(The year sees the 50th Anniversary of that interesting Anglo-American car with the illustrious name of a gear engineer, so what better than an article about it, by Geoff Moore of the Railton Owners’ Club, which hopes to celebrate the half-century of Railton’s Hudson Terraplane-based sports car this summer. I well remember the first Railton, a black tourer, which I tried at the same time as that new wonder-car, the Rolls-Royce-built 3½-litre Bentley Silent Sports Car, both at Brooklands. One couldn’t help being amused at the way in which the simple, inexpensively priced Railton matched or out-performed the dignified car from Derby. Nor will one ever forget the classic photograph of pipe-smoking H. S. Linfield, The Autocar‘s pre-war road-tester, air-borne at the top of the Brooklands’ Test Hill in a Railton Light Sports Tourer (DPA 231) in 1935. It didn’t land for some 33 feet . . ! Linfield had timed it to exceed 100 m.p.h. over the half-mile, to go from 0-60 m.p.h. in 9.8 sec., 0-70 m.p.h. in 13.4 sec., to climb the aforesaid Test Hill in bottom gear at an average of 29.66 m.p.h., and to give 14 to 16 m.p.g., all for £876, this 4.1-litre straight-eight weighing 19½ cwt.
No wonder these cars had a considerable following, as they still do among members of the Railton OC. So what better than an in-depth study of them by Geoff Moore of that active Club, in which he tells about the different models of a car that bore the name of a very talented racing-car and Land Speed Record engineer and had a fascination all its own? — Ed.)
“Anglo American Sports Bastard”, “Post Vintage Thoroughbred” — a contradiction if you like. The Railton story was, or is, nothing if not controversial. The old legend relating how Reid Railton took and tamed the terrible Terraplane, lowered its chassis, stiffened its suspension, gave it higher-geared steering and made it go, eventually transforming it into an almost respectable form of transport, has been oft told. It’s a good story and the company did nothing to discourage belief in it, but the true one is better.
It can begin with that terrifying Hudson Terraplane, which, fearsome in aspect though later versions may be, from within may be discovered to be a spacious conveyance capable of covering long distances comfortably, quietly and quite quickly. The steering, it will be noted, is light, but not low-geared at 2¾ turns lock-to-lock, the suspension is not soggy, the strong, all of a piece feel is appreciated. In the ’60s when such cars were valueless, petrol was cheap and we had a young family to transport, these saloon Terraplanes were found to be a useful alternative to the Railton, my wife and I driving them many a rapid mile, for not only would they go, they would keep going with only a small amount of simple maintenance. It had to be so if the car was to be marketed world wide as had been the aim.
As introduced in the USA in 1932, it was a cheap, largely conventional, side-valve six cylinder 3-litre car, which it was claimed was designed on aircraft principles, by which Hudson’s meant that nothing was heavier than it had to be and not unfortunately that it was a beautiful aerodynamic design. Since the result of their efforts at weight reduction was a by no means flimsy saloon weighing 1 ton 10 lb. or a Roadster at just under the ton, it wasn’t a bad effort, using only basic materials (no light-alloys). It still wouldn’t be today.
The power output was about 70 bhp. giving a power weight ratio probably better than that of any other production car of the time, though the Ford V8 would not be far behind. To the British buyer in the 12/4 market place, I suppose that such a performance could be a bit alarming, particularly as he would be used to treading heavily on the brake pedal to little effect, whereas treading lightly on that of the Terraplane’s could produce quite violent results and never, it sometimes seems, the same ones twice. Indeed, the way in which the brake pedal appears to select at random the wheels to be stopped does add to the thrill of Terraplaning.
Numerous USA production car performance records fell to the Terraplane including fastest time in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. For 1933 a similar but 8-cylinder four-litre car on a slightly longer chassis was added and this new Terraplane 8 broke every available USA performance record in its class, some of which then stood for 17 years. It was on the latter that the first Railtons were based. The birth and development of the Terraplane in the USA coincided with the decline of Invicta in England. Old Etonian Noel Macklin, in whose factory the Invicta was put together, had not made a profit for some time, if ever. Not that there was much wrong with the cars, price apart. The high cost was the penalty of buying bits from here and there, spending a lot of time fitting them together, plus a lot more testing the result. Macklin was fortunate to find a buyer for the firm, the Earl Fitzwilliam, who thought he would be able to make it profitable. (He didn’t.) The business was moved to London, Macklin retaining his factory which consisted of a number of specially erected outbuildings behind his house at Cobham in Surrey.
