Bill Boddy

Low chassis, high power

Before WW1, the medium-to-large sportscar market had been very well served by desirables such as 3-litre and 4.5-litre Bentley and the Bugatti family, with the 30/98 Vauxhall still holding its own in appeal and performance. Those who could afford to purchase and run larger sporting motor cars had the Speed Six Bentley, 33/180, 36/220 and 38/250 supercharged Mercedes-Benz, and the 6C Hispano Suiza, etc to satisfy their cravings. But if one takes the vintage era as closing by 1930, while these cars were not exactly brutish monsters they were beginning to date somewhat (all the more welcomed by genuine VSCC enthusiasts, but beginning to age, nevertheless).

So there was quite a stir when Noel Macklin revealed a low-chassis ‘100mph’ sports 4.5-litre Invicta. He had been associated with sportscars from the early 1920s, with Sir Oliver Lyle, and had started to make the respected Invicta cars from 1925, in successive engine sizes of 2.5-, 3- and 4.5-litre.

The legend is that Macklin knew how flexible and comparatively easy to drive steam cars were, and the difficulty many ladies had in mastering a ‘crash’ gearbox demanding double-declutching. He and Lyle saw a market for a big-engined, lightweight car for drivers with ‘crash-gear’ fears that would achieve all the needed performance mostly in its highest ratio. Ignore this, perhaps; but the fact is that the larger-engined Invictas, made at Macklin’s home off the Fairmile at Cobham in Surrey, were notable highperformance ‘top-gear’ cars.

The Invicta name had been well publicised by the successful racing and long-distance endurance drives of the Cordery sisters, some quite bizarre, others rewarding them with the coveted Dewar Trophy for best annual achievement in 1927 and ’28.

In 1931, the advent of the S-type, 4.5-litre, Low Chassis ‘100mph’ Invicta was expected to challenge those older sportscars in the minds and bank accounts of the keener sort of motorist. The new car used the already well-established six-cylinder Meadows 88.5×120.6mm (4467cc) pushrod ohv engine, and the low chassis-line was achieved by a hypoid back axle and underslung rear springs. This latest Invicta was handsome, its sharp radiator outlines matched by a long bonnet with rows of external rivet-heads and two flexible outside exhaust pipes on its nearside. A 20-gallon tank occupied the tail, and the normal bodywork was a two/four-seater.

The engine gave 115bhp on a 6:1 compression and had a safe speed of 2800rpm, later improved to 3200 and 3600rpm. As used in the revised 4.5-litre Lagonda under W Bentley, the old Meadows produced even more power, at over 4000rpm, and later ‘S’ Invictas did claim ‘the ton’.

The 100mph designation was good publicity, but the top pace of the first batch of standard S-series cars was nearer 90mph. The gear ratios were 10.4, 7.0, 4.9 and 3.6-to-1. In top gear the Invicta would run from around 6mph, and accelerate smoothly and rapidly from 10-70mph in 19sec.

S C H Davis’s Brooklands accident, described recently in Motor Sport, gave the car a dubious reputation for sudden breakaway, although Sammy was racing in slippery conditions and never blamed the car.

That great character David Scott-Moncrieff wrote that it was possible to go round a corner as if on rails, but at 1mph faster all four wheels would lose adhesion and an accident was inevitable. But this must surely be a figure of speech, because reading a speedometer to 1 mph while correcting a sudden four-wheel drift’ is, I think, impossible.

J R Buckley, an experienced S-type owner, was kinder, saying that its low build enabled the S-type to corner faster than most large motor cars. If pushed over its limit it would break away as any car would, but rather more suddenly.

The standard `S’ had two 40mm SU HV5 horizontal carburettors, and dual ignition by Scintilla magneto and coil, firing two sets of plugs. A cast aluminium bulkhead strengthened the chassis and carried reserve petrol and oil tanks, the 14in brake drums had alloy cooling fins, the wheelbase was 9ft 10in and the tyre size 6.00×19, on Rudge Whitworth centre-lock wire wheels.

In the competition field, Raymond Mays had a special 158bhp white S-type, subsidised by India tyres, which for a time held the Class-C Brooklands Mountain circuit record at 69.7mph and at Shelsley Walsh had lowered the sportscar record to 45.6sec by 1932.

Donald Healey claimed the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally in one, and Glacier Cups were won in Alpine Rallies, but in the Ulster TTs only Tommy Wisdom scored, finishing last in 1931 but with a class first. lnvictas appeared in other rallies, hillclirnbs and sand races. At Brooklands, stripped S-types lapped at almost 109mph and Dudley Froy managed 112.12mph.

It seems appropriate that Invicta opened the post-vintage years with this flexible new car when 30/98s and Bentleys were beginning to show their age. It cost £875, rising to £925 by 1934 when production ceased, and about 1000 were produced.