BLENHEIM, Ont. – American antiques experts, authors and television hosts Leigh and Leslie Keno are no strangers to the spotlight.
They regularly sharing their expertise with the American public as furniture appraisers on the popular television series Antiques Roadshow.
This August, it will be their family’s beloved 1938 Jaguar SS 100 Roadster 3 1/2 litre taking center stage as it is offered without reserve at the highly anticipated Sports & Classics of Monterey auction in California, presented by preeminent international auction house RM Auctions.
A longstanding summer tradition for vintage car collectors and enthusiasts from around the world, RM’s Sports & Classics of Monterey event was the first and original auction held during the famous Monterey Classic Car week. Now in its 24th year, it is still regarded as the ‘heartbeat’ of the annual motoring week festivities and one of the largest auction events of its kind. It will be held Aug. 13-15 at the Portola Hotel and Spa and Monterey Conference Center, in Monterey, Calif.
This year’s event is set to offer over 200 collector cars for auction, with something to appeal to all automotive tastes. Other notable consignments set to join the beloved Keno family Jaguar on the auction block include: a rare 1952 Jaguar C-Type Sports Racer, the first delivered to the United States and driven by the legendary, late Phil Hill – then just 25 – in the 1952 Sheldon Cup to claim the first C-Type victory in North America; a historic 1931 Miller V16 Racing Car, the only V16 Miller built and boasting a fascinating tale of survival; a champion 1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 ‘Scuderia Filipinetti’ Le Mans Racing car, one of the most successful Corvette racing cars in history; a stunning 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Murphy Convertible Coupe boasting a fascinating provenance including a transfer of ownership involving unsettled U.S. Navy sailors’ bar tabs in Mallorca, Spain; and no less than 26 milestone Ferraris, including a sleek 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spyder, formerly owned by legendary LA Lakers player and coach Jerry West.
Also set to cross the block at the event will be a magnificent series of pre- and postwar Ford and Mercury wood-bodied station wagons from the distinguished private collection of Mr. Nick Alexander, with part of the proceeds benefiting the Midland School of Santa Barbara, Calif., along with a factory-original 2005 Ford GT supercar, which will be offered on behalf of the Ford Motor Company with a portion of the proceeds supporting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Admission to the three-day event is $40 per person, with children 12 and under admitted free of charge. An auction catalog is available for an additional $100 U.S., including shipping and handling within North America.
For further information, call 800-211-4371 (within North America) or +1 519 352 4575 or visit www.rmauctions.com.
More about The Keno Family, 1938 Jaguar SS 100 3 ½ Litre Roadster
Chassis no. 39032
125 bhp, 3,486 cc overhead valve inline six-cylinder engine, twin SU carburetors, four-speed manual gearbox, independent front suspension with semi-elliptic leaf springs and friction shocks absorbers, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptic leaf springs and friction shock absorbers, four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,642 mm (104″)
The Jaguar SS100 was one of the first cars to bear the Jaguar name, although at the time it was just a nameplate; it wouldn’t become the corporation’s umbrella brand name until after World War II. But more important, it was the car that elevated the parent company from relative obscurity—just one of many small volume British carmakers struggling in near anonymity—to a purveyor of some of the most stirring sports cars of the pre-WW II era.
Interestingly, if it hadn’t been for the fortuitous intervention of a wise father, it might never have happened at all. An Irish transplant to England, William Lyons the elder had little interest in things mechanical; he kept a Blackpool shop devoted to musical instruments, a trade that had no allure for his son and only child. Still, when the younger William was on the verge of taking up an apprenticeship as a shipfitter, his father steered him away from the dockyards and toward Crossley Motors, Ltd., where he’d heard of an opening.
Swallow Sidecar Co.
The father’s next intervention set his son even more firmly on the path to automotive fame. Born in 1901, young William Lyons (his age saved him from glory in WWI) became a keen motorcyclist in his teens, which led to a friendship with a neighbor, William Walmsley, who was building motorcycle sidecars in a garage on his property. Lyons admired Walmsley’s craftsmanship, and bought one of the sidecars for his own machine. Soon he was assisting in Walmsley’s modest enterprise, and it wasn’t long before the arrangement was formalized as the Swallow Sidecar Co., with startup cash from a local bank, and the senior Lyons among the co-signers on the note.