As an enthusiast more interested in producing the cars he liked than profitability, Macklin’s approach had produced some fine cars but no cash to go on making them. Unlike Macklin, the Hudson Management in London were not enthusiasts and viewed his interest in their new Terraplane 8 chassis dubiously. At this time quite a proportion of Hudson imports was in chassis form and English coachbuilders offered a wide range of bodies for the Terraplanes. For example, I have a sports tourer by Windover on the 1933 six-cylinder chassis. It has some similarities of appearance to the early Railton.
Macklin, said by one of his workers to be known as “The Prince” on account of his great charm and persuasive powers, got his chassis which was whisked away to Cobham to be pounced upon eagerly by the almost out of work force led by works Manager Leon Cushman. “Cushy” as he was known had long been Macklin’s co-conspirator, as well as being a competition driver of some repute.
Cushman has related how the chassis was prepared for test just as quickly as possible, an old Invicta running-in rig incorporating a plate glass screen (no less) being fitted for the purpose. The screen did not survive the testing, while Cushman was lucky to do so, since it twisted back, shattering itself on his unprotected head. To his surprise he escaped with one small cut, though the steering wheel was sliced deeply. Cushman thought that the 4,010 c.c. s.v. Terraplane engine was producing more power than the 4½-litre o.h.v. Meadows, which seems unlikely; the effect of the blow on his head, perhaps? In fact, just over 100 b.h.p. was claimed for the Meadows at this time, against 96 b.h.p. for the Terraplane. Certainly everybody was thrilled by the opportunity to stay in business that the chassis presented and a prototype was put in hand with all speed.
Sercks produced a lower radiator, for which Gordon Crosby of Autocar is said to have designed the shell, Hartford Telecontrol dampers adjustable from the driving seat were added to supplement the original Monroe lever arm. That was it, no lowered chassis, no changed steering, not even a tuned engine.
By simply fitting lower, lighter, coachbuilt bodywork almost all of the Terraplane’s virtues were to be enhanced. It became yet quicker, quieter, more economical, the mechanics lasted longer, it handled better. At the same time its vices were reduced, the somewhat inadequate brakes had less to do, it looked better and not least, with the detailed attention given to driving position and controls, it became a more comfortable, more pleasant car to drive.
The only loss was of the stiffness provided by the all steel body, but the cruciform chassis, itself quite strong, had its rigidity increased by the steel floor pan with which it was supplied as standard. Normally the coachbuilder would retain most of this floor pan, usually only cutting it for rear footwells. Undoubtedly Railtons flex and twist less than many coachbuilt cars of the period.
The first car had coachwork built by Ranalah. It was a four-seater sports tourer with all panels and wings in aluminium; finished weight was 21 cwt.
As much as possible of the Hudson-supplied equipment was retained. sometimes craftily disguised. For example, on the hub caps, a cast disc bearing the monogram “RT” (Railton-Terraplane) covers the legend “Terraplane 8”. Less obvious is the fuel-cum-water temperature gauge, where a new black face hides a white one carrying the inappropriate word “gas”. The very simple six-volt Autolite electrical system was unchanged and there have been times when those trying to start a recalcitrant engine have cursed that piece of parsimony.
S. C. H. Davies, trying out the first car in the summer of 1933, presumably had no such problems, since he reported glowingly of it in Autocar, stressing the outstanding top-gear performances and quiet running. He it was who publicised the myth of the lowered chassis, just possibly misled by the thin steel valances attached to the chassis sides and extending below them! They have aesthetic value but nothing more (unless it be to foster the idea that the chassis had been lowered).
