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The Story of a Rare Doretti Coupé - RLL 280 Chassis No.1160
This right-hand drive vehicle with Body No.5160 and Engine No.TS1712E was bought by Peter Kirwan-Taylor from Welbeck Motors of Crawford Street, London for £895 inclusive of purchase tax. Initially painted black, the car with green upholstery was first registered 6th July 1955 in London. The January 20th 1956 issue of Autosport magazine carried a photograph of the car with a rear body conversion, which was descibed as being attractive and "affording greater accomodation and luggage space. It was produced for P. R. Kirwan-Taylor, of 62 Westbourne Terrace, W.2. who may market the conversion for Doretti, Austin-Healey and similar cars."
In an interview in 1982 Peter said "I took the back off and turned it into a coupé. By removing the rear half of RLL 280's body-shell and replacing it with an aluminium fast-back coupé styled body I had created a sort of prototype for my thinking of what a closed two-seater ought to look like." He ran the Doretti for two or so years during which time he became deeply involved with Colin Chapman in the design of the Lotus Elite. Interestingly the the new Mark 14 monocoque Elite showed some Swallow Doretti influences. According to Kirwan-Taylor "the cab was tear-drop shaped, vaugely like the Doretti at the back but different because that had very short fins". RLL 280 therefore has significant historical interest and various photographs of the car have also appeared in Old Motor (March 1982), Thoroughbred & Classic Cars (Oct 1982), Motor Sport (Oct 1984), Classic & Sportscar (Nov 1988) and Classic & Sportscar (Mar 2003).
The bodywork conversion to RLL 280 was carried out by Williams & Pritchard, who did work for some of the major companies involved in mid-twentieth century British sports and race car design. According to Tim Saunders the W &P registrar, " they were the main body suppliers to Lotus, but had a spectacular output spanning 1948 until the late 1980s. The W&P roll call of fame includes high profile work for Lotus, Cooper, Lister, Lola, Shelby, Gordon Keeble, Austin Healey, AC and BRM. "
After the conversion work was completed the car was re-painted dark blue and re-trimmed with a light blue interior. Peter then ran RLL 280 for a couple of years before selling it in 1957 to the designer Terrance Conran's partner. The next report of the car does not occur until 1984 when David Baldock of Borough Green, Kent aquired the Doretti coupé in a very neglected condition. Apparently the car had suffered extensive front end accident damage and had lain in the open for at least 20 years, "jammed between a privy and a garden shed" at the bottom of a South London scrapman's back garden. Bushes had grown up and through the car, which hampered its disinterment, and the scrapman is said to have asked David not to press for its early removal because he couldn't face the work involved.
In the February 1984 issue of Classic & Sportscar, Michael Worthington-Williams described the Doretti coupé as being "terribly dilapidated" and thought that anyone undertaking a restoration would be facing a daunting task. However he also considered that it would be a pity if this interesting and rare Doretti was allowed to pass into oblivion.
The Doretti coupe RLL 280, Chassis No. 1160 was sold by David Baldock to Robin Denny of Windsor who commenced a restoration programme. Unfortunately the job was only partially completed before the now dismantled car passed into the hands of Duncan Rabagliati.
Following a further period of time in storage RLL 280 was offered for sale by Duncan at Brooks Auction, Olympia, London on 8th April 1998. The catalogue description summarised the car's history as follows;
The still unrestored and dismantled car did not sell at the auction but was bought afterwards by Richard Wos of Aylesbury and later sold to Peter Lockley as a donor car in a deal involving the purchase of NBC 742 (Chassis No.1200). When NBC 742 was delivered to Peter on a trailer behind a Transit van, he says, "there was no sign of the donor car until a heap of scrap steel and aluminium was unloaded from the back of the van". Eventually the chassis of RLL 280 and most of the front end of the car ended up in the possession of Ken Yankey while Richard Larter acquired the rear half of the coupé's body-shell and the rear inner body.
NBC 742 (Chassis No.1200) which had been purchased at the auction by Richard Wos was sold to Peter Lockley in July 1998. Peter, who is the chairman of the Standard Motor Club, restored NBC 742 using some parts of RLL 280 (Chassis No.1160) in its rebuild.
Ken Yankey © 2002