Swallow Dotti Details from Auction


Here are the details of Number 1122 in full from the details issued by the company auctioning it for the owner! You can tell that it is aimed at the American market!

Lot number 70
Hammer value £32,500
Description Swallow Doretti
Registration PCD 514
Year 1955
Colour Powder Blue
Engine size 1,991 cc
Chassis No. 1122
Engine No. TS2769E
“There are few cars that we’ve tested that have created as much interest or drawn so much attention as the new Doretti,” wrote US motoring journalist, Walt Walron, in a glowing test of the car in 1954. “Going into corners as fast as you dare, you feel in control at all speeds, for a quick downshift and a punch of the throttle will invariably pull you out.”

Aimed squarely at conquering the American market, the Swallow Doretti was meant to fill a market niche between the sporty but basic Triumph TR2 and the luxury Jaguar XK120. Designed by Frank Rainbow, it was produced by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company in Walsall – originally founded by William Lyons of Jaguar fame, but now part of the giant Tube Investments Group.

Based on the running gear of the TR2 it shared the same lusty 2-litre 90bhp engine, 4-speed gearbox with optional overdrive, independent front suspension and Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes. However that is where the similarities ended – the mechanicals were bolted to an exceptionally rigid tubular chassis frame, the side members of which consisted of two 3-inch diameter chrome-molybdenum steel tubes reinforced with strengthening plates above and below. Some 100lbs lighter than the TR2 chassis, it carried a double-skinned body of steel inner panels clothed in an elegant alloy shell. For that streamlined Mille Miglia look, the one piece windscreen could be detached and replaced by two aero screens if required.

Praised on both sides of the Atlantic for its good looks and 100mph performance, it was only really criticized for a lack of luggage space and a rather high price: a standard version without overdrive cost £1,102 against £887 for a TR2. By early 1955 some 276 Dorettis had already been sold and plans were well under way for a MkII version, the Sabre, when production was abruptly halted on the orders of Tube Investments HQ. It is thought that other car makers, notably Jaguar, had threatened to stop sourcing components from the TI Group if they continued to develop the Doretti and nothing more was ever heard of the marque.

First registered in Sussex in March 1955, this overdrive-equipped Swallow Doretti has been subject to a total strip down and rebuild over the past 10 years with virtually every part restored or renewed as necessary. Work to the structure of the car included: chassis epoxy coated and floors replaced; aluminium bodywork completely refurbished and repainted in the original colour; all brightwork rechromed. Trim items included new hood, tonneau and sidescreens; complete interior retrim including leather seats and new carpets; new chrome wire wheels, splined hubs and spinners.

Mechanical work included: gearbox and overdrive reconditioned; new wiring loom; radiator recored; new dynamo and regulator; reconditioned starter motor; new stainless steel exhaust. The engine is the original unit and was found to be in rude good health – the vendor believes that the 54,000 miles recorded is probably the genuine distance covered from new, although there is insufficient documentary evidence to verify this.

Needless to say the car is now in lovely condition throughout and is said to drive very well with excellent oil pressure (50psi) and temperature at all times. It certainly performed very well during a short test drive on the occasion of our visit to take these pictures. Taxed and MOTd until February 2010, it comes with a large file of bills relating to the restoration, various road tests and press cuttings relating to the model, an original owner’s manual, original buff log book and modern V5C. The original steering wheel is also included should this be preferred to the wood-rim Motalita item currently fitted. Altogether a lovely example of an exceptionally rare and pretty sportscar from a little-known episode of British motoring history.
In the early 1950s a British conglomerate of around 50 companies came to the fore under the ‘Tube Investments’ name. The ‘TI’ group consisted of so many different suppliers to the automotive industry that the idea was born to build a sports car of their own making. Aimed to the serve the quickly growing American west coast market, the car would also serve as a tool to advertise the group’s broad capabilities.