For Macklin’s purpose it would have been helpful had it been lower, or if it could have been lowered conveniently, but it needed no cosmetics. It stood on its own as a well thought-out design, conventional enough on its four, semi-elliptic springs, but thanks to mass-production methods, it was a frame, made from ordinary materials, of a lightness and strength which the small manufacturer would have found prohibitively expensive to produce. It was not as light though, as the bare frame of the contemporary 3½-litre Bentley. But then the Bentley used its engine to brace the chassis, the Terraplane didn’t. The Terraplane’s engine and gearbox were insulated from the frame by a three-point rubber mounting. All this and more was discovered by Rolls-Royce, when they were intrigued enough to acquire a Terraplane for examination. They also found that with the running chassis it was a different story, the Terraplane now being much the lighter.
Raymond Mays has written of the large quantities of material that they removed from the chassis and fittings of the Invicta that he campaigned so successfully. No need for that on the Terraplane chassis; the manufacturer had already seen to it! No extra weight, no extra complication, no two fastenings if one is sufficient, these were the watchwords.
They may have gone too far when they designed the brakes. Operation is neat enough, a cable from each wheel following a branch of the cruciform to the centre of the car; no cross-shaft problems. It is the notorious Bendix system, where the shoes self-servo, working in small drums which cause most of the trouble. The sensation at the pedal is of powerful braking lacking in feel, rather like some recently heavily-servoed systems. While it will, if properly set up, give good stopping in average conditions, hard braking from high speed is likely to arrest heart before car. due to the difficulty in getting precisely equal braking at each wheel. The owner of an early Railton is likely to spend more time trying to keep the brakes up to the mark than he is on the rest of the car. The engine is far less trouble. Mileages of around 200,000 were not unknown before major work was needed. Like the rest of the car, it is wonderfully light (for a cast-iron engine), a result of its simplistic design and some good foundry work (the latter impressed R-R too). Although often criticised for inefficiency, it must have produced a fair amount of the claimed 96 b.h.p. at 3,600 r.p.m. to propel cars of considerable frontal area at over 80 m.p.h.
At the heart is a fine crankshaft carried in five main bearings, not pressurised, but the lubrication system had been well developed, which earlier low-pressure systems by the company had not. (A novelty on the six-cylinder Essex was that it tended to run bearings going downhill!) They now seemed determined to make the principle work, with the result that the system became so elaborate that a pressurised one would probably have been cheaper. It worked well, giving long bearing life, and survived into the 1950s (the last production can engine to use this system?).
Thought of as a slow-speed, high-torque engine, which it is, developing its maximum of 190 lb.ft. at 1,500 r.p.m., one of the 8-cylinder Terraplane’s advantages over its six-cylinder rivals of similar capacity lies in its lighter reciprocating parts, Hudson’s always being most particular about piston-weight. As a result, these engines had a maximum of 4,500 r.p.m. and, as was shown by tuned versions, were safe to much higher revs. The standard lubrication system was said by the makers to be good for 5,000-plus r.p.m. Tuners seem to have had little trouble with components and, after supercharging, outputs of about 150 b.h.p. have been claimed.
Whatever the power, it was transmitted through that Hudson speciality, the single-plate cork clutch with its own lubricant; Hudson’s had always used this type and always would. They claimed 50% less spring pressure than a dry clutch, to transmit a given torque. In practice it is a smooth, long-lived unit, slightly more trouble than a dry clutch, due to the need to replace seals during an overhaul and to change the fluid occasionally.
Another Hudson speciality was their tiny three-speed gearbox. Kind people have called it a marvel of miniaturisation. Those who have dismantled them a few times are less kind, if no less picturesque in their language. Trouble usually starts by second gear jumping out of engagement, whereupon some people just carry on without it. Others use bits of elastic, wire hooks under the dash, and other fearful bodges, to postpone the inevitable.
