Variations on a theme. Post-war Frazer Nashes Simon Taylor let loose in seven icons. In its last 10 years Frazer Nash finished just 82 cars, in seven different models. Simon Taylor has gathered a remarkable set, with one of each to compare and contrast. Photography Tony Baker. All Frazer Nash’s Post-War Greats. Full house: the greatest-ever track test of post-war Frazer Nashes.
There’s something about cars with double-barrelled names. From Sizaire-Naudin to Gordon-Keeble, they seem to exude an extra je ne sais quoi. Usually, and most famously in the case of Rolls-Royce, they celebrate the names of two people involved in the marque’s birth. But in the case of Frazer Nash both names belonged to one person, who was connected for only six years with the firm that he founded.
All Frazer Nash’s Post-War Greats - 1950 Frazer Nash 'Foursome' Cabriolet, Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé and Frazer Nash Sebring, Frazer Nash Continental, Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica/ Le Mans Mk II, Frazer Nash Fast Tourer/Mille Miglia, Frazer Nash FN48, Frazer Nash Targa Florio
Nevertheless, impelled by the drive of HJ Aldington who took over in 1929, Frazer Nash continued to build cars during another three decades. Its hand-made offerings were always expensive and, in the 10 post-war years between 1948 and 1957, just 82 completed cars emerged from the little factory in Isleworth.
On that small number stands the reputation of one of the most charismatic of all British sports cars. They were light, they handled superbly, and within a few seasons they had notched up a string of successes in racing. And they were genuine dual-purpose machines, making exhila-rating road cars as well as winners on the track. Apart from three F2 single-seaters, within that small number there were seven distinct types of post-war Frazer Nash. We thought it would be revealing to gather together an example of all seven and establish both their differences and their common philosophy. In this, we were greatly assisted by the efforts of James Trigwell of the Frazer Nash Archives Trust, and by an enthusiastic group of hardy owners who assembled one cold and horribly rainy day in March to compare and contrast.
All but three post-war Frazer Nashes use the BMW-based six-cylinder Bristol engine. The first series cars have a simple ladder chassis frame of two four-inch steel tubes, converging in an A shape from the gearbox forward. The second series cars, from mid-1952, use a lighter chassis with the two main tubes parallel. Suspension follows BMW 328 antecedents, with upper transverse leaf and lower wishbones at the front and longitudinal torsion bars locating a solid rear axle, replaced by de Dion on some later cars.
That superb ‘six’ – 1971cc, triple downdraught Solex carburettors, long 96mm stroke, crossover pushrods that allow inclined valves and hemispherical combustion chambers, just like a twin-cam – initially delivered only 85bhp, but was developed to produce more than 125bhp in FNS form. Race engines soon went to 150bhp.
In all, 34 of the cycle-winged Le Mans Replicas were sold. The car that joins us today was used by Stirling Moss to win the 1951 British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man, and was also raced by Roy Salvadori and Tony Crook. HJ Aldington’s son John bought it back in 1982, and before his death he set up a trust to retain the car and three others in his collection – plus records and paperwork from the company’s entire life – in the Frazer Nash Archives in Henley. It has been brought by Trigwell who, lucky chap, also has a Le Mans Replica and a Mille Miglia of his own.
The Mille Miglia echoes Franco Cortese’s sixth place in the 1951 Italian classic, and was designed to combine Le Mans Replica performance with all-enveloping bodywork. In my eyes this car is one of the most beautiful sports cars of all time. Its delicate lines hide well the tallness of the Bristol engine, needing only a small intake over the high carburettors. The spare wheel is neatly carried in one front wing, leaving a quite roomy boot. In period Philip Champion’s was raced and rallied around Europe. He’s had it for nearly 20 years, and uses it enthusiastically in historic events from Monaco to Goodwood.
The Targa Florio took its name from Cortese’s magnificent 1951 overall victory in Sicily. Its body, simpler in shape, has a workmanlike charm all of its own. This Targa Florio actually started life as a Le Mans Replica.
Rodney Peacock twice ran it at Le Mans, and when international rules banned cycle wings he got the factory to rebody it. Robert Mansfield bought it in 1969, and his fun down the years has combined racing with European tours from Spain to Slovenia: just as Aldington intended. In 1953 the Isleworth team decided that a closed design would be more effective for high-speed endurance races, and introduced the shapely Le Mans coupé. A works car won its class in the 1953 24 Hours, but this one has been in private hands since new and now belongs to prolific Nash owner Richard Procter.
The last Bristol-engined Frazer Nash was the Sebring, an all-enveloping car based on the second-series Le Mans Replica. By 1954 Frazer Nash was in its twilight years as a car maker, and only three Sebrings were built. The first was raced by Tony Brooks in the Tourist Trophy and did the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally. In 1972 it was bought by Trisha Pilkington and, after 45 years in the family and scores of historic events, it’s now campaigned by her daughter Erika.
Also present are two fascinating cars that remained one-offs. In 1949 a longer-wheelbase Frazer Nash was made purely for road use, a well-equipped Cabriolet with wind-up windows and occasional back seats. Its dramatic streamlined coachwork included faired-in front wheels, and it couldn’t have been more different from the spartan Le Mans Replica exhibited alongside it at the Earls Court Show. At £3500 including purchase tax, though – the price of three Jaguar XK120s – there were no takers.
The Cabriolet’s flamboyant styling was much derided by dyed-in-the-wool Frazer Nash enthusiasts, and Denis Jenkinson called it ‘an aberration, a blancmange which could have won a Concours de Vulgarity’. The passage of nearly 70 years shows this to be unfair, for the car’s individuality lends it considerable appeal. Before our gathering I had seen it only in pictures, and in the metal I was captivated by it. It, too, is owned by the Frazer Nash Archives, and archive stalwart Roger Richmond brought it along, hood up and snug in the rain.
