For the rich in Britain between the wars, having the glamour of a 1930’s motorcar to match your lifestyle was everything.
The latest model demonstrated you had money to spare, good taste, and time on your hands to drive along the Italian Rivera or whizz around Brooklands Racetrack. This was before the Second World War led to strict petrol rationing in Britain, and garage mechanics and chauffeurs had been conscripted. The working class struggling to recover from The Great War would never have seen such magnificent vehicles in real life but could dream about them from their collection of Player’s cigarette cards. I have acquired an almost complete set of the Motor Car series from 1937 and they are joyous to look at, for their art as well as the glorious sweeping lines. They make me think of Cary Grant (who was my model for Braxton Clarke in the May Keaps Series) and another hero of mine, Fred Astaire. You can see some of my other inspirations here. Enjoy the glamour but if you’re tempted to think luxury came cheap back then you’d do well to bear in mind the annual wage for a skilled British worker in 1935 was £150. It’s all relative.
Now we’re talking 1930’s motorcars. It looks as though Marlene Dietrich should be riding in the back. The Sunbeam Thirty Sedanca De Ville was shown at the 1936 Olympia Motor Show but not put into production and the four cars built were all broken up. What a shame. Although I suppose only someone like Marlene could’ve afforded one at a hefty £1,473.
The Railton Fairmile Coupé makes me think of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly careering around mountain corners in “To Catch a Thief”. With a top speed of 90 mph it could go from 10 mph to 30 mph in under 3 seconds. Such style didn’t come cheap at £685.
Sleek in silver the Rapier Four-Seater Sports Tourer evolved from the Lagonda drophead coupé with much of its style. Capable of 80 mph (65 mph in 3rd gear) it had exceptional acceleration from slow speeds. I love the blue leather seats. It cost £375.
This Singer sports car won honours at Le Mans. A proper racer with a top speed of over 80 mph it looks the business with leather bonnet straps, 3 headlights, and wire wheels. The road version came equipped with a teeny-tiny luggage rack. It offered remarkable value for the time at £350.
The Morris Fourteen-Six was introduced in 1936 and only produced for 13 months. Timed at Brooklands at 67 mph it was lively and roomy. The black roof and mudguards are a nice touch. It cost £225.
The Morris 25 was a new concept in British family cars with a top speed of 75 mph and a large luggage boot. It had a long chassis to accommodate the seats between the axles for riding comfort. The two-tone black and burgundy adds a touch of class. It cost £280.
In 1935 the looks of this 4-seater set it apart from other baby-cars and it was designed to make fast motoring possible with safety and comfort. Although now we wouldn’t think a top speed of 64 mph fast. At £142 10s it was just about affordable for the middle-classes.
From late 1920s and most of the 1930s Riley produced some of the best sporting cars in the world. The Adelphi Saloon had a top speed of 90 mph. I’m not convinced about its style and thinks it looks a little clunky although I love the shape of the front mudguards. It cost £450.
Riley produced some of the best sporting cars in the world. The Falcon Saloon was one of the first cars with the handbrake lever between the seats. It had a top speed of 70 mph and a cruising speed of 60 mph. It cost £335.
The Siddeley Touring Limousine was regarded in 1935 as one of the six great British cars. It had a powerful engine that could haul the giant and all a rich family’s copious luggage to 80 mph. It would set you back £1,300.
Nice colour. Not as elegant as some cars of the era but there are some flowing touches to the design. It had a top speed of 70 mph and cost £225.
The Singer II Saloon was regarded as one of the more advanced of British “small fours” in 1935 as it could be kept in gear when stationary (which simplified driving apparently). Nice midnight blue and black combination. It had a top speed of 65 mph and cost £245.
The Standard 12 Saloon was a family car of some refinement. It boasted “easy jacking” which I suppose was a good selling point when many roads were ill-kept and having to change a wheel was seen as a normal motoring hazard. It had a top speed of 65 mph and cost £229.
In 1936 the Talbot Drop-Head Foursome Coupé was one of the fastest cars on the road reaching over 92 mph with a cruising speed of 70 mph. But it had fabulous looks too with its sweeping lines and stylish grace. It cost £795.
There is something clean but quirky about the design of the Talbot Ten. Perhaps it’s the missing door pillars. Or the V-shaped bumper. The windscreen looks enormous too (it was said to have excellent driving vision). It had a top speed of 70 mph and cost £265. I’d have liked one.
The Triumph Dolomite Saloon had a distinctive “waterfall” radiator and was said to be roomy and comfortable to drive with well-designed controls. I’m not sure it screams of the 1930s enough for me. It had a top speed of 80 mph though so it was no slouch. It cost £368.
The 1934 Triumph-Gloria was a looker. Especially in this spring green. I’m not sure about the protruding V-shaped bumper which would cut an unwary pedestrian off at the knees but I like the “diving woman” mascot. It had brisk acceleration up to a top speed of 70 mph. It cost £368.
The Vauxhall “25” Continental Touring Saloon was a big car. This model had special coachwork by Connaught (which was about the best you could get) which bumped the price up to £528. If I’d have had the money I’d have paid the top whack for this sleek beauty. Top speed was 80 mph which was impressive for such a hefty car.
I’m not sure about the Vauxhall Big Six Cabriolet. It has touches of elegance but still has the feel of a Chicago Gangster’s ride to me. Perhaps it looked better with the top down. I do like that the spare wheel has its own bodywork housing. It had a top speed of over 70 mph and cost £395.