In truth, used reasonably, the box lasts well enough. My present 1933 Railton, used by my wife and myself since 1964, has what appears to be an original untouched gearbox. The car sees considerable service, including touring and competition work. Yet although these boxes were the earliest, most fragile, of the series, mine has given no trouble. The lever was bent down to the horizontal for Railton use. There is no synchromesh (there is hardly room for any) and there is the unusual arrangement that the clutch pedal must be depressed before the lever will move into or out of second and top gears. (On later boxes first and reverse gears operate in the same way.) The arrangement reduces the self-destruct tendency and allows a light change.
Labelled as roller skates, the 16″ bolt-on wire wheels carrying 6.25″ tyres were another novelty, since at this time no English car used wheels of such small diameter, or of such large section on a car of this weight. The new 3½-litre Bentley, for example, which was a larger, heavier car, used 5.50″ x 18″ tyres. It seems that English manufacturers were slow to exploit the potential benefits to ride and road-holding offered by the development of smaller, wider wheels. It was 1939 before Bentley reduced the diameter to 17″ and they only reached 16″ on the post-war Mark VI. By 1938 Hudson, in common with some other USA manufacturers, were offering 15″ wheels, though they appeared only on the two post-war Railtons.
All subsequent Railtons followed the pattern of the first cars. There were many modifications, but the general design and many parts, even on the post-war cars, are unchanged from those used in 1933.
So what are they like to drive today, these early Railtons? Rather fun, for this is one of that select band of pre-war cars which may be driven with equanimity (as much as anything can be), in today’s traffic. It will accelerate with the rest. At town speeds it will stop with the rest. No need to impede the traffic-flow in a Railton; more likely that the traffic will impede you. On the open road 60 m.p.h. is effortless, 80 m.p.h. attainable on any short stretch. Moreover, it is all achieved without too much fuss. The three gears are better spaced than four often were. If wanted, 40 m.p.h. is possible in first, over 60 m.p.h. in second; not that it is wanted, normally. With all that torque the Railton driver makes little use of the gears, and is likely to be disturbed more in heavy traffic by the noise around than that of his own machine.
Even if it is not the best in the world, the gear change is, on the occasion when it is needed, quite quick. A little inconveniently though, the central gear lever is matched to a r.h. hand-brake lever, a good one operating on the four wheels with similar power to the footbrake and thereby complementing the lightness of the other controls.
The first car did 0-60 m.p.h. in 13.4 secs. and had a top speed of 86 m.p.h., which meant improved acceleration over the 4½-litre Invictas that it superseded, but a lower top-speed. Not much lower though, since the Low Chassis “100 m.p.h.” Invicta produced, on test, 91 m.p.h.
Now and throughout its life, the production Railton’s top speed was to be restricted by its low-geared final drive, (3.9:1 at first) a penalty of its Hudson ancestry. A higher-geared axle might have resulted in too high a bottom gear and would have meant increased use of the fragile second gear. It was simpler to sell acceleration and flexibility. In any case, a top speed of around 90 m.p.h. was soon achieved and this was enough to bring it to within two or three m.p.h. of the best of the opposition though at this speed the engine was revolving at a rate well beyond its peak-power output. The opposition in this class came mainly from Bentley & Lagonda, both of whom introduced new models at about the time that the Railton appeared.
The 3½-litre Bentley, in particular, created some excitement, being the first Rolls-built model. It and the Railton were much compared, even though the former was almost three times the price of the latter. For a while I owned and ran a 3½-litre Bentley, alongside my Railton. In many respects they are not comparable at all. On the Bentley every control that is touched, every part that is examined, proclaims itself to be of high quality. This quality combined with very good performance, exceptional refinement, in a car of considerable elegance (usually), puts it into a class of its own. Nothing can be compared to it.
Yet, in action, it is not beyond reproach. The gearbox has the common failing of the time of a too-low bottom gear and a second gear too-high for starting, with a slow change between the two. Only the most insensitive will attempt the sort of getaway that today’s motorist considers normal and if he slips the clutch to do it, he’ll soon discover another snag; that the clutch is only adequate for its job, and is expensive and very time consuming to replace. The last two observations may, of course, be applied to practically everything on the car.
