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Greyhounds

The Story of the Light Sports Coupe

Part Three, The Nineteen Fifties.

Most of the cars available in the nineteen forties survived into the next decade, the Maserati going the way many would follow, increased weight and engine capacity. The Fiat was dropped in 1951 and the Cisitalia only survived a short time after, failing due to financial problems caused by other projects, but the Porsche 356 was about to begin it’s illustrious career right through the fifties and into the sixties.
In Italy Abarth began his involvement with tuning and making light performance cars that lasted until the nineteen seventies, Alfa Romeo introduced the Giulietta Sprint in 1954 and this led to other exotic developments.
In France DB was another marque very like Abarth, that produced cars from 1952  until 1962, with no definite models. Alpine was another France manufacturer that commenced producing the “A106” in 1955 and then various other models until the nineteen eighties.
Four makers joined the field in Britain, MG making first the the MGA coupe and then the rare MGA Twin-cam coupe. Unfortunately their next coupe the MGB GT was no lightweight and although worthy was no Grayhound. The first Lotus Elite made it’s debut in 1957 and was very much a Grayhound and a real beauty, The first in a line of Lotus lightweight coupes. Gilbern in Wales, made the “GT” from 1959 until 1967, then put on weight and used larger engines in later models. The last but not the least of British makers, was TRV of Blackpool, with the Grantura, again the first in a line of lightweight coupes from platform chassis.
In 1950 production of the Porsche 356 was transferred to Stuttgart, Germany, their pre-war base. The cars were made in the Reutter factory where the pressed steel bodies used from now on, were also made. After the initial revolutionary design, The story of the Porsche 356 is one of evolution  Between 1950 and 1955, over seven thousand of all types of this original 356 was made, the engine size steadily increasing from 1086cc, to 1488cc and the power output rising to 115bhp in the Carrera 1600GT Coupe of 1959. During this time the car evolved steadily with improvements in all it’s components, the Volkswagen content being reduced as Porsche designed items became available. In 1955 the 356 evolved into the 356A and that in turn evolved into 356B in 1959 as the design was refined and improved, by then the car had long been pure Porsche. Fifties Porsche 356 Models
The Alpine was the creation of Jean Redete, the son of a Dieppe Renault dealer. By grafting on a GRP 2+2 coupe body styled by Michelotti, on to a Renault 4CV floor pan he created a car that was capable of succeeding in the Alpine rally and the Mille Miglia, one winning it’s class in 1956.

His company Societe Automobile Alpine, was founded and the first model was the A106. The Renault 4CV has a rear mounted 747cc engine, all independent suspension, wishbones and coil springs at the front and swing axles with coil springs at the rear. Redete replaced the standard gearbox for a special five speed box and the engine was tuned so that a maximum speed of 120mph was achieved. With a production rate of two a week, by 1960 when the A106 was discontinued 650 had been made.
The Renault 750, the basis for the first Alpine was designed in secret during the Second World War and had an inline four cylinder OHV engine located behind the swing axle rear suspension. This layout was retained in the Alpine and made a low profile design possible as the only equipment running through the passenger area was the gear change linkage. The disadvantage of this layout was the rear weight bias allied to swing axle suspension geometry led to unpredictable handling, but the layout was very popular during the fifties and sixties. Alpine A106
DB short for Deutch and Bonnet, who builtnumerous racing sports cars between 1939 and 1961. In the early nineteen fifties they began to race Panhard based sports cars in the 750cc class, from 1952 they began to market Panhard Dyna based coupes with engines ranging from 610cc up to 850cc, fitted with a wind cheating aluminium bodies. From 1955 a GRP body was specified and the Panhard engine could be supplied in many sizes up to 1300cc. Never a series production car the DB was famous for it’s success in the index of performance category in the LeMans 24 hour races during this period.

Panhard was one of the oldest car makers in France and so in the world and after the Second World War they changed direction from building luxury cars to lightweight cars. Using the design offered to them by J.A.Gregoire a pioneer of front wheel drive and the use of aluminium in car construction as a basis, they developed a car with many original features. The components used by Deutch and Bonnet were the transverse twin air cooled engine that was located in front of the leaf spring independent front suspension, the gearbox and the front wheel drive transmission. In standard 850cc form the engine produced 42bhp and proved capable of further tuning. DB mounted these in their own box section steel chassis.DB Panhard
Gilbern of Llantwit Fardre in Wales where makers of sports coupes, and  were producing cars from 1959 until 1973,starting  with the GT sports coupe,in production until 1966, first in kit form and later also a factory built car. The company founders Giles Smith and Bernard Friese designed a car with a GRP body mounted on a multi tubular chassis,using Austin A35 front suspension and a BMC live rear axle with coil springs and controlled by a Panhard rod.Various engine options were available, the smallest was the 948cc BMC unit as fitted in the Austin Healey Sprite at that time,other options were the Coventry Climax FWA engine as used in the contemporary Lotus Elite and the BMC engine fitted in the MGB was used from 1963.All the later Gilbern models had larger engines and so become heavier and do not interest us here. The cars styling was not exceptional and the specification not radical, but they were finished to a high standard and that led to their modest success.Gilbern GT

Abarth’s  output was so fragmented that it is impossible to define a definite production model, but more like snapshots of his work as time progressed. The Fiat-Abarth coupes with engine capacities ranging from 700cc to 1000cc with bodies by Zegato, were outstanding for their diminutive size and beautiful form. Based on the Fiat 600 components, the tuning of which was Abarth’s main business and as the 600 it was rear engined. Some cars were fitted with an Abarth DOHC conversion for this pushrod unit.
The Fiat 600 was developed by Abarth intoa very popular sporting vehicle in Italy despite it’s humble beginningsas an economy car. The extreme expression of that development was the 750 Zegato. With an aluminium body designed and made by Zegato on a fiat 600 floor pan. Like the Renault 750, the 600 was a rear engined car, the engine also being a water cooled inline four with overhead valves, but in the 750 Zegato, usually fitted with an Abarth double overhead camshaft conversion, as well as the more common Abarth modifications, an increase in capacity, multiple carburettors  and free flow exhaust system. The combination of a well developed if small engine, a low profile lightweight slippery body added up to a potent little car.Abarth Zegato 750.

