Part Five 1955 to 1960
The second half of the nineteen fifties was a great time if you were interested in light sports roadsters and even better if you could afford to own one. The austerity of the years immediately after the Second World War was a thing of the past and motoring for pleasure had returned. The sports cars always had an enthusiastic following in Europe and particularly in Britain. The MG T series of cars and the Porsche 356 and a few other makes had given the enthusiasts in the United States a taste for motor sport and sports motoring and created a demand for light sports cars. To cater for that demand with a modern car and to replace the obsolete TF, MG introduced the MGA in 1955. MG's chief designer Syd Enever had produced a prototype of the car that was to become the MGA in the early nineteen fifties, but the TF was produced instead. The prototype utilised the same suspension, steering gear, engine and transmission as the TF but it had a new chassis and a stunning full width body. The car that went in production was different to the early prototype as it had a 1500cc BMC B series engine and associated gearbox and transmission in place of the MG running gear.
Over a hundred thousand MGA's were produced in the next seven years, the majority before 1959 when the engine size was increased to 1600cc. Between 1958 and 1960 just over two thousand examples of a twin overhead camshaft engine model was produced, but due to engine defects this model was not a success. These figures include the coupe versions of the various models.
In Italy an equally exiting new model was to make an entrance in 1955. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider with a body by Pinin Farina it was a stunning new addition to the ranks of the sports roadsters. Using the same version of the 1290cc double overhead camshaft engine as the Giulietta Sprint coupe it was lively performer. In 1962 the car was given a 1570cc engine becoming the Giulia Spider. Both the Giulietta and Giulia Spiders had been available in the higher performance Veloce version.
Romeo Giulia Spider
The demand for small relatively inexpensive roadsters in Britain in the nineteen fifties encouraged a few new companies to produced cars, with various degrees of success. Jack Turner had built an assortment of specials or one off cars for himself and friends. In 1955 he began producing a small sports car using Austin A30 components in conjunction with a tubular chassis frame with a GRP (Glass reinforced plastic) body. Ninety of these original cars named the A30 Sports were produced by 1957. From 1957 the car had a 950cc engine instead of the original 803cc unit and a Coventry Climax engine option was available. Based on the original chassis frame the car was developed with small body changes and Triumph suspension parts used from 1960. A grand total of 667 Turner roadsters were produced by 1966 when production ceased due to financial problems when Jack Turner became ill. Turner cars were excellent cars that showed the way to others.
Turner Sports car
Morgan again made a small roadster in 1955, the 4/4 series 2. This model was fitted with Ford 1172cc engine and three-speed gearbox; not an exiting set up. The rest was traditional Morgan. They managed to sell Three hundred and eighty five by 1960 when the series 3 was introduced. The series 3 cars were made for one year and fitted with Ford's new small engine the 105E. Originally of 997cc, that engine was still manufactured in the twenty-first Century for use in the Ford kA. The 4/4 was produced until 1968 with Ford engine of increasing size up to 1600cc and a total twelve hundred and eighty eight of series 3 to the 1600 were produced.
Berkeley manufactured caravans in GRP at their factory in Biggleswade England. The company decided to enter car production with an unorthodox roadster designed Laurie Bond. Bond had designed a number of unusual micro cars that were produced in Britain. The Berkeley car had a GRP monocoque chassis/body, front wheel drive using motorcycle components and at first a 322cc two-stroke engine. Between 1956 and 1961 other engine options were available up to a 692cc four-stroke twin. Production ceased due to financial problems in 1961 after almost four thousand examples of all models including a three-wheeled version of the first model were produced.
Berkeley Sports car
Another British Company Fairthorpe, which had started out making micro-cars in 1954, began producing a sports roaster in 1956. The Electron had a GRP body mounted on a backbone chassis and 1098cc and 1216cc Coventry Climax engines were fitted. The Coventry Climax engine was a proprietary engine available to small constructors and was used by amongst others, Cooper and Lotus in their sports and racing cars with great affect. Only thirty Electron's were produced in ten years. It was the Electron Minor that used Standard and Triumph components that was the car that the company going, with seven hundred examples produced between 1957 and 1973.
One of the most enduring concepts in the world of sports cars is that of the Lotus Seven. From the beginning in 1957 it was the ultimate lightweight sports car that attained a good performance with a relatively modest power unit. With the Seven, Colin Chapman built a car combining features from the Lotus Six and his Formula Two cars and his competition experience to produce a car that would do well in competitions of for fun motoring. The Ford 100E side-valve engine that only produced 40 BHP was initially the only engine option. The Seven was available in kit form and could be built for just over £500 or purchased complete for £1,036. It wasn't long before a BMC A series engine option was available and a Coventry Climax FWA engine option. With the latter the car became a Super Seven. Over the next thirteen years the car evolved from the original Seven S1 to the Seven S2, Super Seven S2, Seven and S3 with wide range of engine options and almost two thousand examples had been produced. In 1970 Lotus produced the Seven S4, a car that was not quite in the spirit of the original Seven. It was larger with a GRP body instead of the GRP and aluminium panels of the previous cars and was a civilised car with a 1599cc Ford or 1558cc Lotus DOHC engine and a 100mph top speed, this with aerodynamics of a brick. But maximum speed has never been what the Seven's attraction. By 1973 when Lotus ceased production of the Seven, a thousand S4's had been made.
Elva was another small British manufacturer that had grown out of the Special, kitcar, racing car movement and in 1958 produced the Courier. The Courier had a GRP body on a tubular chassis frame and BMC B series engines as used in the MGA were fitted. For the first two years of production all Couriers were exported, mainly to the USA. Estimates of between four hundred and seven hundred of the Mk1 and Mk2 Couriers were produced by 1961 when the project was sold and larger engined versions were produced.
By 1965 the Courier was no more.
When the British Motor Corporation management invited Donald Healey Motors to design a small sports car for them using as many components from BMC's small cars as possible, they couldn't have imagined that over a third of a million cars would be produced in twenty one years, based on that initial design. Healey designed the car and MG part of BMC, developed and produced the car at the MG factory at Abingdon. This was in 1958 and the car was the Austin Healey Sprite. The Sprite was a simple no frills cars with a steel unitary chassis/body. The performance of the car was modest, as it's BMC A series engine only produced 43bhp. With atop speed of 86mph and a 0 to 60 time of 20.5 second. The Sprite was the essence of the light sports roadster; fun to drive even thought performance was modest. By 1961 when this original model was replaced forty nine thousand had been produced.
Austin Healey Sprite
A Sunbeam car had once held the absolute land speed record, driven by Sir Henry Segrave in the 1920's. By 1959 Sunbeam was just a name, a part of the British Rootes group of companies. Rootes produced a sports roadster the Sunbeam Alpine based on the floorpan of one of their more mundane vehicles and at first fitted a 1494cc OHV four-cylinder engine that produced 83bhp. The Alpine was heavy car and therefore not a lively performer but over sixty nine thousand had been made by 1968 when production stopped.
Fiat had made a small number of a roadster versions of their 1100TV between 1955 and 1959 named the Transformabile and obviously the car was not a success. When in 1959 they commissioned Pinin Farina to design and build the bodies of a roadster and coupe version of their 1200 model, they had a winner. By 1966 approximately forty three thousand of the various versions of the basic car were produced. At first there was the 1200 Cabriolet and the 1500S that had an Osca designed DOHC engine. In 1963 the 1200 gave way to the 1500 and the 1500S to the 1600S.
The five years from 1955 to 1960 where to see a higher concentration of significant new lights sports roadster models than any other period in history. Some of these models would form the basis for other successful models and one, the Lotus Seven would become the most copied design of any car.
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