The date was September 4, 1922, Lyons’ 21st birthday.
Production was constrained by the size of Walmsley’s facilities, but Swallow Sidecars drew positive attention in the motorcycle press, and the young company’s fortunes fared well enough for the partners to broaden their horizons to motor cars. In 1926 Swallow Sidecars became the Swallow Sidecar and Coach Building Co., demonstrating its expanded services with a custom-bodied Austin Seven sporting aluminum sheet metal fabricated by the Swallow works.
Though he was 10 years younger than his partner, Lyons became increasingly dominant in the company’s direction, moving steadily toward full-scale car production; he chafed at the idea of carrying on at the cottage industry level. In 1931 the word sidecar disappeared from the company’s name, and the Swallow Coachbuilding Co., Ltd., opened the doors of expansive (compared to the cramped Blackpool shops) new facilities in Coventry. The location was chosen, at least in part, for its proximity to the Standard Motor Co., Ltd., which supplied engines, underpinnings, and other hard parts for the Swallow operation. Then the Swallow name was also scrapped, replaced by S.S. Cars, Ltd., a publicly-held company with a new corporate identity that reflected a new direction, underscored by the introduction of the SS1.
Development of the SS 100
Walmsley went home to Blackpool soon after the company went public, and Lyons, who lacked any formal training in either design or engineering, supervised all the firm’s designs—all its operations, in fact. The emphasis was on sporty elegance, and the SS1 sedan, with its long hood, high beltline, and low roofline suggested high performance in evening clothes. The drophead touring version that followed, for its part, provided a preview of the SS 100.
An even more accurate preview—the SS 90—came first, making its debut in 1935. It had the look, with its long, louvered hood and low slung coachwork. But the performance delivered by its 2.7-liter Standard side-valve six-cylinder engine, tested in the 1935 RAC Rally, didn’t measure up to the expectations of either Lyons or W.M. Heynes, who Lyons had poached from Humber in 1934 to be his chief engineer. Accordingly, the SS 90 served as a transition step between the SS 1 roadster and the SS 100; only 21 found their way to private owners.
The SS90’s underslung chassis made the transition more or less intact, with a 104-inch wheelbase, but there was a major change under the hood. Retaining the Standard six-cylinder block and displacement, Lyons and Heynes engaged the services of Harry Weslake, England’s reigning cylinder head guru, to redesign the engine’s top end. The result was a new overhead valve design with aluminum pistons, augmented by a robust bottom end to handle substantially improved torque and horsepower—the crankshaft was supported by seven main bearings. Fed by a pair of SU carburetors, the revised engine exceeded design goals, generating 102 horsepower at 4,500 rpm, compared to 68 horsepower by its flathead predecessor.
Ignition was supplied by a Lucas 12-volt electrical system and thrust was delivered to the rear wheels via a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh engagement in the top three gears. The 15-inch aluminum brake drums, supplied by Girling, were rod-actuated—stopping power was never noteworthy—and a set of 18-inch center-lock Dunlop racing wheels and 5.25 x 18 Dunlop 90 tires resided beneath the flowing sweep of the fenders.
Suspension was typical of the times—semi-elliptic leaf springs at all four corners—and the car quickly acquired a reputation for lively response: oversteer was easily achieved, sometimes too easily. But in the hands of a skilled driver, the SS 100 proved to be an effective tool for rallies, hillclimbs, and other events. Indeed, factory literature issued at the time of the car’s introduction in 1936 described it as “primarily offered for competition work.”
The SS100’s combination of rakish good looks and sports car responses made for instant popularity, and orders began piling up in the Coventry works. There was just one asterisk. Although the car’s performance credentials were impressive, there were those—Lyons and Heynes prominent among them—who thought a little more power would make the SS 100’s pace measure up to its looks.
