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Swallow Derotti sports cars built in Aldridge
Walsall, WS9, West Midlands UK.
The Swallow Doretti cars were built between 1954 and 1955 for one year only at The Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Ltd, Aldridge Airport, Helliwells Hanger, in Walsall West Midlands, Staffordshire.
Records indicate that only 276 cars were hand built, and of those 184 are known to still exist around the world today.
The origins of the company date back to 1922 when William Lyons and William Walmsley established the Swallow Sidecar Company. From the initial manufacture of distinctive motorcycle sidecars at its works in Blackpool the company moved on to building bodies on Austin Seven chassis. In May 1927 the Austin Swallow two-seater made its public debut. They may have been diminutive, but their looks were nevertheless elegant and refined, echoing in many ways what others were doing on bigger vehicles, but displayed a very distinctive styling. Also in 1927, the firm's name was changed to the Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company. By 1928 the volume of work had increased to the point that a move to a new factory in Coventry was made to be nearer to suppliers and a larger pool of skilled labour. Until 1931 production was of custom built bodies on a number of other manufacturer's chassis in a variety of body styles from open tourers to four seater saloons, all built using aluminum over wood frame bodies. Some of the chassis used included Austin, Wolseley, Standard, Morris and Fiat.
Swallow cars were generally sporty looking, but the problem was that their looks were not backed up by performance from the chassis and engines used. William Lyons wanted a way to gain more control over his finished product, and, in 1931 was able to reach agreement with Sir John Black of the Standard Motor Company, to produce and sell to him a modified chassis with the Standard 6 cylinder engine. This was to be the basis for Lyons first total design, which was the car that came to be called the SS.
By 1931 the Sidecar title had been dropped, although sidecars were still being turned out at a steady rate. As Swallow Coachbuilding continued to expand, so did the range of cars it worked on. Lyons branched out into bigger, more powerful chassis and a particular look started to predominate. At the London Motor Show in October 1931, the company unveiled its first efforts as a motor manufacturer with the rakish SS1. The SS might have stood for Standard Swallow or even Swallow Sports, the name of the original sidecar.
Another name change occurred in 1933 when the company became SS Cars Limited. The name change came about because Lyonsí firm was now less about building sidecars, far more about car construction. SS stood, depending on which version you believe, for Standard-Swallow, Swallow Standard, Standard Special or Swallow Special. Be as it may, Swallow Coachbuilding manufactured the S.S. I and S.S. II models until 1936 when a new company, S.S. Cars Ltd. was formed to produce the automobiles. The old company name was kept for the firm that manufactured sidecars. Two years later in 1935 the production of sidecars and motor vehicles was split between two separate companies; The Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Ltd and SS Cars Limited.
World War II placed motor cars production and designing on hold as factories were converted to weapon manufacturing and it also signaled the end of SS Cars Ltd, the name having acquired a dark and sinister connotation with Hitler's regime.
Immediately after the war, in 1945, when car production resumed the decision was made to change the the name of SS Cars Ltd to Jaguar Cars Ltd. At the same time Lyons decided to divest himself of the sidecar business and concentrate his efforts on motor vehicle production. Negotiations about the disposal of the Swallow Coachbuilding Company with Eric Sanders resulted in the sale of the motor-cycle sidecar business to Helliwells, a manufacturer of aircraft components based at Aldridge Airport. Production of Swallow sidecars continued at the Aldridge Airport works along with the Swallow Gadabout a motor-scooter designed by Frank Rainbow.
In 1950 the Helliwell Group, including Swallow Coachbuilding, was acquired by Tube Investments Ltd, and Swallow became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the giant TI Group.
Early in 1953 Frank Rainbow began work on the design of the Swallow Doretti, a sportscar which was built at the Aldridge Airport works from 1954 to 1955. About 276 cars were constructed before production was abruptly halted by a complely unexpected management decision from the TI Group, the parent company of the Swallow Coachbuilding Company.
Swallow Coachbuilding had its origins in the pre-war firm, SS, which later became Jaguar. Swallow was the sidecar part of the firm, sold off after the war. Swallow Sidecars were the original product of William Lyons and William Walmsley. In 1945 Lyons sold The Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Ltd. to the Helliwell Group, who transferred the production to Aldridge Airport, Walsall near Birmingham. In 1948 Helliwell became part of the Tube Investments Group (manufacturers of Raleigh bicycles, tubing and components for the motor industry).
To compensate for declining sidecar sales, it launched its own sports car the Swallow Doretti in 1954. The design was the concept of a coach-builder named Eric Sanders and a Californian Tubing Company boss Arthur Andersen. Following a visit by Eric Sanders to California in July of 1952 both men felt that there was a market for sports cars in the USA and at home, at the right price, as was already being demonstrated by the Austin Healey 100 and was about to be demonstrated by the TR2 and of course more so by the TR3A at a later date.
