|Swallow Doretti - Cars & Owners|
RLL 273 - 1971 to 1973
by John Kirkland
More history of Swallow Doretti - Chassis N° 1172
My introduction to Swallow Doretti was in the late 1950s during a visit to friends of my parents where, in the course of the visit, we were asked would you like to see the sports car in the garage. Being interested in cars and things mechanical my father and I immediately said yes please. The car in the garage turned out to be a Swallow Doretti belonging to our friend’s son and was in the final stages of repair after ‘going through the hedge’ as a result of over enthusiastic driving. This early encounter certainly stuck with me, as much for the exotic sounding name of the car as for the car itself, because in 1971 I was scanning Motor Sport for a replacement for my first car and an advert for a Doretti presented itself.
My first car had been a pre-war MG Midget that I had spent the best part of two years rebuilding and then ran it for a year. While this had been a superb learning experience and the car was great fun to drive I decided I wanted something with more ‘grunt’. After all when your friends are starting to acquire second-hand MGAs, Healeys and the like you just have to go with the flow or rather you want to get something that will out drag ‘em.
So contact was made with the vendor, who was somewhere in the East Midlands, I can’t remember exactly where, but it was fairly local to my folk’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon where I was living. The Doretti was in aubergine; a very trendy colour in the ‘70s, with black interior and the asking price was £375. I offered £275 and we ended up at £300 on the condition the car was delivered to Stratford.
Once the car arrived I immediately set to work on overhauling and modifying the engine, never mind the nearly bald tyres, the grabbing front brakes and sundry other non essential things that would have the road safety lobby wetting themselves today.
On the subject of tyres, I remember the Doretti came into my possession equipped with cross-ply ‘slicks’ on the front, this was before ‘slicks’ were invented, and Michelin XNs on the rear which were also half way to ‘slicks’. These, combined with the grabbing front brakes, made for some exciting moments. I rapidly forked out for a set of new Dunlop SP Sports and had the front drums skimmed at the local engineers. The brakes then at least worked as well as drum brakes ever do but the SP Sports were not the best choice for the car. Under some conditions I reckon they gave less grip than the bald tyres that preceded them and I became expert at 360 degree spins without leaving the road or hitting anything (more by luck than judgement). A lot less traffic in those days, thank goodness!
The engine was sporting a rather nice pair of cast aluminium ram pipes on the carburettors but was otherwise standard TR2. After replacing bearings, valves and guides and piston rings my mods were limited to raising the compression and porting on the head and changing the SU needles, even so this gave a very smooth and free revving engine. I always remember the excellent torque those TR engines gave, once rolling the Doretti felt as though it would climb a brick wall in top gear.
After all the repairs etc. were completed the car gave some very enjoyable motoring including a brilliant holiday in Cornwall. It was during this holiday that I managed to wind the car up to as far as the rev-counter would go in top gear on a disused airfield near Padstow. I don’t know what the speed actually was, the speedo said about 120mph, but we went past a friend’s MGA, who was probably doing more than 90mph, as though he was stationary. Very satisfying! It was also on the return from this trip that the Doretti’s torque came in handy as an another friend’s MG Midget broke down. I ended up towing the unfortunate MG most of the way back from Cornwall to the Midlands.
Sometime in 1973 it was time for another change of car and I sold the Doretti to a lad from Birmingham, I think I got £325 back for it. I have many, mostly fond, memories of the car that was my transport for work and play and I am very glad to hear that it has survived and is undergoing restoration by Graham West. I really look forward to seeing the car again once completed, so crack on Graham and all the best!
Ken Yankey © 2004