Friday, June 15, 2012

Unexpected Entrants in a British Car Show

Mention a British car show and most folks immediately think of the more famous marques such as Triumph, Austin Healey and MG. Those less in the know might be surprised to see cars from manufacturers like Volvo, Nash or Hudson on the field. Let's take a look at a few of those less expected to be seen:

Volvo P1800 Sports Coupe

Volvo P1800 (Volvo Publicity Photo)
This rakish 2+2 from the land of the midnight sun was a sensation when launched in 1961. Volvo cast about for a contract manufacturer to take on assembly duties of this new model. They first looked to Germany where they were very close to a deal with Karmann, who had to back out at the last minute due to threats from Volkswagen to take their specialty business elsewhere. Volvo turned down several other German firms due to concerns about quality control.

The Swedes finally struck a deal with Jensen of West Bromwich, England and gave them an order for 10,000 cars, an order that helped alleviate an underutilized production line. In all, Jensen completed around 6,000 cars before Volvo withdrew the contract due to quality issues and transferred production to Sweden.

1961 and 1962 Jensen-built P1800s are easily identified by the "cow horn" front bumpers. The Swedish-built 1963 models have a horizontal front bumper and are badged 1800'S'.

Nash Healey 

Nash Healey (Nash Publicity Photo)
This Anglo-American hybrid was the result of a chance meeting of British automotive engineer and designer Donald Healey and Nash-Kelvinator chairman George W. Mason aboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth in 1950. Healey was looking for an American V8 to slot into his Healey Silverstone model but was rebuffed by GM. Mason saw an opportunity to go a bit upmarket with a two-seat sports car using the Silverstone chassis but with a few modifications. 

Healey designed a new head for the Nash straight six that Mason supplied (along with a three speed w/overdrive gearbox) and added SU carburetors to squeeze out a few more horsepower. Healey also styled the first generation car and used stock Nash grilles and bumpers that helped maintain the family resemblance. The cars were completed in England.

The second generation Nash Healey was re-styled by the Italian design house Pinin Farina to help update the look and harmonize the "face" with the rest of the Nash line. Post-1951 cars were finished in Italy (from American and British components) and shipped to the US. Nash dropped the Nash Healey due to word that Ford was developing the Thunderbird and the 'Healey's high selling price ($5,908.00 or over $51,000.00 2012 dollars).

Nash, Hudson  Metropolitan

Nash Metropolitan (Courtesy
Again, Nash went calling on their British friends for a smaller small car to add to their lineup. Although designed in the USA, the Metropolitan was shopped to several overseas manufacturers since Nash determined that this small and inexpensive car could not be built domestically and turn a profit. This time, British Motor Corporation was tapped since they had a line of small displacement engines and they had the capacity to build them.

About the only part of the Metropolitan that was American was the name. As one of the first captive imports, the Met was built entirely in the UK of UK-sourced components. Body makers Fisher and Ludlow stamped and assembled the body panels and Austin completed the vehicles.

The met was produced from 1953 through 1961 and sold under the Nash, Hudson and in its final years, as simply 'Metropolitan'. In 1956, Austin sold Metropolitans as Austins in nations where American Motors did not have a presence. Fewer than 10,000 units were sold under this arrangement.    

Do you know of other unusual British car show participants? Drop me line in the comments section.


  1. It never ceases to amaze me how you come up with such interesting articles. This is information which many British car enthusiasts, including me, had very little, if any, knowledge. Great article, keep it up.

  2. There's been an Isetta at the last few All British Field Meets in Vancouver, BC:

    Why? The story's here:


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