Extra Anglia Driving the Ford Anglia Friary Touring Saloon, a coachbuilt special with grand ambitions that predicted the hatchback revolution. Driving the rare Friarybodied Ford that helped foretell today’s hatchbacks. Sharp and capable, Ford’s Anglia 105E was a popular mass-market choice. Friary Motors’ Touring Saloon added extra practicality and exclusivity Words Chris Randall. Photography Alex Tapley.
You’re familiar with this right? Launched in September 1959 to replace the Ford Anglia/Prefect 100E, the 105E Anglia became a common sight, and went on to establish itself a much-loved British classic with a loyal band of admirers and owners. What we have here is the much rarer ‘Touring Saloon’ conversion carried out by Friary Motors, a car that in the company’s own words was intended to provide ‘the many superlative qualities of the saloon combined with extra load space and general accessibility’.
The product of both Dagenham and the Hampshire town of Basingstoke, it was launched in summer 1961, some four months before Ford’s own rather more traditional estate version, and blended substantial re-engineering with neat design touches that included retention of the Anglia’s distinctive rear fins that were lost on Ford’s own effort.
What earns the car a place in the pages of Drive-My Classic/Retro Cars section is its rarity. Registered in 1962, 578 BJB is not only one of just three known survivors but the only one that is still in regular use, so we couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience it for ourselves.
A few years have passed since I last drove a 105E, so it’s a particular pleasure to reacquaint myself with its charms. Once settled into the small but amply sprung driver’s seat, the first memory to return is the simplicity of the cabin. Trimmed in duo-tone grey vinyl (the original material that required just a thorough clean during this car’s restoration) the painted dashboard adds a welcome splash of colour, but there’s nothing extraneous in here. The instrument binnacle combines a simple speedometer with temperature gauge to the left, fuel level to the right, and five warning lights. With slender steering column stalks and a pair of lovely chromed toggles to control ventilation and open the bonnet, that’s it. I’m also reminded of how airy these cars feel despite the compact size, enhanced by the slim delicacy of the controls, from the large, deeply-dished steering wheel to the wand-like gearlever.
It all gives the impression of a car that’s not to be wrestled down the road, rather one where a lighter, more precise touch is required. The honest way it goes about its business reflects the fact that it was affordable, straightforward family transport for the masses, with no fuss or pretension – and certainly none of the quirks associated with contemporary choices such as the VW Beetle or Citroën’s 2CV. It’s far more likely that those attracted to the traditional Anglia might have considered a Morris Minor instead, although it feels far less vintage than the lovable Moggie.
The recirculating-ball steering is moderately weighty at parking speeds but lightens up nicely on the move, and although lacking the accuracy of a rack-and-pinion set-up it proves reasonably direct with plenty of feel. Equally straightforward is the gearchange – assisted by a firm, short-travel clutch pedal, each ratio slots in with an accurate, pleasingly mechanical feel. There’s no synchromesh on first gear – that would arrive on the 1200 model – but it doesn’t detract from what Autocar’s 1962 road test described as, ‘One of the easiest, crispest, and most pleasant gearchanges on the market’. Avoiding first gear involves setting off in second, and suffering a bit of grumbling from the 997cc four-pot.
This car’s natural cruising gait of 50-55mph is achieved quickly, and it will bowl along at that pace very nicely indeed. At anything above that, engine and transmission noise soon start to dominate proceedings, and while not unpleasant, Ford’s overhead-valve ‘Kent’ motor was never what you’d describe as the most mellifluous of units. Neither is it characterful, lacking the industrious appeal of a hard-working A-Series or woofling beat of the Beetle’s flat four. Indeed, the bland machinations from beneath the Anglia’s bonnet leave ‘workmanlike thrum’ as about the best description I can conjure up. Still, the otherwise general sweetness only turns to harsher tones when exploring higher revs than are strictly required, and the unburstable feel suits the Ford’s no-nonsense demeanour. Despite the modest outputs on offer it doesn’t feel undernourished – not on flat roads at any rate.
However, my drive takes place in the undulating Hampshire countryside and it doesn’t take much of an incline to expose the engine’s paucity of torque – with just 52lb ft of it, a downchange is quickly called for if momentum is to be maintained. I suspect that adding a full complement of passengers and taking advantage of the additional luggage capacity would put rather a strain on the modest reserves. Not that period rivals were exactly overendowed with power, and in any case there’s enjoyment to be had in making full use of that slick gearbox.