Arthur Andersen had a long felt desire to have a sports car produced specifically for selling in the USA. Following his discussions with Eric Sanders and the decision to manufacture the Doretti, he made the decision to sell his tubing company to finance a specially tailored facility in California for the Importation, Preparation and Servicing, etc. of Sports Cars. In particular, the Swallow Doretti and Triumph TR2 cars, which he would then sell into California and the West Coast of the USA.
Specifications for the car were drawn up by Arthur Anderson and one Frank G Rainbow (the designer of the very successful Swallow Gadabout Scooter). The specification had to include the TR2 engine, transmission and running gear because of availability, the special relationship with Sir John Black the Standard Triumph Chief and the advantage of having common servicing and spares inventories in the USA for both cars.
The Doretti design concept was based on a tubular frame chassis of similar layout to the TR2 but of rather more advanced design and was used fairly extensively on sports racing cars of the time providing a stiffer frame. The cruciform was not needed as the chassis had an MG-style scuttle hoop and outriggers with a second hoop just in front of and lower than the final drive. Radius arms were fitted to the rear suspension in order to reduce the rear end hop experienced on the TR2. The front suspension, with strengthened lower links, was mounted on tubular cross members. This layout resulted in a chassis that was 6 inches longer and 3 inches wider than the TR2 which gave the car a considerably smoother ride. The drive train was direct TR2, using a virtually standard engine at 1991cc linked to the TR2 gearbox and rear axle bought in from Triumph. The engine was mounted further back in the car this enabled a virtual 50/50 weight distribution. The body was designed with an Italian influence which showed through on the front Ferrari-style grille. The rear of the car is very like that of the Austin Healey.
Both the Prototype and all the production bodies were built by Panelcraft Ltd of Woodgate, Birmingham who were already making special bodies for Healey cars amongst other high quality items. The body was constructed in the form of a front and rear inner tub of 22 swg steel which was bolted to the chassis and with the outer panels being made from 16 swg alloy being bolted onto the steel inner tub. The car was just one inch longer than the TR2 at 12ft 8ins but unfortunately offered smaller accommodation in both the interior and the boot. The dash layout used the central pod of the TR2 but the Revcounter and Speedometer were mounted to the left and right of the pod, presumably to ease changeovers for the left-hand drive market.
The complete car was built to an extremely high standard having a totally up-market appeal as was the price tag at £1,102.00 compared with the TR2 at the time at £910.00. The name of the car came from the Italianisation of Arthur Andersenís daughter Dorothy Deanís name who was also Triumphís distributor for Southern California and by all accounts was a stunning blond. The performance of the car was not quite as good as that of the TR2 with a top speed of marginally over the ton and a 0-60 time of 12.3 seconds and returning 27.9 mpg (TR2 = 103mph; 11.9 secs and 33 mpg) but it does weigh in 50lb heavier.
Design of the car commenced in January 1953 and Frank Rainbow having been given a free hand, except for the proviso that the first car had to be completed in 9 months, had the first car completed and road tested in less than 9 months. The first car arrived in California in September 1953. A remarkable feat when you consider that the total staff involved in the job, were two senior draughtsmen (only one of whom had ever worked in a car factory before), one junior draughtsman, Frank Rainbow and a secretary.
Frank Rainbow delivered the first car to California personally, travelling onboard the Queen Mary in September 1953 to New York and then by air to California. The first public showing of the Doretti and TR2 in the United States took place on 6th January 1954 in the Embassy Room at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California. At the show were two complete Dorettiís including the one Frank Rainbow had accompanied to California and a specially prepared complete chassis. Along with 5 TR2ís plus a TR2 chassis. They were all displayed in a most impressive way and the show was a tremendous success. It lasted six days with dealers invited from Oregon to San Diego. Also in attendance were many film personalities and celebrities.
In contrast British publications first carried news of the car in October 1953. A half page article in Motor Sport in February 1954 indicated that all production was for the export market. To introduce the car to the British motoring press, early in the summer of 1954 Swallow invited journalists to a luncheon, followed by a track day at Silverstone. However, most of the full road tests for British magazines were not published until November of that year. With dealer ads the same month advertising cars for immediate delivery on the home market.
Very few changes of any significance were made to the production cars except to ease costs. The main one being that the special hand made bumpers on the prototypes were replaced with standard Healey-type Wilmot Breeden bumpers on the production cars.With regard to chassis numbers, the two prototypes were built without chassis numbers. The production chassis started at 1000 and the final one was number 1274.
More than half of the Dorettiís produced were shipped to the USA. In addition about 12 of the Dorettiís not completed when production was shut down in 1955 were disposed of as kits to enthusiasts.
The location of 178 of the cars world-wide is known today, which is an impressive survival rate of the 275 cars built in itís 10 month production life before it was killed off in 1955 when Jaguar gave the TI Group an ultimatum; if they continued to market a rival sports car to the XK 120, then they would go elsewhere for the many components TI supplied to Jaguar.
Just before production of the car ceased Frank Rainbow and his team built 2 Mark II versions one with wind-up windows which were to be named the Swallow-Sabre if production had continued.
© Copyright Alan Neath. 2005 - All Rights Reserved
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