The hype about Lea-Francis

Two of the outstanding 1.5-litre sportscars of the vintage years were the 12/50 Alvis and the 12/50 Lea-Francis. Of the same engine capacity, so taxed at the same rate under prevailing legislation, both were made in Coventry and both were well represented and successful in racing and trials, etc. But the adoption of supercharging by Lea-Francis in 1927/28 gave it a better performance base.

By then the L-F model range had acquired the Hyper name, suggested by LT Delaney, the director, whose son Tom is still racing his TT Hyper Lea-Francis, aged 92, which, as one whose leg-speed is about 1mph, I regard as terrific.

Lea-Francis used the well-proven Meadows four-cylinder 69x100mm (1496cc) pushrod ohv engine, Alvis its own 68x103mm pushrod ohv power unit. I have no desire to compare these desirable cars, and maybe it is just as well that we no longer have a Vintage Postbag column in which preferences could be aired.

The very memorable Supersports Hyper Leaf is still very well-known to VSCC and Lea-Francis OC members. It had a 4ED Meadows engine, a No9 Cozette blower of French origin, sucking from a carburettor of the same make, a lowered half-elliptic-sprung chassis, a four-speed gearbox giving ratios of 14.23, 8.47, 5.56 and 4.27 to 1, a flat tail, cycle-type mudguards and a 10-gallon fuel tank. The price of these TT replicas was £550, when a non-s/c Beetleback sports 12/50 Alvis cost £535. Cross & Ellis made the Hyper two-seater body, and the radiator was inclined backwards at 15 degrees.

This Hyper Lea-Francis was a fast car, capable of some 80-85mph, or 90mph in top tune. It was intended for dedicated owners and amateur racing drivers; for instance, the supercharger was lubricated from a small dashboard tank, but for prolonged fast driving a bleed from the main lubrication system had to be brought in by turning a tap. In addition, the blower vanes needed a small supply of oil mixed with the fuel, a little measure in the tank filler-cap being provided as a reminder. Castor oil was forbidden, and KLG plugs gave the best results. The wheelbase was 9ft 3in and it had vacuum servo-assisted four-wheel brakes. The TT replicas did 98mph at 4500rpm, and had gear ratios of 13.0, 7.7, 5.0 and 3.9 to 1.

Both Alvis and Lea-Francis had racing successes, minor and important. The 1928 Ulster TT was a great boost for the latter, when Kaye Don beat Leon Cushman's FWD Alvis, which had slowed in deference to low fuel and water levels, by 13sec (0.4mph in 410 racing miles). Much of the testing of these victorious Hyper LeaFs had been done by RMV 'Soapy' (he was always washing his hands) Sutton, a cousin of the Duke of Rutland. He was also the number one works driver, with whom I once experienced the embarrassment of running out of petrol when we were driving from one Coventry factory to another.

One Hyper puzzle is that at the 1929 BRDC 500 Mile Race held at Brooklands, RHB Pellew's Hyper Lea-Francis had a front dumb-iron apron in two sections, both able to be lifted-up against the bottom of the radiator. The offside one was so raised as the car was push-started from the pits. Was this a means of reducing air to the radiator when the engine was cold at the start or after a long pitstop, and was the apron only held up by air pressure? Pellew and Margots finished seventh in the race and Lea-Francis won the team prize.

The Hyper Lea-Francis in two-seater form remains one of the most memorable British sportscars, made from 1928 into the mid-1930s, along with Alvis, Frazer Nash and a few others which were for fun motoring and competition forays in the vintage years, and whose products have lasted to this day.