The other weakness of the Bentley is in its chassis and suspension. The chassis is not stiff, the suspension is. Consequently, the ride on bad roads is poor and the bodies, though normally well made, suffer. In driving at up to about 60 m.p.h. the Railton has the edge, with its easy going and comfortable ride. As speed rises, the Bentley becomes the better. Its engine sounds more pleasant, with its better breathing and it now accelerates more easily. Its steering, always more precise than that of the Railton, gives more confidence, the ride improves. No doubt the Bentley is the better car, as it should be, but in terms of chassis design and sheer performance, the Railton is more than its equal.
The Railton’s other competitor, the 4½-litre Lagonda, is different again. As might be expected, it shows some similarity to the Invicta, having taken over the same Meadows engine and using similar high gearing. This gearing is not unconnected with the engine’s tendency to roughness at high revs. (at anything much over 3,000 r.p.m. on these early engines). The 1933 M45 Tourer tested by the Press had a top speed of about 90 m.p.h., got to 60 m.p.h. in 15.4 seconds, which put its performance on a par with that of the Bentley. At 32½ cwt. it was easily the heaviest of the three. It seems to be well made, less refined than the Bentley, priced between the Railton and the Bentley. The Lagonda was to be much improved over the next few years, but then so were the other two, and other manufacturers were to try for a piece of this market for large, high performance touring cars.
About 50 Railtons were produced in various body styles on the 1933 chassis, of which five survivors are known. The cars on the 1934-35 chassis are around in some numbers and have some worthwhile improvements, best of which is an increase in power. This was largely due to a new tappet, which increased the effective valve overlap, though bore-size was increased slightly to 3″, producing the capacity of 4,168 c.c., which was to remain unchanged for the rest of the engine’s production life, and a new cylinder head (the Powerdome) was fitted. The single carburetter was given an automatic choke (“Climatic control”) and there was thermostatic hotspotting of the inlet manifold.
A hallmark of all except the very first and very last Railtons is the polished aluminium-faced plywood firewall. It carries the wiring and usual accessories, laid out with eye-catching neatness, in contrast to the untidy cast-iron lump in front of it.
Two inches were added to the wheelbase on the new chassis and telescopic shock absorbers (“Road-levellers”) replaced the lever-arm ones. An optional extra offered by Hudson and fitted to some Railtons was “Axle Flex”, a kind of almost-independent suspension that bolted on to the semi-elliptics, in place of the normal front axle. Whether it has any merits is still disputed regularly. Sufficient to say that, as a result of some fairly unscientific experimental work, it has been nearly proved that it does improve the ride and roadholding! But the most enterprising drivers find that they use parts of the tyres that other cars never reach . . . On the road the extra power of the 1934 car is noticeable, but experience suggests that with or without “Axle-Flex”, ride and handling were a little inferior to the first cars. Performance, though, was inferior to nothing in its class. In the tourer tested by the Press, 0-60 m.p.h. was possible in 10.4 sec., which put it ahead of all except the most exotic of machinery, quietly too! Its top speed of 90 m.p.h. equalled that of the opposition and its price of £555 made it a bargain. It was also notable for being the first car to climb the Brooklands Test Hill in top gear from a standing start. As tested, the optional high-compression head (“Super Powerdome”) offered by Hudson was fitted, giving a 7:1 ratio in place of the usual 6.25:1. It was a composite aluminium, cast-iron affair, making the aluminium the meat in the cast-iron sandwich of the block and upper head.
Twelve volt electrics were now offered on the Railton, first as an option, later as standard, using Lucas equipment. Later still, for 1937, Hudson provided all their chassis and cars for the English market with 12 volt Autolite equipment, so the Railton reverted to the American Company’s electrics.
For 1935, brake operation was through the “Rotary Equaliser”, a grandiose name for a very minor improvement that did not even do what its name implies and act as the balancing mechanism that the system needed.
