1937 Atalanta 2 Litre Sports


  • Year of manufacture 
  • Chassis number 
  • Engine number 
  • Lot number 
  • Condition 
  • Location
  • Exterior colour 


The Ex-Midge Wilby, 1939 Scottish RAC Rally
1937 Atalanta 2-Litre Sports
Registration no. HMX 957
Chassis no. 1011
Engine no. 1009

A short-lived but highly regarded manufacturer, Atalanta Motors of Staines, Middlesex was the brainchild of Alfred Gough, designer of the overhead-camshaft Frazer Nash engine. Gough was joined in his new venture by another ex-FN employee, draughtsman Peter Crosby, while financial backing came principally from undergraduates Peter Whitehead and Neil Watson, the former a future Le Mans winner and the latter heir to the Burma Oils fortune. Other luminaries of the British Motor industry that played a part in the Atalanta story include Wally Hamill (Dunlop and Morris); Eric Scott (Specialoid pistons); A C Bertelli (ex-Aston Martin); and Dennis Poore (Manganese Bronze Holdings and Norton Villiers Triumph).

Founded in 1937, the firm specialised in hand built sports cars of advanced design; the exclusive and expensive Atalantas being unique among British cars of their day in featuring all-independent coil-sprung suspension. The channel-section steel chassis was a substantial, X-braced affair, while the use of Hiduminium alloy for the suspension links and Elektron magnesium alloy for the huge (16"-diameter) Lockheed hydraulically operated brake drums helped keep un-sprung weight to a minimum.

Gough four-cylinder engines powered the majority of Atalantas, not that there were many; indeed, it is estimated that no more than 20 cars of all types were built. The Gough engine was available in two capacities: 1.6 (78bhp) and 2.0 litres (98bhp), while in 1938 the company added a Lincoln Zephyr V12-powered 4.3-litre model to the range. Whatever the engine, the Atlanta's performance was excellent, thanks in no small part to its lightweight construction, and many of the cars enjoyed successful competition careers. Most were bodied by Atalanta's neighbours, E D Abbott of Farnham. Sadly, the outbreak of WW2 curtailed development of these exciting designs, and the Atalanta marque was not revived after the war's end. Survivors are exceedingly rare.

One of only two short-chassis models, 'HMX 957' was originally owned by Miss M V 'Midge' Wilby, one of Atalanta's directors, who competed in rallies and trials with considerable success. This car was delivered with the 2-litre Gough engine and is the second of the three Atalantas owned by Midge Wilby. Reportedly, the adventurous Miss Wilby entered an Atalanta in the 1938 Monte Carlo Rally only to have her entry rejected on the grounds that the firm had built too few cars to be eligible. She drove a Lancia Aprilia instead. Another of Atalanta's financial backers, Midge Wilby ran a quasi 'works' team of these cars for herself and her friends, of which 'HMX 957' was one. In 1939 the Atalanta team won the manufacturers' team prize in the SWAC Welsh Rally.

In 1939, The Light Car road-tested another of Midge Wilby's Atalantas ('JMC 973') for an article in its 7th April edition, declaring: "road holding is beyond criticism: rough, almost colonial sections can be treated like main roads. The Atalanta has the tenacious quality of a racing car when cornering, and it is nearly impossible to cause the tyres to squeal". That same year, 'HMX 957' was entered in the Scottish RAC Rally as part of a three-car team driven by a Mr A E Crosby, and contemporary press cuttings and photographs of the car in action may be found in the history file.

What happened to the Atalanta immediately thereafter is not known, the next ownership record on file being an old-style continuation logbook (issued 1950) which records a change of engine rating/size from 13.9 to 24.9 horsepower, and a change of colour from blue to green. The penultimate change of owner is dated 1963. The last change in the logbook, Ryan Hodges of Woodcote, Reading, is also recorded as owner in a list of 14 Atalanta cars ('HMX 957' being one of only two 2.0-litre Gough-engined examples). The car is stated as being fitted with a Bristol engine at time of purchase by Mr Hodges. It is also stated that a correct Gough engine was 'now being assembled'. Some time later 'HMX 957' went to Sweden and is mentioned as resident there in a letter on file from Midge Wilby dated 3rd February 1985.

Chronologically, the next significant piece of this car's history is its appearance in a UK auction in February 1996 (catalogue entry on file), it being stated at that time that the Atalanta was offered fresh from a major restoration carried out between 1993 and 1995, which included fitting a Ford V8 'flat head' engine. Its owner at that time would appear to have been Mr Werner Oswald of Brocton, Staffordshire (recorded as previous keeper in the old-style V5C on file). Its purchaser in February 1996 was Mr Craig Davis of Pebble Beach, California, who immediately commissioned TT Workshops of Westbury, Wiltshire to undertake a full restoration, including the sourcing and installation of a correct 2.0-litre Gough engine, one being found in Switzerland (see correspondence and detailed bills on file).

The Atalanta appears to have next changed hands in 2007 when it was offered for sale by Mr Patrick Ryan of California at a US auction and purchased shortly thereafter by the current owner. In the vendor's own words: "The car was immaculate when we purchased it – reflected in its having recently won the Cartier Style et Luxe at Goodwood and being displayed and sold at Pebble Beach in 2007. It is presented in similarly immaculate condition now."

Whilst in current ownership the Atalanta has benefited from the expert attention of the renowned Le Riche Automobile Restorers, who have carried out further major refurbishment works since its acquisition (bills on file). More recently (November 2019) 'HMX 957' was inspected and mechanically refreshed by Atalanta Motor Cars Ltd, the main focus of the work being to ensure the brakes, steering, and suspension operated safely. The bodywork was re-polished and detailed, and the car then remained in covered storage for some months prior to collection.

The engine was serviced (including fresh oil) and set-up to run properly, which it did, and the car was then test-driven for no more than three miles. As the Atalanta was again likely to stand for some time in the client's collection, the cooling system was drained as precaution. (At the time of cataloguing it was noted there was some emulsification in the oil, which we understand is due to porosity in the block. This will likely need rectification prior to serious road use.)

The Atalanta has seen only limited use while forming part of the vendor's private collection, covering only some 100 miles since acquisition. It was displayed at the Credit Suisse motoring event in Jersey in 2008 and at the Hampton Court Concours in 2014 but has not been rallied or used on events. It was a very personal acquisition that was, due to its age, admired as a piece of automotive art and displayed in the music room of the owner's house. Exotic, advanced, and exceedingly rare, the mythical Atalanta is rightfully considered by many enthusiasts to be the 'Holy Grail' among British pre-war sports cars.