Responsible for the development of the new sports car was Frank Rainbow, who was originally hired to manage the relationship between TI’s various companies but had also been responsible for the design of the ‘Gadabout’ for TI subsidiary Helliwells, which was Britain’s first scooter. Other driving forces behind the project were head of Helliwells, Ernest Sanders, John Black of Standard-Triumph and Californian Arthur Anderson, who would take up the importing duties of the cars.

Although trained as an engineer , Rainbow had no prior experience designing cars. To complicate things further, he had to work on a very tight deadline and only had two assistants to help him. His job was made easier by the extensive use of Triumph TR2 running gear. To house the proprietary bits, Rainbow developed a steel ladder frame that was constructed from high grade steel supplied by TI subsidiary Reynolds. The chassis was slightly longer and wider than the TR2’s.

Due to the different dimensions of Rainbow’s bespoke chassis, the Triumph four-cylinder engine could be mounted considerably closer to the centre of the car. This gave the new machine a near-perfect 52/48 weight balance. Also carried over from the recently introduced TR2 were the double-wishbone front suspension and live axle rear suspension as well as the drum brakes. The car was clothed in an elegant sports car body also penned by Rainbow. Due to time restraints, no mock-ups were made and the first body was created directly from the full-size drawings.

Among TI’s subsidiaries was Swallow Coachbuilding, which had originally started life as Swallow Sidecars in the 1920s. One of the company’s founders was William Lyons, who had sold the sidecar and coach-building business to TI to focus on the construction of the SS and later Jaguar cars. By the 1950s, Swallow was but a shadow of its former self but its reputation was still strong enough to convince the TI executives to name the car Swallow. Such was the state of the company that the actual construction of the car’s body was entrusted to Panelcraft.

Arthur Anderson’s lovely daughter Dorothy was the inspiration for the model name of the new Swallow. Her name was slightly changed to Doretti to add some Italian flair to the car as well. The prototype ‘Swallow Doretti’ was ready within nine months and it was immediately shipped to the United States for a promotion tour. Anderson pulled out all the stops and had several Hollywood stars pose with the new roadster. As a result, the order book quickly filled up.

When the prototype returned from California, it was accompanied by a list of problems that may needed sorting. Rainbow was happy to fix the issues but pressure from the executives to keep up momentum, forced him to start production of what was basically still a prototype early in 1954. Meanwhile he did work on a second version of the Swallow, which incorporated all the changes. Although considerably more expensive than the TR2, it was based on, the Doretti was in high demand.

Then, with no further reason given, TI ceased production after just ten months during which 276 examples were built. It was long believed that this rather rash decision was taken because the Swallow Doretti was a failure but nearly three decades later journalist Mike Lawrence set the record straight. In a Classic & Sportscar article he revealed that the car had actually become a victim of its own success; rival companies, including Jaguar, had warned TI that they would switch suppliers if the group would continue building cars .

By the time the project was axed, Rainbow had already produced the first two examples of the ‘Mk II Doretti’, which was dubbed the Sabre. Compared to the original, the second generation Swallow featured an even stronger chassis, a larger luggage compartment and a slight restyle. It could very well have taken the world by storm, considering that the Doretti, with its flaws, had already scared its rivals to take such drastic measures.

Despite the brief production period and limited numbers produced, the Swallow Doretti is far from forgotten. Due to the use of high-grade materials , the survival rate is relatively high but the car is still rare enough to be invited by all the great events like Villa d’Este and Pebble Beach. Frank Rainbow briefly worked for Triumph before returning to his family business. We can only imagine what great cars could have been produced, had he been allowed to continue his work in 1954.
Chassis: 1055
Like most Swallow Dorettis, this example was supplied to the American West Coast. In 1955 it was campaigned by Harvey M. Mayer in the Pebble Beach Road Race. The Triumph-powered machine was later acquired by Leo Welch, who parked the car for over three decades in a garage that was visible from the road. Here it was eventually discovered by the current owner some years ago and subsequently submitted to a full restoration. The work was completed in 2008 and since then the car has been regularly displayed, with a return to Pebble Beach in 2011 as the highlight. Several months later, the Swallow Doretti was offered by Fantasy Junction

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