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Invicta Cars

The story of Invicta is, unfortunately, a short one...

Donald Healey would drive a 4.5 litre Invicta "S" to victory in the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally, all the time with a bent chassis...

Invicta 4.5 litre
The sublime 4.5 litre engine of the Invicta was what made the car so special...

The low centre of gravity was supposed to help the cars handling, but Sammy Davis (not the singer!) would definately not agree...

When writing this series of feature articles for the Unique Cars and Parts “Lost Marques" section, invariably some stories will be long, while others will be perilously short. The story of Invicta falls into the latter category.

Invicta came to be when Noel Macklin and Oliver Lyle teamed up in 1925. Macklin had gained valuable automotive experience when he worked on the Silver Hawk motorcar project, while Lyle was a wealthy businessman, his family having established a large sugar manufacturing concern.

The pair started by designing a car and using the “Coventry-Climax” 2.5 litre six-cylinder engine, although they would soon standardize on the better known 3 litre “Meadows” six , the latter engine quickly earning the Invicta an excellent reputation, particularly for durability and reliability.

The Meadows power plant helped Invicta’s win the RAC's coveted Dewar Trophy on two occasions, and the model became very successful in long-distance sporting reliability trials.

By 1928 the 4.5 litre model joined the lineup, Macklin and Lyle intending it to be a worthy competitor for the illustrious Bentley’s of the time. In fact, the subsequent “NLC Type” version of the 4.5 litre Invicta was almost as expensive as a Rolls-Royce 20/25hp model!

But the depression hit Invicta hard, Macklin and Lyle realizing quickly that competing with the likes of Rolls at the upper end of the market had no future. And so the pair concentrated on development of a far less luxurious 4.5 litre 'High Chassis' tourer.

The new car was launched in 1930, and was soon joined by a far more sporty “S” model, usually known as a “Low Chassis” model. The chassis frame on the “S” passed underneath the rear axle, which in-turn helped give the car a lower centre of gravity and more stable handling.

In an unfortunate public relations incident well respected automotive journalist, Autocar’s Sammy Davis, was involved in a accident at Brooklands in 1931, when the handling proved to be anything but stable!

But Macklin remained convinced that the 4.5 litre was a winner, and was keen to prove the car's reputation in long-distance touring car events.

In the same year that Davis came to grief at Brooklands, a young Donald Healey would enter a 4.5 litre Invicta in the Monte Carlo rally; Healey would win the rally, in spite of having to drive it all the way from the start with a bent chassis following an accident!

Even in basic form, the Meadows engine developed around 120bhp and could propel the car up to nearly 100mph.

By 1934 when the last of Type S cars had been built (there were 77 Type “S” built in total), the power output had risen to 140bhp, and the holy grail of a top speed over 100mph was guaranteed.

The S's successor had been intended to be a magnificent 4.9 litre twin-overhead-cam “SS”, but only two prototypes of this car were ever built.

Quite simply, the cost of development was proving too much for the company, and without adequate backing the company seemed doomed. Production would effectively end in 1935, although there were two subsequent attempts to revive it.

Invicta moved from its Cobham, Surrey works in 1933 to Chelsea, southwest of London – the original factory being used to manufacture the new “Railton” car. The Railton was the inspiration of Macklin and Reid Railton, and they decided to retain the famous Invicta exposed-rivet details on the bonnet panels.

It was, however, a much cheaper affair which utilized Terraplane and Hudson (of the USA) chassis and mechanical components. The Railton offered good performance, but did not have any of the true pedigree of an Invicta.

A similar type of Meadows engine, reduced in size to 3 litres, was then used to create the “Black Prince” model, but sales would be slow and the inevitable shutdown would occur. And so the story of Invicta is a short one, covering only a little over 20 years, but being ample time for depression and war to conspire against the success of the company.

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