Sportscars: genuine or bogus?

Sportscars of distinction have been made from Edwardian times to the present, by makers from ABC to Wolseley, varying widely in performance and cost, but most, if not all, giving satisfaction to their owners and many of them achieving notable successes in racing and other competitive happenings. However, there was a surprising number of so-called sportscars which had racy-looking bodies and often an outside exhaust system, but which were rightly regarded as bogus by those with faster and otherwise superior cars.

The popularity of genuine cars of this category was obvious to the manufacturers who included such in their catalogues. Indeed, would Crossley have revived the name `Shelsley’ in vintage times were it not for the sporting image? It applied to a quicker version of their well established but ‘touring’ 20/70. They even raced the faster version at Brooklands; it was rumoured that they had two identical four-seater sports 20/70s out on the Weybridge concrete, but the lap times were so similar as to mask the truth or otherwise of the twin racers. And would Lagonda have resorted to supercharging to raise the pace of their much-liked 2-litre, the underhead twin camshafts of which restricted the engine’s breathing, had they not tasted success in appropriate races, which they needed to continue?

Alongside these fast and excellent true sportscars were imitations, or bogus ones, often disguised with pointed tails and external exhaust pipes. They should not be sneered at, because they at least showed that those who bought them had some notion of what faster cars were about, and if they could not afford one or simply wanted to cut a dash, so be it. The fact is that in 1921 there was even a so-called sports version of the mass-production Morris Cowley, a rakish two-seater with the required two essentials above quoted, priced at £398 10s.

But the Morris experts Lytton Jarman and Robin Barraclough, in their book The Bullnose Morris, say that the chassis differed but slightly from standard and the engine was “specially tuned, a delightfully vague term”, and that the “free exhaust” implied a larger-bore pipe feeding into the anyway baffle-less silencer. The special tuning consisted simply of Aerolite aluminium pistons, but the back axle ratio was raised from 4.75 to 4.4:1. Similarly, the 11.4hp Citroen was in this category, also with a higher axle ratio.

While I cannot honestly confirm their fake status, it seems probable it was only the body styling of the Gwymie 8, doorless flat-twin Jowett, Warren-Lambert, Junior, BaylissThomas, Deemster, Horstman, Marseal, McKenzie, Rhode, 9/20 Rover, Standard Nine, Singer Ten, aero-screen Westwood and the Windsor which gave them a “don’t kid us” reputation in their claimed sports forms.

The 1938 Wolseley Ten Sports model, too, was somewhat suspect, but the streamlined Brooklands Speed Model was genuine, though it cost you £695.

Of the later baby cars, the Austin 7 Chummy was made in sports form by 1924, with pointed tail, lowered steering column and flared mudguards; for £10 extra you got 5mph more. But the Gordon England Brooklands model was guaranteed to lap Brooklands at 75mph, faster when stripped. The old MG Midget led to Cecil Kimber’s race-winning versions, while the Triumph Super Seven was available supercharged. The Singer Junior came in as the Porlock, having done 100 consecutive observed ascents of the famous hill. Among three-wheelers, the Aero and GP Morgans weren’t suspect, while D’Yrsan made both sports and a remarkable near-racing job, which MotorSport publicised, but I am not sure about the ‘sports’ TB in spite of its pointed tail above its back wheel.

In 1928 both the 2.2-litre 14/70 Hadfield Bean and the Hillman Husky so-called sports four-seaters could hardly be classed as genuine, even though the Bean had a cutaway driver’s door. The Husky had been developed by engineer Willeby from the standard 14 at the command of the MD, who wanted to compete with Kimber’s MGs, but the best it could do was 65mph for an hour around Brooklands, a poor substitute for the 1921 Speed Model which set Raymond Mays on his racing career. Bean Industries claimed 70mph for its ‘sports’ tourer. Both sold for £375.

There were surprises, however. If you lived in London in the ’20s you must have ridden in those Unic taxis. They were slow, and had no reason to be otherwise, but Unic cars were the same. Until in 1924 at Olympia there was that handsome 1.8-litre Type L313 sports fourseater, capable of 70mph!