It took until 1936 to tackle the brake problem, when at last Hudson introduced hydraulics, in drums of larger diameter. At the same time the front axle was pivoted from the chassis on two radius arms (“Radial control”). As a result, ride, handling and braking were all improved, especially braking, though the brakes still lacked “feel”. New five-bolt wire wheels accompanied the bigger brake drums. Other irnprovements included a reworked cooling system with thermostat, and Cobham contributed a short, remote gear-lever. An unique and well worthwhile feature that came with the hydraulic brakes was a mechanical follow-up, which, if the hydraulics failed, meant that the pedal, when pressed, would operate the rear brakes through the hand brake cable. It is no gimmick: using it one can lock the back wheels and doubtless it has saved the bacon of other folk using neglected examples of the marque. Hudson improved the gearbox a bit from time to time, one refinement, rare on cars of the period, which appeared in 1934, being a linkage which takes the reverse gear idler out of mesh when it is not in use, making the box quieter and reducing oil drag. Many people consider the 1936 Railtons the best produced, for although 1937 brought a better engine, it also brought some retrograde developments. The steering, which was a little low geared in 1936, was geared lower still for 1937, while the wire wheels were replaced by disc wheels.
Viewing instruments obviously of Hudson ancestry does nothing to relieve the pain in the right knee-cap caused by inadvertently using it to release the new under dash “umbrella” type hand brake. To be fair, Smiths instruments were still standard on the more expensive versions even if a decent hand brake wasn’t available.
The modified engine which Hudson’s produced for 1937 is a definite advance. Larger ports, cast in the block, are mated to improved manifolding attached to a twin-choke Carter carburetter, replacing the single choke. Breathing is much improved, these engines pulling strongly at 4,000 r.p.m and more, at which speeds the earlier engines are fading away. A pity that these more sporting engines went into less sporting cars, though the saloons and drop-heads available performed just about as well as their more sporting predecessors. The Cobham model, for instance, a four-door saloon, fashionable in its razor-edged Coachcraft body all in aluminium including the wings, still weighed more than earlier cars at 27 cwt, yet managed a top speed of 90 m.p.h. though the 0-60 time of 15 sec. was slow by Railton standards, a reflection of the extra weight. The performance of this comfortable quiet car at speeds of 50 mph. and more is noticeably better than that of previous Railtons.
The opposition had not been idle and by 1937 there was more of it. The Bentley had a 4½-litre engine, a stronger clutch, a bit more weight. The last mentioned stopped its acceleration equalling that of the Railton, but it was probably a couple of m.p.h. faster. The 4½ Lagonda had been much improved by W. O. Bentley. It was more refined, rode better. It was now not only the heaviest and the thirstiest, as the Rapide it was fastest of the three. In saloon form it was a close match for the Railton but cost twice as much. Another contender in this class was the Alvin Speed 25 (3½-litre). In some ways more forward-looking than the others with its all synchromesh gearbox and independent front suspension, it lagged behind them in sheer performance at first, but later as the 4.3-litre it went ahead and set the standard for the future. Of more significance at Cobham would be the S.S.-Jaguar, which as a 3½-litre saloon or drophead coupé was a similar sort of car to the Railton, in a similar market sector. Like the Railton, it offered a lot for your money while not doing some things all that well. Railton’s had nothing to compete with the SS-100, but if the Light Sports Tourer could have been developed, they would have had. Two (maybe three) were built in 1935. The changes were simple enough for several people to have produced copies in recent years, some with greater accuracy than others. The engine was moved back in the chassis and a higher geared crown wheel and pinion was fitted. A Marles steering-box and very light four-seater body almost complete the picture. Even the engine was not exactly super-tuned; the original manifolding was retained, a single choke Zenith replacing the Carter. The compression ratio was low enough for the car to run on the pump-fuel then available.
Of the two cars known to exist, the one campaigned by Charles Follett is the better-known. It is now resident in New Zealand, in sadly butchered form. The other is in this country, is original, and was rallied by Kingston-Whittaker with success. The Follette car was tested by The Autocar and recorded the oft-quoted 0-60 m.p.h. in 9.8 sec. and a top speed of over 100 m.p.h. Follett acquired the car from Railton’s in 1938, when it was thought to have covered about 50,000 miles. Further detail tuning was undertaken by his mechanic, Dick Oats, and the car soon became capable of a 112 m.p.h. lap at Brooklands.