In 1954 Alfa Romeo entered the small car market, not with a saloon but with a sports coupe, the Giulietta 1300 Sprint. Unusually the Berlina version came second. The technical specification of the car was similar to the 1900 range of models, the first new Alfa introduced after the second world war. With a double overhead camshaft, 1290cc, inline four cylinder engine with an aluminium block and head that produced 80bhp at 6300rpm. Mounted in a platform chassis with coil spring and wishbone front suspension and a live rear axle located by radius rods and an “A” bracket and coil springs. The Sprint had a steel body designed and made by Bertone, welded to the chassis. The 1290cc engine was steadily developed and in 1956 a 90 bhp version was fitted to the “Sprint Veloce” a lightened version of the “Sprint”.

By 1959 an output of 100 bhp had been attained and this version of the engine was fitted into the “SS” (Sprint Special) another design by Bertone created for the racing enthusiast and the “SZ” an alloy bodied ultra lightweight designed and built by Zegato also for the racing curcuit. The SS and the SZ were the first to use the five- speed gearbox when it became available, it later became available for fitting to the other Coupes.The “Giulietta” range was in production until 1962.  Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The MGA Coupe in production from 1956 to 1962 was derived from the MGA Roadster. Introduced in 1955, being a radical change from all previous MG roadsters with a full width body on a substantial box section chassis. With independent front suspension using coil springs and wishbone and half-elliptic springs and a live axle at the rear. When first produced the it had a 1500cc version of the BMC “B” series engine producing 68bhp, later model of the car had a 1622cc version of the same engine and that produced 80bhp.
The Roadster and the Coupe models only differed in that the Roadster had a fabric top and flexible side-screens (normal ware for sports cars at that time,) and a top speed of 96mph, the Coupe being fitted with a permanent steel top and wind up windows and due to the improved aerodynamics, a top speed of 102mph.

In 1958 a higher performance version of both models was created by installing MG’s own version of the BMC “B” engine fitted with a chain driven double overhead camshaft which produced 108bhp at 6700rpm from 1622cc. These were named the “MGA Twin cam”, and a top speed of 103mph and a 0-60 time of 9.1 seconds was the result. Dunlop disc brakes were fitted all round to these cars, making sure they could stop as well as they could go and Dunlop pressed aluminium disk wheels.The Twin Cam was intended for use in motor sport and in production until 1960.
By 1962 all the MGA models had been superseded by the much heavier MGB.There is more about the MGA in “MG by McComb”. MGA Coupe
The first TVR car sold, a one off was made in 1949 in Blackpool as TVR’s are today. It took until 1958 and a hand full of assorted cars before the first series production model the Grantura MK1 was introduced. It’s design was evolved through those previous cars with it’s multi-tubular backbone chassis, sprung by torsion bars and Volkswagen trailing link suspension at both front and rear. The principle engine fitted in the Mk1 was the Coventry Climax FWA 1,098cc or the in 1216cc FWE form mated to a ZF gearbox, this was topped by a distinctive coupe body in class reinforced plastic.
Although an interesting package the Grantura was never properly developed. Between 1958 and 1960 a hundred examples of the MK1 were produced, as with a weight of only 660kg and a slippery body form it had a lively performance, with a top speed of 101 mph and a 0-60 time of 10’8 seconds. This could explain how purchasers overlooked poor detail construction.More about the Grantura can be found in “TVR The Complete Story” by John Tipler.

.TVR Grantura
In 1956, Colin Chapman began the design of two new cars, one was a car to compete in the forthcoming Formula 2 and the other was to be a lightweight sports coupe. Both were to have Coventry Climax engines located at the front although of different type’s, and to share the same suspension design. The formula two car had a multi-tubular space frame chassis that was conventional at the time, but the coupe, the Elite chassis was a revolutionary design, being similar to the by then common steel unitary construction chassis’s of mass produced cars but made of glass reinforced plastic. The aim was for a lightweight unit that could be made in greater numbers than a tubular chassis.The FWE engine was engineered for the car by Coventry Climax from existing models as the capacity of 1216cc made the car eligible for the US 1250cc racing class. The transmission consisted of a BMC gearbox then a short propeller shaft to the chassis mounted final drive unit and finally fixed length drive shaft’s that also acted as transverse arms for the strut type rear suspension. With rack and pinion steering, Girling disc brakes at the front and inboard at the rear to complete the advanced specification. The body style was conceived by Peter Kirwan-Taylor an accountant, it was then refined by Frank Costin, it is to me one of the most beautiful cars of all time.Lotus Elite

As with all Lotus designs, weight reduction was a great consideration and was kept down to 670kg, so performance was outstanding for a 1200cc coupe. The later 83bhp engine versions could attain a maximum speed of 118mph and a 0-60 time of 11 seconds. Despite manufacturing problems the Elite remained in production for five years and 988 were made. Lotus has never used a GRP chassis again although all subsequent Lotus car have had GRP bodies. Others have used GRP chassis since and many of them have been lightweight coupes.
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