As was true of Jaguar’s great post-WWII sports cars—the XK 120, 140, and 150—the numerical portion of the alphanumeric name was supposed to indicate the car’s top speed potential. Thus, the SS 100 should have been capable of 100 mph or more. But it wasn’t—95 mph was tops, and its 0-to-60 mph times were merely adequate at about 12 to 14 seconds.
Accordingly, Lyons, Heynes, and Weslake went back to work on the engine. When the redesign was complete, very little remained of the old Standard six. The cylinder bore was increased from 73 mm to 82 mm, and stroke was stretched from 106 mm to 110 mm, expanding displacement from 2,664 cc to 3,486. Valve diameters expanded, connecting rods were a high-strength steel alloy, and the crankshaft turned in sturdier main bearings. The compression ratio was reduced from 7.6:1 to 7.2:1, and the engine’s peak output rpm diminished slightly, thanks to the longer stroke—from 4,600 rpm to 4,250.
But the gain in output was dramatic—125 horsepower versus the 102 of the earlier engine (referred to as a 2.5-liter, although its displacement was actually higher). And of course, more power meant more speed. Allied with a new transmission, driveshaft, and differential, the 3.5-liter six was capable of propelling the 2,660 pound SS 100 to 60 mph in just over 10 seconds—a contemporary road test by Autocar magazine reported 10.4 seconds, very brisk for the day, and the car was finally capable of topping 100 mph.
The new engine was also offered in SS sedans, but it was the sports car that was the company’s star. Unveiled at the 1937 London Auto Show, the 3.5-liter SS 100 quickly demonstrated its upgraded performance in a variety of competitive venues, including Brooklands, the Alpine Trials, and the Welsh, RAC, and Monte Carlo Rallies.
In all, 190 2.5 SS 100s left the Coventry works; 3.5-liter production reached 118 cars before the Coventry works was changed over to military work, making aircraft components. There was also a handsome SS 100 Coupe, created for the 1938 London Motor Show at Earls Court. It was one of the show’s stars, but never went beyond prototype status.
The Keno Family Jaguar (Chassis no. 39032)
The SS 100 offered here, chassis number 39032, was delivered through the Parker’s Bolton agency in Manchester, England in 1938, and spent its first 24 years in the United Kingdom before it was acquired by Eugene Faust, who brought it to New York in 1962.
Faust kept the car for seven years, a stewardship that included a restoration. The original engine (number M 545 E) had been replaced much earlier, with number M 499 E, and Faust also replaced the original fenders, though these were retained and are included with the car’s spares and extras.
In 1969, Faust sold the SS 100 to Ron Keno, a successful antiques dealer and art teacher residing in Mohawk, New York. It’s difficult to perceive a thoroughbred vehicle that was “primarily offered for competition work” as a family car, but that’s precisely what it became during its long service with the Keno family in upstate New York.
Keno’s twin sons, Leigh and Leslie, were 12 when the SS 100 came to Mohawk, and when they were old enough they had full access to dad’s rare British sports car. Both boys used the Jag to impress prom dates, both used the car during their college years, and both have driven it in vintage sports car racing events.
Though its seasons have been short—the Kenos have driven the car only during the summer and fall seasons—the SS 100 has travelled extensively, including cameos on “The Antiques Road Show” cable TV series, where Leigh and Leslie appear regularly. Its most ambitious tour occurred in 1998, on the thousand-mile Louis Vuitton China Run.
Gunmetal gray through much of its life, the Kenos’ SS 100 has been recently repainted a dark blue, and the interior appointments are fresh from the shop, highlighted by new red leather upholstery. The engine has been carefully maintained over the years, and was freshened for the China foray.
Given the car’s role in the lives of Ron Keno and his sons, one might wonder how the family would be willing to part with it.
Leigh Keno explains that the Jaguar presents a problem that would puzzle even Solomon. “We grew up with this car, and we love it. But we have other cars, and the reality is that this one is a family car. We can’t just cut it up into pieces so everyone can still have it.”
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