Today we have the ‘micro’ car, but at the turn of last century the cheap-and-cheerful type car was the ‘cycle-car’. Archie Frazer-Nash and partner Ron Godfrey capitalized on the popularity of the cycle-car by manufacturing a machine known simply as the “GN”, which had a twin-cylinderengine in a very rudimentary chassis frame. But whatmade the GN unique was the use of a chain drive ratherthan shaft drive.
The GN proved incredibly successful, and was even manufactured in France. It offered extremely good performance but only basic weather protection, but both the GN and other cycle-cars were to meet their match in 1922 when Austin released the Seven, a car designed for the cheap-and-cheerful market but now affording the occupants proper weather protection, greater comfort and most importantly a larger more powerful four-cylinder engine – indeed it had most of the 'big car' comforts.
Facing such competition was indeed a very daunting thought, and Godfrey was not convinced that they could. In 1924 he decided to go his own way, leaving Frazer Nash to build his own cars at Kingston upon Thames. He should have stayed - the first Frazer Nash causing an overnight sensation! Frazer-Nash had created an out-and-out sports car, initially fitted with a Plus Power four-cylinder engine (though shortly a side-valve Anzani would be fitted instead).
It had a very attractive aluminium body styling and - like the GN – used a chain drive transmission. Interestingly every Frazer Nash built up to 1939 was to retain the chain drive system. By now the chain drive system was seen as an outdated oddity, however it provided the Frazer-Nash with a distinct weight advantage over its competition, not to mention to extremely quick gear changes possible with such a system. Early cars were known as “Fast Tourers” or “Super Sports”, and in total some 149 were produced before the company ran into financial difficulties in 1929.
The Aldington family came to Frazer-Nash’s rescue – they having already been involved in selling the cars through their own business Aldington Motors. When H J Aldington gained control, he was quickly joined by his two brothers, set about revitalizing the company in new premises at Isleworth.
The 'New Frazer Nash' was notable for the use of the overhead valve 1500cc Meadows engine (though the supercharged Anzani was retained for competition cars), and featured a painted aluminium or fabric covered steel body called the “Sportop”. The Aldingtons were born salesman and gifted marketers. Always ready to change the car's model name to re-invigorate interest in the marque, often such name changes were complimented by only a handful of minor modifications over the previous iteration.
In a stroke of marketing savy the Aldingtons also decided to name their cars after competition success - which explains why names like the Boulogne, Colmore, Exeter, and Nurburg all appeared in sales leaflets! The best-known model of the 1930s was the 1932 “TT Replica”. The TT certainly looked the part, featuring a fully louvered bonnet, stone guard over the radiator, a full range of instruments, and the gear lever
and hand brake lever both outside the bodywork.
The Frazer-Nash TT Replica
It had a characteristic 'bath-tub' style of rear body with protruding petrol filler. Three different engines were offered in the TT Replica - the four-cylinder Meadows, the six-cylinder Blackburne, and a revised and supercharged version of the Meadows. The latter variant was often referred to as the 'Frazer Nash' engine, though it later became known as the 'Gough' after the man who designed it. A normal Meadows engine was good for 55bhp at 4500rpm and gave the car a top speed of 80mph (128.7 kmh).
The cars were very successful in sport, and in particular they shone in the Alpine Trial. In 1932 two cars were entered, and both finished without losing any marks. In 1933 no fewer than seven cars entered, one of which (driven by Aldington and Berry) being the only car in the entire entry to lose no marks at all.
In 1934, of the six cars entered, four finished without loss, one lost a single mark, and the sixth, driven by the Hon. Peter Mitchell Thompson, lost 14 due to an engine water pump problem (resulting in the team prize going to BMW). H. J. Aldington was impressed by the performance of the BMWs, and lost no time in becoming the British concessionaire for that marque. By 1935 the cars became known as Frazer-Nash-BMWs, and were sold alongside the chain driven cars.
The Frazer-Nash Chain Gang
A total of 174 'chain-gang' cars were produced at Isleworth, the peak period being in 1932 and 1933 when 32 cars were built in each year, but little was done by way of development of the original and they were quickly becoming very dated. After World War 2 the Aldingtons were instrumental in bringing the BMW designs over to the UK where they were revised and put to use by Bristol. Frazer Nash might once have become a part of the Bristol Cars business, but escaped, and announced the first postwar Frazer Nash in 1948.
This was completely different from the 1930s variety, all models now fitted with the new six-cylinder Bristol (ex BMW) 2 litre engine. Once again the practice of naming models after competition successes was continued, thus the postwar range included the Mille Miglia
, Targa Florio, Sebring and Le Mans Replica models.
The latter “Le Mans Replica” was arguably the best known with 34 being built out of a total postwar total of only 84 cars. This car was a logical development of the BMW 328 type, but it used styling elements from the earlier chain-driven cars such as a narrow two-seater body shell, exposed wheels with cycle-type wings, and extremely basic weather protection. It was widely (and successfully) used in competitions by such well-known drivers as Stirling Moss
, Roy Salvadori, and Tony Crook.
Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica
a Le Mans Replica
won the Targa Florio
outright, and in 1952
another Le Mans Replica
won the very first Sebring (USA) 12-hour race. A Mark 2 version was produced in 1952
and Tony Crook used one to take third place in the “round the houses” 2 litre race at Monaco. In standard form the Bristol engine produced 110bhp at 5250rpm, and the car's top speed was 120mph (193 kmh). More power was available with race tuning, and its superlative road-holding often allowed it to compete successfully against much larger engined cars.
During the early 1950s, Frazer Nash were appointed
UK concessionaires for Porsche cars, and this soon led to the running down of Frazer Nash assembly. The last Frazer Nash of all was produced in 1957
, and fitted with a V8 BMW engine, but it was never put into production. AFN, the concern which built Frazer Nash cars after the war, was finally taken over by Porsche in the 1970s.
Also see: Frazer-Nash Car Reviews
| The History of Frazer-Nash (USA Edition)