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Rare historic sports car found in barn

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 13, 2014

This rare Walsall-built Swallow Doretti may fetch £20,000 when auctioned later this month

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A RARE Black Country-built sports car has been unearthed in a Devonshire village.

The Swallow Doretti, one of only 276 built in Walsall, is to be auctioned later this month when it may fetch £20,000.

The cars were built for the American market from 1954 to 1955 and so most were left-hand drive. However, this car is right-hand drive. It came to light, along with several other old cars, when a barn at Hennock, near Bovey Tracy, was cleared in preparation for a sale after the owner died.

Mechanic Martin Hamlyn-White was called in to inspect the car and he spoke to our sister paper, The Western Morning News.

Mr Hamlyn-White said: "I had no idea what the car was and absolutely shocked to hear that they can go for so much money. I was thinking perhaps it was a few hundred pounds' worth.

"It took a while to find out what it was because they are so rare. Eventually it became clear it was this long-lost make of car.

"It's not in bad condition – it has an aluminium body so that's not corroded. I didn't think there'd be much left of it to be honest but, actually, it's pretty solid. It will be a great restoration project for somebody and it will be fascinating to see how it turns out if it does get restored."

Once fully restored the car could be worth £50-60,000.

The car was built by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Ltd., based at Walsall Airport, but the company had a fine pedigree in British automotive history.

It began in 1922 as the Swallow Sidecar Company, founded by William Lyons in Blackpool. From motorcycle sidecars he branched out into sports cars and moved the company to Coventry.

In 1931 they launched the SS1, precursor of the Jaguar, and in 1935 the company was split in two, with Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) continuing to build sidecars and SS Cars concentrating on sports cars. After the Second World War SS rebranded itself as Jaguar, to avoid Nazi connotations, and sold off the sidecar business, which was bought by Helliwells, the famous Black Country aircraft component makers.

They shifted production to their works at Walsall Airport and then in 1950 Helliwells and Swallow were bought by Tube Investments.

The 1950s saw a boom in British sports car sales in the USA, led by marques such as Jaguar, MG and Triumph, and Swallow Coachbuilding attempted to cash in on the market. The company designed a two-seater around the 2-litre engine, gearbox and rear axle of the Triumph TR2. Styled by Frank Rainbow, the car was given Italian looks and an Italian name, Doretti, to appeal to American drivers.

In tests at the time the Doretti had a top speed of 102mph and could do 0-60mph in 11.6 seconds. However, while it could outperform the Triumph TR2, it had a smaller interior, with an old-fashioned upright driving position, and was more expensive and sales did not take off as hoped. Then, in 1955, as a mark II was being developed, parent company TI pulled the plug on the whole project and production ceased.

Although this Swallow Doretti was built 1954-55, it was registered in 1965 and carries a C-plate and its last MOT was in 1976.

The car will be auctioned by Rendells StonePark of Ashburton, Devon, on Friday, February, 21

What are your memories of the Swallow Doretti? Did you ever own one or did you work on the car? Email editor@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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  • doretti  |  February 17 2014, 12:08PM

    I was very interested to read the recent Bugle article about the Swallow Doretti, (February 13 issue). For many years I have been researching the whereabouts of all existing Swallow Doretti sports cars and also attempting to piece together a complete history of the Swallow Coachbuilding Company while it was located at Walsall Airport. Any information , however trivial it may seem, would be most welcome. Ken Yankey