The good old days
Back when the war was won and when men were men, if you wanted a shed you would build it , when you wanted a pond you would dig it and when you fancied a sports car you would make it. Specials and kits were immensely popular back then, probably due to the convenience of the abundance of ladder chassis about at the time and with England facing the brunt of the Second World War debt. And while the seven specials were probably the most popular, the cars based on the blue oval I think were the coolest, with some real design classics being produced by men in sheds especially when compared to the mainstream competition at the time. That’s not to say there wasn’t some absolute basket cases about though, but on the whole its surprising how well rounded some the cars still look.
The popularity of the Fords is obviously down to price, as the cars were out of date even for the time, with engines dating back to the early 30’s. The cars were designed to undercut all of the competitors in cost, beating many used cars on price at the time. Speed was not the point back then, however. Cars were very much aspirational and much of the appeal was to fool your neighbors into thinking you were buzzing around in an Aston Martin. It is quite humorous to think of the humble underpinnings these cars share and odd to think many of these cars share a 3 speed gearbox.
Ashley Laminates (1955-1962)
One of the biggest players in the home built car market was Peter Pallandine, the guy is a recurring name in this article and also worked with the Seven, creating cars for the 750 Motor Club. However, I’m more interested in the coupes created from the side-valve fords. The first proper coupe launch was the Ashley 1172 in 1958, based on the Ford Anglia dating back to 1939. The car was offered using the standard chassis or with the purpose built “Regent” chassis and in 1960, weirdly, you could make one around the Ford Prefect making a full four seater family sports car.
The car from all angles looks rather weird (or to be polite, interesting), from its compromised hatch shape (to allow a more practical interior) to its overly long nose and massive ford wheels (the main clue to the cars origin). Despite the obscure look, it’s easy to see why the car would have appealed, it would stand out far more than the Ford it’s based on and the fiberglass body would have a massive weight advantage so a performance and handling difference would be noticeable. Also, if performance from the side valve still wasn’t enough, there was an amazing selection of bolt-on performance goodies available at the time. Plus, Ashley allowed the fitment of later BMC A-series engines as the car evolved. This car was a stepping stone model for Ashley and as the company matured so did the design. In 1960 the front end was re-evaluated and the car became the Sportiva. The Sportiva is a much more handsome car due to some relatively simple changes; the grill was bigger and flatter and most importantly to me, the headlights were in line with it.
Ashley gained a reputation from the Sportiva for creating good looking laminates and moved into re-bodying other sports cars like the Midget and a Swiss importer even saw a possible market for re-bodying the Morgan Plus 4 with the Sportiva body shell showing the car off on Morgans Geneva stand! The Sportiva wasn’t the only car to find new life though, the 1172 was thoroughly redesigned again, but this time by Reliant and found new life in the Israeli-Tamworth Reliant Sabre, the ancestor to the Scimitar.
Falcon Shells (1956-1964)
Peter Pallandine left Ashley early on wanting to create a company, bizarrely running the business in both New Zealand and the UK. He still manufactured the Ashley Austin specials under the Falcon MK1 and MK2 names. The first Ford Falcon (no, not that Auzzie one) was the MK3 which was later renamed the Caribbean in an attempt to move the company more upmarket.
The Caribbean, like the Sportiva, used the Anglia as a basis, but unlike Ashley I believe the design was spot on from day one, looking just right and, dare I say it, more handsome than the Healey Sprite. I would love to thrash around a a small country lane in a supercharged one, eeking all the sidevalve engine has to offer. The Caribbean was a strong seller and was respected for its quality and are therefore very collectible in Ford circles nowadays. Also, like the Sportiva, a need for a more practical version was introduced in the form of the Bermuda. As many people couldn’t afford the luxury of a second car, many specials were required to be practical to sell well, so this practice was very common.
In 1962 Peter sold the company on to move to Australia, where he spent the rest of his days trying to perfect the steam car for production. Since he moved on, Falcon expanded into other areas in GRP such as boat hull manufacture. The cars remained the prime concern however, and like Ashley, found interest in a mainstream manufacturer and Auto Union (later Audi) built a racing prototype around the DKW Junior chassis and the Caribbean body. Also, similarly to the Ashley, the model progressed into the 515.
The car had a much more mature and upmarket look than the Caribbean, was thoroughly more up to date too, using the Consul Capri as a basis with its 1500 engine giving 71hp, performance was competitive. The car was a full kit with a bespoke chassis molded to the body making the car a much more expensive prospect at £900 (almost £17k in today’s money) without the all important mechanicals, so after approximately 25 were sold, the Falcon dream was over.