Technically, the Railton was a success, but then so had been the Invicta. Perhaps more to the point is, was it successful commercially? It seems to have been, though not outstandingly so. At one stage Macklin solved the cash-flow problem by encouraging his friends to buy chassis, the friend, upon sale of the completed car, getting his money back plus a bonus. Reid Railton collected a royalty on each car sold and, that apart, had little to do with the company, though his role as consultant was always much stressed. His name on the radiator was probably worth every penny he was paid; obtaining its use was a shrewd move on Macklin’s part. On Reid Railton’s side the money would compensate for the embarrassment he would have felt at having his name attached to a design that wasn’t exactly his style.
By 1938 Macklin’s preoccupation was with boats rather than cars. His idea for a Gun-boat which could be assembled anywhere convenient to a slipway had been accepted by the Admiralty and the works at Cobham became headquarters of the project. With more and more of the space at Cobham being used the the Design and Administration concerned with the “Fairmile” gunboat, only a handful of cars was produced in 1938-1939. In 1937 the Railton Cars’ trade mark was sold to Hudson. At this stage ten chassis were still “in stock” at Cobham, which were built up after the war. There was not much going for Hudson in post-war Britain. The dollar premium effectively stopped the import of new cars from the USA. Not surprisingly, the English management were keen to reintroduce a Railton, planning to move up-market a bit, making it more of a “prestige” car. To this end two chassis, made in 1945, were imported. But it was only at the 1948 Motor Show that the first completed car was seen. It was a drop-head, having, from the front, some resemblance in appearance to the Austin “Sheerline”. Coachwork was by University Motors. It cost £1,500 to build, attracting £2,508 in tax; this plus the dealer’s commission was said to have produced a sale price of £4,168, or exactly one pound note for every cubic centimentre of engine capacity. The Railton had moved up-market too far! That money would buy one and a half Mark VI Bentleys, then give you some change. The final blow, if one were needed, was that at about the time that this new Railton at last appeared, the Hudson chassis finally disappeared, as the factory went into production of the new “Monobuilt”, “Stepdown” cars.
The second and final chassis to become a Railton was bodied by Airflow Streamline’s of Northampton. It was completed in 1950. If it bore a resemblance to the contemporary Daimler DHC this was because it used the same body-panels. Doubtless the post-war Invicta obtained its bodywork from the same source. These post-war Railtons were civilised carriages, with independent-front-suspension, heater, radio, etc. There was a steering column gear-change and on the first car, overdrive. Neither was tested but with only a small increase in the compression-ratio to 6.5:1 and no weight reduction likely, it may be assumed that performance is little different from that of the pre-war versions.
On taking the wheel of the last one made (which is in excellent condition, after covering very few miles) I expected the IFS to provide the most notable change, but surprisingly the ride remains fairly hard and roll free. The odd body noise acts as a reminder that the body is coachbuilt in the old-fashioned way, lacking the rigidity of the more up-to-date cars of the period, though the steel Hudson scuttle is incorporated into the structure. Brakes and steering, as expected, require little effort and have little feel. The post-war gearbox, with synchromesh on second and top, makes the occasional changes required quick and easy. Engine performance seems equal to pre-war but is produced with, if anything, even less noise. One can imagine the car appealing to the business-man of the time, but overall he would probably tend to settle for a Mark VI. Bentley, which was superior in every way and cost £1,500 less.
If Railton were finished as a marque, Hudson certainly weren’t yet. Their “Stepdowns” did well and in six-cylinder Hornet form (still with side-valves) out-performed most and they apparently handled well, too. What a pity Hudson’s didn’t market an English version of it as a Railton. With decoration removed, decent Smiths instruments, separate front seats, and a floor change, it could have been good, and since Hudson’s were paying Reid Railton a retainer, he might have been allowed to develop it, which would have been better still. . .
As it was, the last Railton, like the first, was a straight-eight. It is as such that it will be best remembered, not as one of the World’s finest cars, but when new (and now) offering more in the way of refined performance, plus a degree of elegance, for your money, than anything else of its type. — Geoff P. Moore.