Turn up at any summer weekend British car gathering and you’ll find rows of MGs, Triumphs and Austin-Healeys along with more exotic Jaguars, Aston-Martins, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys – but only a handful of the humble family sedans that were the daily driving fare of most in their time.
“Nobody sees this stuff any more,” says Tom Phillips of his eclectic and mostly mobile collection of mainly British family four-door saloons. Cars that range from the commonplace and now mostly forgotten, to the hardly ever heard of, such as his rare 1951 Lanchester DL10, one of a final few to bear the escutcheon of one of Britain’s great automotive pioneers.
Most of the old-car owners who make the headlines win concours cups by acquiring examples of the sought-after classics and spending a lot of money on restorations, from which they emerge as perfect examples of their blue-blooded breeds. But the old-car hobby also includes many like Phillips who, with an obviously unlimited supply of enthusiasm, are the unsung protectors of the more prosaic machinery driven by the common man.
Imported in relatively small numbers in the austere post-war years, British saloons suffered a low survivability rate. In the 1950s, all engines that survived in a mostly motorway-free Britain didn’t like being flogged over Canada’s great distances at high highway speeds. And bodies produced from the often low-quality steel available succumbed to winter salt and slush in short order.
And, says Phillips, when they went wrong, which they often did, “North American mechanics didn’t know how to fix them, didn’t want to know, and didn’t like them.”
But Phillips, now 67, developed a fondness for them, despite growing up in Scarborough and running in his early years with a hot-rod crowd more interested in fender skirts and wide whitewalls. He gravitated to British cars while working as a mechanic and later in appliance service. A self-described “jack-of-all-trades, he still provides assistance to Sebright, Ont.-area cottage owners.
Often, still-serviceable Brit cars “ended up sitting around, and I bought them cheap,” he says. “I’d clean the points and the electric fuel pump and have them running in no time.” And he kept a quite a number of them.
He has to pause for a moment when you ask just how many, and then rhymes them off: a 1937 Wolseley, 1948 Morris 8, 1948 Hillman Minx, three early 1950s Vanguards, four Morris Minors, a 1959 Ford Consul, a 1960 Bedford van, three 1960s MGBs and three Minis. And just for variety, three Model A Fords, a 1938 Maple Leaf (built by Chevrolet) truck, half a dozen German DKWs “and a couple of 1950s Renault R8s.”
“It’s like a museum to some folks. They’ve never seen some of these cars,” he says. And one in particular stands out as an oddity, his Lanchester DL10, at least on this side of the Atlantic, as they were never imported.
Marque founder Frederick Lanchester, legendary as a scientist, inventor and engineer, began his career designing industrial gas engines in the late 1880s, but soon switched to developing gasoline-fueled motors. His first, a “vibration-less” twin with contra-rotating crankshafts, powered a boat in 1894 and, a year later, the first Lanchester car.
It wasn’t long before improved engines and cars followed. They were technologically advanced, large and luxurious. Some models were more expensive than a Rolls-Royce. But by 1931, financial woes resulted in Lanchester’s acquisition by the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), which also owned Daimler Motor Co.
The grand days of the Lanchester were now history and its famous badge increasingly adorned Daimler models until 1956. The name, along with that of Jaguar and Daimler, now belongs to Tata Motors of India.
The Lanchester DL10 was basically a pre-war design resurrected in 1946. Its foundation was a cruciform chassis frame, which supported steel, four-door saloon bodies, mostly produced by stamping firm Briggs, but in its final year of 1951 by legendary coach builders Barker, in aluminum.
Under the hood is a 1,287-cc, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine that made its 40 hp at 4,200 rpm. Drive to the rear wheels was via Daimler’s trademark fluid flywheel and pre-selector gearbox. Front suspension was independent with a live axle at the rear, weight was 1,170 kg and length 4,013 mm. Top speed, when it eventually got there – it required 20 seconds to get to 50 mph (80 km/h) – was about 70 mph (112km/h), and fuel economy averaged 32 mpg (9.1 litres/100 km).
Even during its brief production lifespan from 1946-51, it was a rarity that sold for a premium price, with only 3,030 built.
Phillips found his among a collection of old British cars not unlike his own that was being cleared from a property. Among them was the DL10, which he was intrigued by, but missed the chance to purchase.
Following up later, Phillips found its new owner planned to “weld the back doors up and put a big V-8 in it. I didn’t know much about them at the time, but I knew it would be a shame to do that to it.”
The Lanchester had spent unknown years sitting outdoors with the previous owner, and was to spend another four with its new one – “He’d basically moved it from one field to another” – before Phillips convinced him to sell late in 2011.
“It looked pretty rough,” admits Phillips, which is more than a bit of an understatement judging by his pictures. A friend who helped retrieve it later told him – “I thought you were crazy.”
An optimistic Phillips wasn’t daunted. “It wasn’t quite as bad as it looked,” he says, and amidst the debris inside were the headlamps, taillights and many other parts, but not the engine and transmission.
Since then, he’s replaced rotten wood, painted it and “put it back together.” Powering it with a spare engine and gearbox from one of his MGBs, although he’s found original replacements in England.
How it ended up here is unknown, but thanks to Phillips it’s likely the only example of a Lanchester DL10 you’ll ever see in Canada.
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