Tornado cars (1958-1964)
In 1958, friends Bill Woodhouse and Tony Bullen came onto the scene with the Typhoon and Tempest. The early Tornados shared no resemblance to the other specials around at the time, looking almost like a classic Le Mans racer. They had a style all of their own. Like other specials at the time, a practical version was available, but bizarrely in shooting brake Estate form.
Excluding the peculiar shooting brake, looking at the cars it would be easy to believe they came from a much more prestigious manufacturers, with the bottom pic looking almost like a Maserati race car. The tempest was the pick of the range as it had much improved components with fully independent front suspension, allowing much improved handling over the standard Ford mechanicals. Tornado always had racing at heart, and Tempests were very successful in the popular 750 Motor Club events (especially when fitted with twin carbed Formula Junior engines mated to close ratio gearboxes), meaning the cars sold strongly and allowed Tornado to expand the range, to make my favorite out of all the cars. A proper GT car based on a bespoke chassis like the 515, and also like the 515 utilized the more modern Ford engines. The Talisman GT was introduced in 1962, and was of so much quality in fit, finish and capability that it has been said that it inspired Colin Chapman to build his brilliant Lotus Elan.
The front of the Talisman is perfectly proportioned, and the rear has some DB5 elements to it. I think the car is great and I’ve even seen models for sale using the Lotus twin cam. The GT shows Talisman, like Falcon, had idea’s above their station, but I think this car is a much better example and the sales were much greater at 180 cars produced. It’s hard to believe this car is a kit at all, and the survival rate shows the cars are long lasting. Despite this the Tornado met a similar fate, with cash flow problems leading to redundancy in 1964. This is a great shame because I’d have bet money on the Talisman at the time bringing a long and exciting future for the company.
Rochdale Cars (1948-1973)
In 1948, two garage owners from Rochdale (surprise, surprise) set about making some single seater racing cars made from the little Austin 7, soon the enterprise evolved into producing full sports cars for the road. The first effort using Ford mechanicals, was the ST (ignore the focus) in 1955. Using the standard Ford 8 or pop chassis you could build the car for around £100 according to sources. That’s around two and a half grand in today’s money!
The car looked the part, but with two live axles and an extremely flexy chassis the car was uncomfortable to drive at any speed, but with Rochdale the standard car was just that standard. However, like most specials, the cars became a running project and chassis strengthening could be performed before the fitment of the pretty body. The ST was available as a hard top as well as a convertible. Four years later, the GT was introduced and the ST disappeared from catalogues and set the style for which Rochdales became famous.
The GT had the now seemingly standardized Rochdale bug eyes and strange hatch shape, the car again utilised the Ford 8 chassis. This wasn’t to mean that other options were not available, such as the popular buckler aftermarket option. Perhaps the most interesting was a car built upon a Cooper racing chassis using a supercharged Ford 100E engine mated to an mgTD gearbox held to the road with all independent suspension. Needless to say, this was a pretty potent bit of kit with a claimed 0-60 of around 10 seconds! The car became a convertible when the Riviera hit the streets, the styling however was evolved further.
The convertible is rare, selling around 50 examples compared to the believed 1350 GT’s sold. The car was a stepping stone however to the introduction of the last and most famous Rochdale of all: the Olympic!
You can see how the Olympic was an evolution of the Riviera, the Olympic is a weirdly beautiful car from all angles and was extremely capable being the third car following the Berkeley and Lotus Elite to use a lightweight GRP Monocoque. Sadly, this car is the start of the story, with Ford being out of the equation, favoring the use of the twin carbed Riley 1500 engine. A dream car for me, definitely.
Dellow Sports Cars (1950-1959)
Due to my styling bias, most of the cars I have decided to feature in this essay have been coupes. One thing vintage Fords are very good at is trials driving (due to their mechanical simplicity and low down torque), so it was inevitable that the Ford 8 made a good choice for a light weight ‘performance’ trials car. The Dellow was available in many forms, with many engines from the Ford and later MG stable and was a good performer on the scene.
The Duttons came in several marks , slowly evolving with little alterations until the MK6, which featured a more standard fully enclosed bodywork (although not many of these are thought to exist). The cars were not only popular on the trails circuit and some racing editions materialized, the coolest being Tony Marsh’s Lightweight; using a supercharged 100E engine with an Elva cylinder head and beautiful aluminium bodywork.
The fastest car around at the time was the Jaguar XK120 and to put the lightweight into perspective, the Jag’s power to weight ratio was 130bhp per ton (20 less than the Dellow!) . The cars up to the MK5 had aluminium bodywork making the cars quite covetable and the survival rate, due to their worth, appears to be high.
The stories behind many of these dreamers start and end the same way, (and for fear of repeating myself too much) I have selected a group of further Ford specials to look into and hopefully I will go through some of these at a later date.