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The Swallow Coachbuilding Company
From Austin Swallow to Swallow Doretti
The Swallow Doretti was built by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Limited. But the origins of the company date back to 1922 when William Lyons and William Walmsley established the Swallow Sidecar Company. From the initial manufacture of distinctive motorcycle sidecars at its works in Blackpool the company moved on to building bodies on Austin Seven chassis. In May 1927 the Austin Swallow two-seater made its public debut. They may have been diminutive, but their looks were nevertheless elegant and refined, echoing in many ways what others were doing on bigger vehicles, but displayed a very distinctive styling. Also in 1927, the firm's name was changed to the Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company. By 1928 the volume of work had increased to the point that a move to a new factory in Coventry was made to be nearer to suppliers and a larger pool of skilled labour. Until 1931 production was of custom built bodies on a number of other manufacturer's chassis in a variety of body styles from open tourers to four seater saloons, all built using aluminum over wood frame bodies. Some of the chassis used included Austin, Wolseley, Standard, Morris and Fiat.
Swallow cars were generally sporty looking, but the problem was that their looks were not backed up by performance from the chassis and engines used. William Lyons wanted a way to gain more control over his finished product, and, in 1931 was able to reach agreement with Sir John Black of the Standard Motor Company, to produce and sell to him a modified chassis with the Standard 6 cylinder engine. This was to be the basis for Lyons first total design, which was the car that came to be called the SS.
By 1931 the Sidecar title had been dropped, although sidecars were still being turned out at a steady rate. As Swallow Coachbuilding continued to expand, so did the range of cars it worked on. Lyons branched out into bigger, more powerful chassis and a particular look started to predominate. At the London Motor Show in October 1931, the company unveiled its first efforts as a motor manufacturer with the rakish SS1. The SS might have stood for Standard Swallow or even Swallow Sports, the name of the original sidecar.
Another name change occurred in 1933 when the company became SS Cars Limited. The name change came about because Lyons’ firm was now less about building sidecars, far more about car construction. SS stood, depending on which version you believe, for Standard-Swallow, Swallow Standard, Standard Special or Swallow Special. Be as it may, Swallow Coachbuilding manufactured the S.S. I and S.S. II models until 1936 when a new company, S.S. Cars Ltd. was formed to produce the automobiles. The old company name was kept for the firm that manufactured sidecars. Two years later in 1935 the production of sidecars and motor vehicles was split between two separate companies; The Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Ltd and SS Cars Limited.
World War II placed motor cars production and designing on hold as factories were converted to weapon manufacturing and it also signaled the end of SS Cars Ltd, the name having acquired a dark and sinister connotation with Hitler's regime.
Immediately after the war, in 1945, when car production resumed the decision was made to change the the name of SS Cars Ltd to Jaguar Cars Ltd. At the same time Lyons decided to divest himself of the sidecar business and concentrate his efforts on motor vehicle production. Negotiations about the disposal of the Swallow Coachbuilding Company with Eric Sanders resulted in the sale of the motor-cycle sidecar business to Helliwells, a manufacturer of aircraft components based at Walsall Airport. Production of Swallow sidecars continued at the Walsall Airport works along with the Swallow Gadabout a motor-scooter designed by Frank Rainbow.
In 1950 the Helliwell Group, including Swallow Coachbuilding, was acquired by Tube Investments Ltd, and Swallow became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the giant TI Group.
Early in 1953 Frank Rainbow began work on the design of the Swallow Doretti, a sportscar which was built at the Walsall Airport works from 1954 to 1955. About 276 cars were constructed before production was abruptly halted by a complely unexpected management decision from the TI Group, the parent company of the Swallow Coachbuilding Company.
Ken Yankey © 2002