Having established how it goes, it’s nice to discover that this car stops without drama, too. With Girling drum brakes all round there’s only a little initial play at the top of the pedal’s travel before you meet confidence-inspiring firmness, which is certainly handy when approaching blind bends in country roads.
These roads feel like this car’s natural habitat – a place where the need for outright performance is replaced by a preference for dependable handling, and once again the Anglia delivers. Showing a perfect understanding of what its customers wanted, Ford stuck resolutely to convention with the 105E, equipping it with MacPherson struts up front and a leaf-sprung live rear axle with lever-arm dampers. While it doesn’t cushion like that other Sixties family favourite, the hydrolastically-suspended Austin 1100/1300, you don’t have to contend with comedy lean angles or lift-off trickiness of the sort displayed by French and German rivals. What you get instead is reassuring stability over lumpen Tarmac, and promptly-telegraphed understeer should you get over-exuberant.
There’s some wallowing over the more pronounced dips and compressions of our route, but little in the way of body roll, while potholes elicit a slight wince of the impact to come although the expected crash and bang never really materialises. It all feels assured and capable, and while not a car to tempt you into an early morning B-road blast, let’s remember that it was never intended to be. Ford aimed to provide sensible, reliable motoring to a broad spectrum of family owners and company car-driving reps, and the 105E delivered on that brief.
Enjoyable though the drive has been, we should turn our attentions to what this particular example is all about, a story beginning with ED Abbott Ltd back in 1929. Based in Wrecclesham, close to Farnham in Surrey, the Abbott name became associated with estate conversions of models such as the Vauxhall Cresta.
Fast forward to 1950 and the business was bought by the former managing director of Aston Martin, Gordon Sutherland, who also owned Friary Motors, based in Old Windsor. The need for additional space saw the move to Hatch near Basingstoke, and although both Abbott and Friary names were being applied to estate conversions, the latter got the nod for the Anglia. No one knows why the 105E was chosen, although its popularity and the lack of an estate variant at the time surely swayed the decision.
Chief stylist Peter Woodgate was behind the design which eschewed the usual square-edged estate lines for something sleeker. Cleverly conceived and executed, modification took place aft of the B-pillars, with the work adding new rear side windows and a top-hinged tailgate fashioned from glassfibre. Only minimal alterations were made to the roof to allow for the hinges, and using Perspex for the rear screen helped keep weight down, avoiding the additional expense of uprating the rear suspension. Load capacity was on a par with Ford’s own estate, with available space quoted as 38.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, although a figure of 29.5 cubic feet also appears in other period Friary literature which boasts of a ‘perfectly flat floor for extra load length’ and a ‘floor covered in hard-wearing material.’ You couldn’t argue with either statement. The conversion was advertised at a cost of £89, 12 shillings, and sixpence – a new saloon in Deluxe trim was around £600 at the time – and took a few weeks to complete. It seems that around a dozen cars were converted in all. That small number is likely caused by various factors – Friary struggled with developing a leak-proof seal for the car’s rear windows; Ford’s own estate had also gone on sale; and it seems union problems were encouraging Gordon Sutherland to close the Basingstoke operation.
By the time Ford’s own Anglia Estate ended production in November 1967 almost 130,000 had been made, which puts the rarity of the Friary cars into perspective – but the example I’ve been driving almost didn’t survive at all. That it did is down to the patience and perseverance of owner Bob Kent, who bought the car back in 1988. As he explains, a work colleague at the time owned a Triumph Renown which piqued Bob’s interest in getting a classic for himself, and when a friend said they had a car for sale it turned out to be this one. Bought with the intention of using it to practice welding and restoration, it then spent a little over 20 years languishing in various garages until retirement persuaded Bob that it would be the perfect project to keep him busy. Unfortunately, time had taken its toll and the corrosion-ravaged bodywork was almost past saving. ‘I nearly gave up there and then when I saw the amount of rust,’ he says, but I’m rather glad he stuck with it.
Undertaking plenty of research made him realise that he had something unusual on his hands, so in 2011 he embarked on a two-year restoration.
