Swallow; the SS1 was effectively a Swallow-bodied Standard Sixteen. It might have meant Standard Special since much of it was made by the Standard Motor Company. George Brough, who made Brough Superior SS80 and SS100 motorcycles, claimed he had thought of it first but it seems more than likely SS was coined from the great ocean liners of the 1920s and 1930s, like SS Mauretania, Majestic or Aquitania.

Armstrong Siddeley had used Jaguar on an aero engine but managing director Sir Frank Spriggs had discarded it and happily consigned it to SS cars. S.S. Jaguar had a ring to it and the following year even the full-points were omitted, “As the letters no longer stand for anything,” much as M.G. had once meant Morris Garages and long before the Schutzstaffel (protection patrol) Nazi police meant anything.

An accessory company produced a bonnet motif he disliked so Lyons asked Rankin to come up with something suitable. Rankin approached Gordon-Crosby and SS Jaguar’s jaguar was identical in almost every respect to the MG tiger (or tigress), save its back paws. On the Jaguar version they are tucked up behind. MG’s had them extended,

Whether Lyons and Rankin knew anything about history of the mascot scarcely matters. I approached Jaguar in 1992 about this sidebar to company folklore. Its spokesman the late David Boole was unabashed. He solemnly denied tigress and panther antecedents. “Our ‘leaper’ is an anatomically correct jaguar”.