The Wolseley Super Six was a high performance car with attention to detail in the carriage work that makes it look distinctive. I like the two-tone green with the black and am especially enamoured with the front mudguards. It had built-in hydraulic jacks (which you’d need to change a tyre on this beast). It had a top speed of 80 mph and cost £340.
The Wolseley Super Six Sportsman’s Saloon was supposed to be smooth running and noiseless which made it a “fine town carriage”. Timed at 81 mph it could accelerate from 0 to 50 in 14 seconds. Impressive. I can imagine a batsman arriving at Lord’s Cricket Ground to looks of envy. It cost £425.
Introduced at the 1936 Motor Show, the Lammas Graham Coupé was timed at Brooklands at 90 mph. Only 30 were produced. It cost £625.
The Lanchester brothers built their first successful British car in 1895 but were a spent force by 1931. The Roadrider couldn’t compete with the glories of 1935 and could only manage 65 mph. It cost £340.
Lancia cars were technically advanced with the Aprilia Pillarless Saloon at the lower end of their sports cars. With a top speed of 80 mph it cost £298.
The MG Midget, that classic British sports car and holder of countless “baby car” records. Timed at Brooklands at over 80 mph it won many races. It cost £222 for all that toned engineering.
The Mercedes-Benz 540 Coupé was one of the few genuine 100 mph cars in regular production for the road. Although only 447 were made. Super-charged and semi-automatic it cost a mind-blowing £2,200.
The Morgan 4 seater was a newcomer in the small sports car market of 1935. Timed at Brooklands at 77 mph it had excellent steering and steady cornering but I’m not sure having to carry 2 spare wheels would give me much confidence.
This handsome saloon could reach a top speed of 75 mph and cost £425. I think the marriage of black and burgundy red is very elegant.
Under these sleek lines and graceful curves lurked a Rolls-Royce engine. Known as “the silent sports car” it came 2nd in 2 British Trophy Races and was the fastest topping 95 mph. In 1935 it cost a whopping £1,380.
Only 15 British Salmson 20/90 Drop-Head Coupés were ever made. They were superbly built but heavy. It could reach a racy 90mph and cost £645. Note the matching red leather seats and wheelrims.
Lawrence of Arabia’s motorcycle had the same name. This four-litre sports car was equally fast and powerful. It could achieve 60 mph in 10 seconds. The company’s motto was “ninety in silence” and this car could easily reach that speed. It cost £695.
This large saloon car was aimed at the family market with its spacious interior and ample luggage space. Top speed of 72 mph and with a cost of £220.
A shorter version of the Ford V-8 22 Touring Saloon. I like the touch of adding green wheels. Timed at a top speed of 73 mph it was priced at £220.
This is one of the most famous of all British sports cars although only 8 were ever produced. Guaranteed top speed of 105 mph. It was worth the cost of £850 for looks alone.
The classic Fraser Nash sports car of the thirties. With rapid acceleration, astonishing roadholding and hill-climbing powers, Fraser-Nash were the favourite for competitions and trials. This model had full Tourist Trophy specification and a top speed of 100 mph. In 1935 the car was priced at £625.
A Yorkshire firm, Jowett was most famous in the north of England. With a top speed of 65 mph the Jupiter wasn’t fast but it was reliable and durable. I think it looks rather sleek too. It cost £197. 10s. The precision of the pricing at 2 shillings shy of £198 proves clever marketing ploys have always been with us.
This Lagonda was a beast of a motorcar. The wheelbase was over 11ft long. It had the power to haul all that weight to over 100 mph without sacrificing a jot of the extreme comfort you’d expect from a car designed by W.O. Bentley. Only 278 were produced. No wonder it commanded the eye-watering price of £1,550.
Alvis made its reputation with fast and elegant sports cars. This 1934-36 model could boast 90 mph and cost £850.
This Armstrong-Siddeley from 1935 boasted 90 mph and was said to be well built, easy to drive and comfortable. It cost £425.
The “Goodwood” Saloon was aimed at the middle-classes costing £318. With a top speed of stately 65 mph it looks perfect for a stylish day out to the races.
The Ruby was a 2-seater tourer built between 1935-36. At £235 it sold well. I’d have gone for one in a nicer colour.
BSA made guns and bicycles before turning to cars in 1907. In 1935 the 10 Fixed-Head Coupé model had a top speed of 60 mph and cost a pretty reasonable £285.
This car undoubtedly has a French panache about it. I love the way it all looks oozed together. It could reach 70 mph but I doubt people bought it for speed, more design. It cost £248. If I’d been around in 1935 I’d have saved up all my pennies for it.
A car with all the aristocratic qualities of silence, style and smoothness. It could purr up to 70 mph. Yours for £465.
Daimler was famous for the quality of their coachbuilding. This sports car boasted smooth cruising at 70 mph in almost perfect silence. Only 180 were produced. With a 1935 price-tag of £995 you would certainly be paying for class.
Standard isn’t an exciting name for a motorcar company but their V-8 Saloon has all the soft lines of a Citroen and looks good on it. Top speed of 82 mph and a cost of £319.
I can just about remember these being driven by little old ladies who’d probably had them from new. At £100 in 1935 they were the only car most of the British middle-class could ever aspire to own.