The History of Singer Cars
September 11, 2009
The company was established by George Singer in Coventry to make bicycles in 1875.
In 1909 Singer built a series of racers and roadsters and entered several bikes in races, including the Isle of Man Senior TT in 1914. George E. Stanley broke the one hour record at Brooklands race track on a Singer motorcycle in 1912, becoming the first ever rider of a 350cc motorcycle to cover over sixty miles in an hour.
Singer made their first four wheel car in 1905. It was made under licence from Lea-Francis and had a 3 cylinder 1400 cc engine. The first Singer designed car was the 4 cylinder 2.4 litre 12/14 of 1906. The engine was bought in from Aster. For 1907 the Lea-Francis design was dropped and a range of two, three and four cylinder models using White and Poppe engines launched. The Aster engined models were dropped in 1909 and a new range of larger cars introduced. All cars were now White and Poppe powered. In 1911 the first big seller appeared with the 1100cc ‘Ten’ with Singer's own engine. The use of their own power plants spread through the range until by the outbreak of the World War I all models except the low-volume 3.3 litre 20hp were so equipped.
Singer’s first successful car was the ‘Ten’. Introduced in 1912, which offered a steel chassis, four cylinder engine, and two seats; the economical car achieved 40 mpg, which was quite high for any time in automotive history, and was apparently more reliable than many competitors, thanks partly to its steel frame and partly to its more modern rear transaxle.
Factory apprentice, Billy Rootes bought fifty of these cars when they were first produced. He used the profits from reselling them to start a motoring empire that would acquire and integrate many other British car companies before floundering.
Singer stopped building motorcycles at the outbreak of the First World War. As with most companies, the factory was devoted to producing war materials, and profits soared and for the first time since introducing cars to the range, the company were in a healthy financial state. Civilian production resumed after the war, with a wider range of vehicles; and by the 1920s, the range was quite diverse (and more modern; for example, the gearbox was moved forward).
The big selling ‘Junior’ was announced in 1926. Production of the model commenced using an 848 cc chain driven single overhead camshaft engine that was to be the basis for many other engines in later decades, and the car was similar to the Austin 7.
The range continued in a complex manner using developments of the OHC ‘Junior’ engine first with the ‘Nine’, the 14/6 and the sporty 1.5 litre known as the ‘Le Mans’ in 1933.
The ‘Le Mans’ typified the small British Sports car of the 1930s, from its twin spare wheels mounted behind a large slab fuel tank, knock-off wire wheels, a sprung steering wheel and fold flat windscreen. It meant business, and both it and its four seater sister, the ‘Nine Sports’, became a big hit on the trials hills and racetracks.
In 1934, the Airstream was produced, a four door sedan with integrated headlights and a pillar-free design. The advanced car was not popular but it was expensive to produce and essentially flopped. The ‘Nine’ became the ‘Bantam’ in 1935.
However, a multiple car crash at the Ards TT in 1935, which was the result of last minute steering box adjustments ordered by race judges as they had deemed the steering to be illegal, caused Singer to leave car racing, and the financial crash hurt Singer sales. Factories closed and the company was restructured in 1936 as Singer Motors Ltd, A short lived attempt at a four cylinder 1.5 litre sports car was one of the few high spots of the later 1930s with the range consisting of just three basic saloon cars (plus derivatives) the Bantam, 10hp and 12hp. The model that changed it was the introduction of the Roadster in March 1939, the same year that World War 2 broke out.
Singer plants again produced a wide variety of arms and aero equipment, but financially the company was not in good shape at the end of the war, and maintained a limited product line.
In 1948 the all new ‘SM1500’ with independent front suspension and a separate chassis was announced, which was based on American styling. It was, however, expensive at £799, and failed to sell well as Singer's rivals also got back into full production. The car was restyled to become the ‘Hunter’ in 1954. The ‘Hunter’ was available with a twin overhead cam version of the engine, but few were made.
Despite the Hunter's success, Singer never recovered from the events of the 1930s, and in 1955 was in danger of closing its doors as banks refused to lend more money. Ignoring the fate of others who had done the same, the Singer brand was absorbed into the Rootes Group whose brands largely sold badge engineered versions of each other’s cars.
Sir William Rootes, as he was more properly known as, set about modernising the firm, and his first actions were to sell off the old models to introduce a new range. The first of the new cars was the 1956 Gazelle.
The Gazelle was what Singer needed however as it was much more up to date than Hunter which it had replaced. The old Singer OHC engine was replaced in the series IIa by the Hillman push-rod unit, leaving the Gazelle as little more than a badge-engineered Hillman. As sales of the Gazelle increased so did the need for a larger car to supplement the range, so in 1961 the Vogue was introduced. The Vogue was more of a luxury car then the smaller Gazelle and was aimed at those who wanted something a bit above the ordinary. It was well equipped, solid and comfortable, to try and retain the same buyers who were attracted to the Hunter in previous years for the same reasons.
By 1970, however, even Rootes were struggling. They had been acquired by the American Chrysler organisation and Sir William had died. In April 1970, as part of a rationalisation process, the last Singer rolled off the assembly line, almost 100 years after George Singer built the very first cycle.
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