Car enthusiast Grant Ford tracks the history of a Singer 9 Le Mans car which now resides in Worthing.
A select few of 1930s British designed cars justified being included under the heading of ‘Airline Cars’, a phrase used nowadays to describe a time of experimentation with streamlining combined with the Art-Deco appearance that controlled fashion at the time.
An authority on these really special vehicles is Barrie Down who wrote Art-Deco and British Car Design-the Airline Cars of the 1930s, a book that features the best of these machines including the actual Singer featured here.
This Singer 9 Le Mans story includes a saviour after 50 years lost, and time spent in Scandinavia, Ireland and the far north of Scotland.
Plus the story continues today as this ‘9’ is not what it is supposed to be – it is totally unique.
Singer Motors was very prosperous at the dawn of the ‘thirties’ being the third largest producer in the
country trailing ‘big guns’ Austin and Morris, and in 1932 things further improved with the introduction of the ‘9’.
The 972cc engine and four speed gearbox was the launch pad for the companies assault on the Le Mans 24 hours in 1933 with a ‘9’ Sport.
Taking an impressive 13th place, this little car became the spring board for a Le Mans version of the Singer 9 with hydraulic brakes, more power with overhead camshaft and twin carbs.
With seventh and eighth overall, in 1934 the popularity of the model increased even more with a class win at the French circuit in 1935.
This became the car to own and race in the years before the war and Singer produced 317 coupe versions and 191 saloons of the Le Mans.
Although to look at they were virtually identical, there was in fact two inches difference in the rear window height and this has only come to light recently.
Originally registered on July 31, 1935, selling dealer Greyhound Service Station London supplied the Le Mans to S Alsford who lived in the Wood Green area.
Records are scarce during this time but we do know the car changed registered owners and address in 1941, going north to the Orkney Islands and here the mystery deepens – nothing is known about the car for the next 50 years.
Theories abound, could the owner have been posted to the new RAF base Castletown?
This was opened to protect war-time shipping sailing from the nearby Scapa Flow, or maybe the car was used to get to the very same naval base? Would the third owner hold any clues to the history?
One thing we do know for sure is Dr W Hastings saved the car from extinction.
While on holiday in 1991, like all classic car admirers, Isle of Man resident William (Bill) Hastings noticed a 2.4 Jaguar parked outside a small Orkney Island garage and took the chance to speak to the owner.
Realising Bill was a ‘car man’ an invite was extended to view some other cars hidden out the back.
A dusty ‘drab grey’ coloured Singer 9 Le Mans (hence the forces theory) sat looking all of its 56 years. It was, it’s fair to say, in a terrible state.
A deal was struck and the car was transported down to Lancaster, transferred into the back of a removal lorry and on to the Isle of Man where a massive restoration project was undertaken.
On arrival the car was emptied of its contents.
The garage owner in Scotland had packed the car with spare parts.
One item was the original engine, albeit with a cracked block; under the hood was a Bantam power plant similar size to the Le Mans unit but less powerful with only a single Solex carb.
The Singer was stripped to its chassis, new body frames were made up and fitted and the original block was repaired, rebuilt and fitted.
A testament to the quality of this restoration is that it still looks great today; bathed in the original cream and green finish, resulting in a car that was a credit to Dr William Hastings.
Finished and registered with an Isle of Man number plate in 1998 I asked why, after all the effort, it was sold on as soon as 2001.
It turns out a house move to a smaller property with the car parked on a narrow road was quite simply a constant worry.
A very good offer from a Danish enthusiast followed which saw the car go overseas for the next seven years.
2008 and the car returned to the Wirral, but only for one year before another doctor in Ireland gave the Singer a home in County Kilkenny.
In February 2012, via Hampshire dealer Robin Lawton, the Singer now resides in Worthing, carefully watched over by current custodian Richard George.
The story now takes an interesting twist and involves a Christmas present received by Richard, his sharp eye and attention to detail.
The present was in fact the Barrie Down’s Airline Cars book I referred to at the beginning, the book that features the Singer Le Mans now sitting in Richard’s garage.
It also features another 9 Le Mans Coupe, a different colour but the same car – or that is what the world thought. There was a difference, very slight but noticeable.
It was after Richard noticed the rear side windows on his car looked deeper and carried out some research and measurements that he confirmed the cars were not the same.
Out of 317 Coupes built by Singer only four were thought to exist, that now became three as Richard’s machine is in fact a saloon model, the last remaining example out of 191 built.
This truly is a unique car.
You can read more by classic car reporter Grant Ford by visiting www.grantford.co.uk
1935 Singer 9 Le Mans Saloon Specifications
Engine: 4 Cylinder 972cc SOHC 34bhp
Carbs: Twin Solex
Gearbox: 4 speed part synchro
Brakes: Lockheed Hydraulic 10 inch drums
12 volt lighting and starter system
1935 Singer Le Mans cost new £215.00,
1935 Average house price £530.00.
Average UK salary was £192.50.
A pint of Ale 7d or just 3p in today’s money
1935 the year the (people’s car) VW Beetle was launched, the driving test came into being in the UK and Alcoholics Anonymous was formed the same year beer became available in a can.