Sheer fantasy

This is the story of a Frazer Nash, not one of the old chain-driven sports cars, but a 1950 Le Mans Replica model, so named because the previous year one of the post-war Frazer Nash sports cars, that grew out of BMW and Bristol, had finished third in the first post-war Le Mans 24 Hours. Hand-built in small numbers, the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica was an expensive but very effective two-litre sports car, certain to do well in the two-litre class and on occasion able to win outright.

In 1950 nine Le Mans Replica models were built, most of them being immediately involved in competition. Two of the nine went to Italy, one to Count “Johnny” Lurani for his friend Franco Cortesi to race very successfully, and the other to the Turin Motor Show, where it appeared on a combined Bristol/Frazer Nash stand. It is the second car with which we are concerned at the moment.

It was a standard Le Mans Replica two-seater sports car, powered by an FNS version of the two-litre Bristol engine, which meant that it produced 120bhp instead of the normal Bristol’s 85bhp, and could achieve 1 mph per 1 bhp. This car was built on chassis number 421/100/112, the 241 denoting Frazer Nash, the 100 being the Series 1 chassis design, and 112 being the car number (this series started at 109). After being on the Turin Show stand, 112 was taken away by its Italian owner and the Frazer Nash body was removed. In its place was built an attractive contemporary-style GT coupé body, all in aluminium. This was done by Rocco Motto who had a bodybuilding firm in Turin, and specialised in designing and building one-off GT bodies on various chassis, the general shape following a trend started by Cisitalia in 1947.

So far so good. 421/100/112 with its new coupé body then disappeared, and until a few years ago I could never find any trace of it, and it never appeared in any racing events as far as I know, unless it was mistaken for some sort of Fiat Special. Within the last 20 years a second-hand car dealer discovered it in Italy, still remarkably complete and still with its original Bristol FNS engine. He brought it to the UK and a buyer was found.

The new owner really wanted a standard Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash, but there were not many about, so he had the Motto coupé body removed and a new Le Mans Replica-style body built on the car; all quite justified as that was how the car had been built originally. He did not use it very much and it languished in the Midlands Motor Museum in Bridgenorth for a number of years, eventually appearing for sale in an auction. It was bought by a collector, who used it on the road on occasions, and he eventually sold it to a man in New Zealand who was looking for a post-war Frazer Nash to use as a road-going sports car. It is now alive and well and being used for fun in sunny NZ.

Up to this point the story of 421/100/112 is all straightforward and clear-cut, and indeed as far as the actual car is concerned it is still straightforward and uncomplicated. It is the story that it left behind in the UK that has become sheer fantasy.

After the Rocco Motto aluminium coupé body was taken off I went to have a look at it, and it was a delightful period-piece from the early 1950s, and much too nice to throw away. The Italian specialist coach builders led the world in design and style in the immediate post-war period, and the Motto body was a typical example of a hand-beaten aluminium coupé body, made with a mallet on a tree-stump, long before panel-shaping “rollers” had got to Italy.

A year or two passed and then someone telephoned me to say he had bought the Motto body and was going to build a special underneath it, using modern Alfa Romeo mechanical components. I told him the history behind the body and said I thought an Alfa Romeo special with this genuine Italian body would make quite a nice car. When he asked if he could call it a Frazer Nash I said “impossible” because the actual car was still alive and well and the only connection his car could claim with the name Frazer Nash would be that at one time the Motto coupé had been on a Frazer Nash, but there was no connection with AFN Limited, who built the original Le Maps Replica Frazer Nash. The nearest we could think of for a name would be Rocco Motto Special, and we left it at that.

Last summer this pretty little aluminium coupé appeared at a show-ground, mounted on a home-made chassis frame, powered by a Rolls-Royce B-series industrial engine. On the front it carried a Frazer Nash badge and in discussion with an interested spectator (a Motor Sport reader of long-standing) the owner of this attractive 1950s GT coupé gave a slightly garbled history of 421/100/112, omitting the information that it had been rebodied with a Le Mans Replica style body and was living in New Zealand. When asked about the engine it was claimed that the original Bristol engine was too valuable to be used, which is why the Rolls-Royce modular unit had been put in. The rear end was said to be “de Dion, but secret”. Our interested reader knew that Le Mans Replica Frazer Nashes had rigid rear axles, though some later cars used a de Dion layout, and one way and another he could not help thinking that the owner of the Rocco Motto coupé was living in dreamland.

All the post-war Frazer Nash cars are very well documented and the original factory records and everything are kept in the Frazer Nash archives, which are owned by Mr John AldIngton, whose father and uncles were AFN Limited, who built the Frazer Nash cars. The registration on the Motto Coupé Special is TH6400, and the firm’s records show that this number was on a 1935 Frazer Nash-BMW until recently!

This little story of fantasy is the result of a reader’s letter to DSJ rather than the other way round. There must be a simple explanation for all the foregoing, but I am not sure I know what it is. Correspondence between readers and DSJ seems to be on the increase, as I have more to read than the one-letter-a-month that you get from me. Not all get a reply, indeed some specifically say “reply not needed”, but they are all read and filed because they contain so much of interest.

This month’s three Memorable Moments are from Les Tallis.

1. 1928: The first motorcycle Speedway meeting in Coventry, when the smell of “dope” and Castrol ‘R’ got into his blood.

2. 1937: Donington Park Grand Prix. After reading about Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union for four years, to see and hear them in action. The memory still makes the adrenalin flow.

3 1955: Watching practice for the International Trophy at Silverstone from a vantage point at Copse Corner (where he should not have been), a Gordini got out of control and ran over his legs as he flung himself flat, leaving a lasting impression on his mind, and his right leg!

Yours, DSJ