The seventh car is Frazer Nash’s greatest might-have-been. By 1957 times were changing, and cars that worked well on the road and also on the track were harder to achieve. As well as his booming business importing Porsches, Aldington had rekindled his relationship with BMW, and was impressed by Munich’s new V8 power unit. He was keen to import the glorious 507 sports car, but this petered out when BMW refused to adapt it to right-hand drive.
So in ’57 came the BMW V8-powered Frazer Nash. The year before, a chassis with BMW engine had been exhibited at Earls Court: it was sold on to Paul Fletcher, who had an alloy coupé body built and entered it for Le Mans, although it didn’t start the race. But the Continental was a complete car, and a very handsome one. Intriguingly it used Porsche 356 doors, front and rear screens and roof, and these blend perfectly from the long bonnet to the sweeping tail.
The chassis was new, with tubes set wider apart and angled at both ends, plus coil and wishbone front suspension with de Dion rear. With 3.2 litres and 175bhp to move 850kg, it had the makings of a superb design. But AFN was turning to other things, and this single car was the last Frazer Nash ever built. Updated with Dunlop disc brakes, it went through several owners before the late Fuad Majzub bought it in 1977. His son Julian Majzub has it still.
With seven cars to try, I am coping with an embarrassment of riches. At once I’m reminded that the Bristol engine is docile and uncomplaining at low revs, but only comes fully alive as the rev-counter needle swings past 4000rpm, when that lovely yowling exhaust note starts to rise in pitch and volume. But first I notice the steering.
The rack-and-pinion set-up was made by Bristol, and is faultless. At two turns lock to lock it is high-geared, yet surprisingly light, and allows you to place your Frazer Nash accurately and effortlessly. The gearbox is Bristol, too. Despite the long lever on most of the cars the travel is short, and if you get the revs right changes can be made just as fast as you can move your fist. On all of the cars the handling is predictable and vice-free, with remarkable wet-weather grip. Pushed hard in the dry, Frazer Nashes have an ultimate tendency to oversteer, but on a streaming wet surface I found the front wheels broke away first – because I wasn’t brave enough to stay on the power, which would have balanced the car better. The big drum brakes are reassuring and progressive, while the servo-assisted discs on the Continental are superb.
Individually, each of the cars tells me more about its particular owner and the lives that they have led. Mansfield’s Targa and the Pilkington Sebring have had no change of custodian for more than 45 years, and the Targa in particular, very handsome in an appropriate shade of metallic light green, felt friendly, well-used and well-loved. The pedals are close together, so narrow shoes are a help, but its cockpit was more spacious than the others, and the firm, highsided seats – with original leather upholstery in this car – grip you in hard cornering.
I’d always thought that, in pictures, the Sebring looked a little strange with its low headlights pulling the wing line down. In fact it is gorgeous, almost as pretty as the Mille Miglia, and the tail is most elegant. Pilkington’s car looks particularly well in its light metallic blue. The doors run low each side of the cockpit, so the driver has little protection from wind and weather, but there are tall sidescreens for road use. The engine is set further back than in the Targa Florio, but it feels very similar to drive.
Philip Champion’s Mille Miglia, shimmering in British Racing Green, is set up to be effective on the track and feels stiffer over the bumps on its Dunlop competition tyres. The race-prepared engine on this car is really strong, and as the revcounter needle passes 4500rpm it comes in with a real kick. In races Champion uses 6000rpm.
The Le Mans coupé, superbly restored, is a charming little car, immaculate in a lovely shade of metallic grey, with fully trimmed and carpeted interior. The shallow ’screen and sliding windows make me expect a confined cockpit, and getting in is not easy. But once aboard the domed roof means that it is quite roomy, and it would be a good, if hot, place to be in a long race. The controversial Cabriolet surprises by feeling like a well-sorted long-distance machine, with the same Frazer Nash handling, albeit as a larger car it does not feel quite so sharp. Also, the faired-in front wheels noticeably reduce the lock.
Then there’s the Continental. I love this car, and one can only guess at its potential had it gone into production. The interior has Porsche seats but the rest is quite different, with big white-faced BMW instruments. There is plenty of room widthwise, but the engine is placed well back in the chassis and the bulkhead is close, so you drive with your legs bent. The V8 makes an impressive grumble, but it’s hard to gauge the performance because, as Majzub says, the engine is about to get a long-promised rebuild. The ZF four-speed gearbox is precise and quick, the Frazer Nash handling is intact, and this could have made a great grand tourer.
Finally I take out what has to be the classic post-war Frazer Nash, the Le Mans Replica. You are well exposed in the low cockpit, but with the front wheels in full view under their brief mudguards it feels eager, light, and ready for business. There’s that perfect steering, sharp gearchange, musical exhaust note as the revs climb, and the ability to place it within an inch of any apex. Pushed hard in tight corners it lifts its inside wheel, but never feels anything less than totally controllable. It is no surprise that Le Mans Replicas not only dominated the 2-litre sports car class in their day, but frequently embarrassed bigger machinery – particularly on the twistier circuits. Pressing on through the rain, I feel ready to tackle 1000km or even 24 Hours. I want to take any of these Frazer Nashes home, but the Le Mans Replica most of all.
Throughout the life of the marque, from chains to crossover pushrods, the Frazer Nash was always a small, expensive hand-built sports car with an uncompromising aim: to be at home on the racing circuits of the world and in international rallying, yet still make an exhilarating road car. The principles laid down by Archie Frazer-Nash in 1923 remained in place throughout the Aldington era. If you’re lucky enough to find one of the 75-odd remaining post-war cars for sale, and even luckier enough to be able to afford the eye-watering six- or even seven-figure values, you will discover that those principles remain entirely intact today.