Marlborough lights

Graham Skillen had an informative article in the VSCC Bulletin on the elusive Frenchman T B Andre, who sold Marlborough light cars which he brought over from France, with premises in Dering Street, off New Bond Street in London. He also ran a business at Brooklands in the old Martinsyde aeroplane hangar, where Tommy Hann was in charge, selling and fitting Hartford shock-absorbers, Silentbloc rubber bushes and steering dampers, and generally serving the racing fraternity.

JG Parry Thomas, although busy with his Leyland-Thomas racing cars which were to bring him such enormous fame, was associated with Andre. For the 1923 JCC 200-mile race, for the André Gold Cup, he prepared two Marlborough-Thomas 1½-litre cars with the stipulated two-seater bodies. Of advanced concept, the OHV design used leaf valve-springs, an eccentric-driven camshaft, and torsion road springs. He and George Duller both retired.

These Marlborough-Thomases have always puzzled me. Now this is only a guess, but it seems to make sense that André sought to market these cars, as he showed one at the 1923 London Olympia Show. It would have been easy to repaint one of the racers, mask its liberally drilled side-members, and fit exaggerated flared mudguards. There would have been time, as the '200' was on October 13 and the Show did not open until November 2.

So there on Stand 69, occupied by a range of ordinary Marlborough light cars, stood this solitary Marlborough-Thomas. It had a driver's head-fairing which precluded the fitting of a hood, no windscreen, and the small-bore exhaust pipe stopped at the end of the scuttle, with no tail extension or silencer. Aimed obviously at competition-minded buyers, the price was £675. The engine had the 69x97 dimensions of the Track cars. It was a bid which could have succeeded, as the raceready Type 37 Bugatti was not available here until 1925, the Co Amilcar likewise. One historian says six of these MTs were sold, but surely we would have heard of them racing?

André announced a record bid in late 1923, but no more was heard. Two Marlborough-Thomases were however entered for the 1924 '200', almost certainly the previous year's cars, but Duller was called to drive in the all-conquering Darracq team so his car, now entered as a Thomas Special, did not start. Thomas drove the other one. I always thought them under-tyred; Thomas had three bursts and, when his car shed a tyre, running on a wheel-rim caused the body to break up and he retired.

Apart from these disasters these cars with engines of both 1.8 and 1.5 litres, built for Thomas by Hooker's of Walthamstow, with some French MAB chassis parts, gave Thomas three victories and a third, one win in his now single-seater 1.8litre version in a 100-mile 1925 race at 98.23mph, and a fastest BARC lap of 100.61mph with the 1493cc engine, only 25.16mph slower than his then-absolute lap record with his 7.2-litre Leyland-Thomas. He also took a standing-start mile record at 72.88mph; others achieved good race results in MTs from 1923 to 1925.

So three Marlborough-Thomas cars, or two if you accept that after its short spell of glory, road-gear removed, one was raced again in 1924. After which Thomas built his two straight-eight Thomas Specials.

Determined to be a manufacturer, André announced the new 2-litre Marlborough Grand Sports in 1924. It had a 1991cc Coventry-Climax six-cylinder push-rod ohv engine with which Parry Thomas would not, I feel, have been associated. But only a chassis was shown at Olympia in that year as a complete car had not yet been built. The works were at Brooklands, presumably in the Andre shed, and the customers were to be encouraged to try the new car on the Track; 75mph was guaranteed.

This good-looking sportscar was priced at £500, when for example the 2-litre Speed Model Lagonda cost £675. But there was no Andre show exhibit in 1925. Two of the cars are known to have been licensed in Surrey, one perhaps the prototype and the other a demonstrator or the first one sold. So a case of almost-a-prototype. Nothing more was heard of this rather promising 2-litre Marlborough after 1925. Why?