Doing all the work himself – a dedicated effort that also included evening classes to learn how to weld – the majority of the time was spent fixing the extensive rot. The inner front wings were in a poor state, as were the floorpan and jacking points, with hours taken up cutting out the extensive corrosion and letting in fresh metal. Luckily, the panels aft of the A-pillars had fared better during the car’s hibernation and, apart from the front wings, the shell still retains most of the original paint. Even the interior trim survived unscathed, and apart from decoking the engine, the mechanicals needed little in the way of major overhaul. The 79,719 miles on the odometer is believed to be correct and the engine feels in the rudest of health. With the restoration completed in 2013 the Anglia’s first outing was a return to the Basingstoke location where it was converted. Now a modern car dealership, it showed little interest in the history of this unique example of British coachbuilding, according to Bob. Still, it’s only thanks to owners like Bob Kent that such cars still survive today and that’s something to be celebrated.
Conversions are nothing new, of course, and it’s not hard to find all manner of classics that have received extra carrying capacity. Some were more successful than others, but the fact that Friary not only chose to lavish its attentions on a model as ubiquitous as the Anglia – in the knowledge that Ford would soon launch its own version – but then carry off the job with thought and skill is testament to the British coachbuilders’ art, not to mention their determination to do provide something different for mass-market motorists. You can’t really see that happening today.
That so few were made, and even fewer still exist, only adds to the appeal. As a car to use and enjoy it makes as much sense now as it did to its creators more than 50 years ago. The Anglia was a sensible, solid basis for the job – and for those that rank character above ostentation when it comes to classics, it remains a fine thing. Throw in the usefulness of that extra space and the temptation to throw a few bags beneath that sloping tailgate and head off on a relaxed tour is mighty strong.
Thanks to the Ford Anglia 105E Owners’ Club (105Eoc.com) and to Len Huff at The Abbott Register for their help.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1962 Ford Anglia 105E Touring
Engine 997cc iron block/iron head inline four-cylinder, ohv, Solex B30 carburettor
Max Power 39bhp @ 5000rpm / DIN nett
Max Torque 53lb ft @ 2700rpm / DIN nett
Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Burman recirculating ball
Suspension Front: independent by coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, lever-arm dampers
Brakes Drums front and rear, non-assisted
Performance Top speed: 79mph; 0-60mph: 27sec
Weight 746kg (1645lb)
Fuel consumption 30mpg
Cost new (1962 UK) £600 plus £89, 12/6 for conversion
Classic Cars Price Guide (2019 UK) £5000-£14,000
‘Friary struggled with developing a leak-proof seal for the rear windows’
Basingstoke-based Friary Motors’ conversion of the Anglia pre-dated Ford’s own estate version of its familiar saloon. Original duo-tone upholstery cleaned up well. Ford’s Kent 997cc four is honest and workmanlike. Nudge the needle near to 60 and things get a bit noisy. Friary converted around a dozen Anglias. Rear screen was in Perspex to save weight.
‘It eschewed the usual square-edged estate lines for something sleeker’
OWNING A FRIARY ANGLIA
Owner Bob Kent says, ‘What I love most about ‘Betsy’ is taking her to shows and simply being able to talk to people about the conversion. I’m always having people come up to me and say things like, “I used to have an Anglia like that,” only for me to reply that it wouldn’t have been quite like this. They are always really surprised when I show them round the back, and I take a lot of pleasure in telling them about the history of the car.
‘It’s also a fun car to drive, and I’m quite happy going on long journeys where I can just relax and enjoy the scenery. My wife finds it a bit noisy, but it doesn’t bother me at all. It has been completely trouble-free to own, and has never let me down. It’s generally laid up over the winter, but I check it over regularly and do my own annual maintenance. With such simple mechanicals there’s nothing challenging about it, and if parts are needed they are cheap and plentiful with great support from the 105E club.
‘Although it doesn’t need one now I always get it MoT tested because I like the peace of mind that comes with a professional inspection. I’m considering a few things when it comes to the cosmetics but I’ve not yet decided what route to take; in the meantime I’m happy to keep enjoying driving the car. It’s a real pleasure to own, and after all the work I’ve put in I really can’t see me parting with her.’
Owner Bob Kent (right) uses the car regularly.