One of my favourite trick questions on motor racing is: “What is the national racing colour of Egypt?” This arcane piece of knowledge is in the “Not many people know this” category but, in July 1955, Motor Sport and other magazines carried the announcement that Raymond Flower’s Phoenix project would be the first car to wear the violet which is Egypt’s national motor racing colour.
Raymond Flower was a larger-than-life character, who had been a regular competitor in the Alpine Rally, who won the Series-Production Award in the Tourist Trophies of 1953 and 1954 and who had wide business interests in Egypt. In 1955 he announced plans to race an inexpensive, but high performance, sports car in Egypt and led the project with the Phoenix SR150. Labour was cheap in Egypt, the country was emerging on a tide of nationalistic fervour which was to lead to the Suez Crisis in 1956, and the project was possibly a way of gaining favour with the government of President Nasser, and thus secure the future of the Flower Organisation, by building what a marketing man might now describe as a “high-profile prestige product”.
The name “Phoenix” derives from Egyptian mythology but there was an added edge to the name for many of the Flower Organisation’s premises had been gutted by fire during the Cairo riots of January 1952 which led to the abdication of King Farouk who had been supported by the British and French governments. In the circumstances, it was a clever choice of name and also politically shrewd for “Phoenix” could also act as a metaphor for Egypt’s national aspirations at the time.
As it turned out, the project died and Flower’s most memorable contribution to motoring was to arrange, initially with Meadows, the Frisky range of motorised tricycles. This is an inelegant way of describing an attractive little vehicle, styled by Michelotti and Villiers-powered, which was part of the Fifties’ “bubble car” movement though it was not at all bubbleoid. Although Flower has often been credited with the design of this car, which had a chequered commercial career between 1957 and 1964, the real designer.was Gordon Bedson, who had previously been Kieft’s designer and who tragically lost his life in a microlight accident in Australia last year.
In mid-1955, magazines carried photographs of a model of the Phoenix, a sports racer which, in styling terms, was a decided cut above average for a special builder of the time. It had flowing lines and a driver’s headrest (there was nothing so guaranteed to increase performance as a driver’s headrest) and was a cross between the later Ferrari Testarossa ahd the earlier Mercedes-Benz Wl96 Fl streamliner. lt’was to have had a Turner engine in a Lister chassis, and the contemporary reports, which seem to have been written from press handouts, state that the engine was already in the chassis and everything was speeding ahead. Despite this optimism, the car appears never to have been completed though it was scheduled to compete in the Rhiems Twelve Hour sports car race on July 2nd, 1955, when it should have been driven by Raymond Flower and Ernest McMillan. It had also been entered for various other events in Britain and the Continent.
The engine was described as having been built by Jack Turner and being a dohc 4-cylinder unit of 1960 cc with SU fuel injection producing 145 bhp at 5,800 rpm. This appears to be a description of Turner’s F2 engine built for, and owned by, John Webb, with the difference that the Turner engine did not have dohc for it was based on the Lea Francis unit and, like it, had high camshafts and short pushrods. Neither Turner nor Webb can recall any negotiations with Flower about the use of this engine.
Turner did sell Flower an engine but it was a 1.5-litre unit, with a standard Lea Francis cast-iron block fitted with a Turner light alloy, dual-ignition, cylinder head. So far as I can discover, this engine never saw the Lister chassis for which it was intended but was passed on to Kieft, then under the control of Berwyn Baxter, and fitted into one of the fibreglass-bodied, Gordon Bedson-designed, sports cars and entered for Le Mans where it encountered cooling problems.
The chassis was the standard Lister frame of the day as used in the early ListerBristols, with a simple ladder frame, equal length front wishbones and a de Dion and coil spring rear suspension arrangement. The reports said that the chassis was “designed by Lister” and so it was but it was not specially designed. It was an off-the-shelf job and despite the claims made at the time that Raymond Flower had designed a new sports racing car, the Phoenix SR 150 would have been just a Lister-Turner special with a pretty body which had been largely designed by the Hon. Fitzroy Somerset on an honorary basis.
Brian Lister tells me that he sent a chassis to Egypt but was discreet about it because it was not going to bear his name, though he was given credit for it by the Flower Organisation. He did not take the notion of volume production very seriously for he is a realist, but supposes that he probably came to a loose verbal agreement to cover production cars. This means that there may still be a genuine, unused, Lister chassis somewhere, one which has not, I think, been previously recorded. Having said that, I would not be at all surprised if it were “discovered” quite by chance in Egypt and a new “absolutely genuine, old boy” Lister appears. No, I will not reveal what was on the chassis plate.
Though the Phoenix brings together a few strands from my recent articles on Kieft, Lister and Turner, my real interest lies in the fact that the project is still shrouded in mystery and yet a chassis and an engine were both delivered, and paid for, and the body had been designed and built as a model. What happened next? Why was the car never assembled? Why was the engine passed on to Kieft at the time when it should have been mated to the chassis, as the press release claimed it had been? What happened to the Lister chassis? Why did the press release make such fundamentally inaccurate claims about the engine when the unit which Turner supplied was already in the possession of the Flower Organisation? The Organisation had, incidentally, made it clear that it was looking around for an alternative motor for the simplified road car which would have had laminated plastic bodywork in place of the light aluminium alloy which was projected for the prototype. Finally, why was the Phoenix designated the “SR 150”? The “SR” part seems to stand for “sports racing” and “150” to the LS-litre engine which Flower possessed, so why not “SR 196” since the car was supposed to have a 1960 cc engine?
I’ve followed the story as far as I’ve been able to, and believed I have the facts, but certainly not the reasons. Among our readers there must be someone who can shed light on the background. Please step forward, sir. – M.L.