1955 Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé
- Year of manufacture1955
- Chassis number421/200/203
- Engine numberBS4/1/415
- Lot number26
- Number of seats2
- Exterior colourOther
- Fuel typePetrol
The ex-Mrs Kitty Maurice; 1959 Le Mans (Dashwood/Wilks)
1955 Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé
Registration no. XMC 1
Chassis no. 421/200/203
Engine no. BS4/1/415
'A production Le Mans Coupe Frazer Nash was quite a smooth looking car for its time. It was evolved from fitting a "hard top" to a Targa Florio body style and took its name from the success of the prototype at Le Mans in 1953.' Denis Jenkinson, 'From Chain Gang to Turbocharger'.
One of only nine Le Mans fixed-head coupés built from April 1953 to October 1956, this particular car is historically significant as the last Frazer Nash to compete at the famous French endurance classic. Chassis number '400/200/203' was raced at the 1959 Le Mans 24-Hour Race by gentleman driver John Dashwood, the car's owner, and experienced club racer W E 'Bill' Wilks. Dashwood had bought the car, registered 'XMC 1', from Frazer Nash's parent company AFN Ltd in March 1959. AFN then prepared the car for Le Mans, which included altering the method of rear axle location by fitting a Panhard rod and Rose joints in place of the original 'A' bracket. An engineer by profession, Bill Wilks did a lot of work on the car himself, including the fabrication of an additional fuel tank.
A reserve entry was organised by AFN's W H Aldington, and 'XMC 1' (competitor number '60') was fortunate enough to take its place on the grid of 55 cars. Sadly, Frazer Nash's Le Mans swan song ended in disappointment. Wilks drove for the first three hours before handing over to Dashwood, who promptly slid into the sandbank at Arnage, the crash caused by fading brakes. Wilks was quoted as saying that he had been 'confident we could go a long way' and that the car was quick, pulling around 140mph at 6,000 revs on the 3.54:1 final drive ratio. After the race the damaged steering was repaired and the car driven back to England. Together with Messrs Epstein and Hitches, Dashwood and Wilks also raced 'XMC 1' at Silverstone in August 1959, retiring with hub failure after six hours.
The Frazer Nash cars of the late 1930s had been re-badged BMWs (parent company AFN Ltd were the official importers) but after WW2 the firm returned to producing the kind of uncompromising, competition-orientated sports car that had forged its reputation in the 'chain gang' era of the 1920s. Frazer Nash had used a variety of different proprietary engines in pre-war days and when production proper resumed in 1948 it was with Bristol power units, a particularly appropriate choice given the latter's BMW origins. By the time production ceased in 1957, Frazer Nash had completed a little over 400 cars in some 33 years, yet had acquired a reputation and a fanatical following out of all proportion to the paucity of its output.
Introduced in 1953, complementing the company's successful open sports cars, the Le Mans Coupé was the first closed Frazer Nash to enter production. It used the new parallel-tube chassis frame, around which was wrapped a beautiful full-width alloy body that, with its curvaceous lines and horizontal front grille, hinted at the forthcoming Sebring roadster. The chassis boasted independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, torsion bar rear suspension and twin-leading-shoe brakes, while the engine was, of course, the 1,971cc six-cylinder Bristol. Of the nine cars completed, three would race at Le Mans, the most successful being chassis number '186', which finished 13th overall in 1953 (winning its class) and 11th overall in 1954.
Completed in April 1955, chassis number '421/200/203' was ordered new by Mrs Kathleen 'Kitty' Maurice, the enthusiastic landowner/promoter of Wiltshire's Castle Combe race circuit, neighbouring what is regarded by many as Britain's most picturesque village. A Frazer Nash enthusiast, Mrs Maurice took delivery of her Le Mans Coupé in April '55, transferring the registration 'XMC 1' from her drophead coupé, chassis number '421/100/151'. The engine originally installed was 'BS4/414', which was soon replaced with 'BS4/410A' taken from chassis number '198', a Targa Florio model. A hand written specification sheet on file records the original body colour as Sea Green and lists adjustable radiator shutters and a Delaney Gallay heater as items of equipment fitted.
Mrs Maurice's Frazer Nash travelled to Le Mans in 1955 as a support vehicle for the official AFN entries but she did not keep the car for long. Its next owner, a Dr Mawe, was pictured in Autosport (26th October 1956 edition) driving it at Stapleford Airfield. He then sold the car back to AFN in November 1957 and it remained with them until purchased by John Dashwood, from whom it was repurchased by AFN after the 1959 Le Mans event. Its next owner was the well-known racing driver and motor dealer Roy Bloxham of Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, who raced the car in the 1960 Autosport Production Sports Car Championship, including outings at Silverstone, Goodwood and Snetterton, finishing 10th overall and 2nd in class at the season's end.
In its 18th November 1960 edition, Autosport carried an advertisement for the Frazer Nash, which was described as a 'damaged fixed head coupé, body only damaged, disc brakes, engine full BS1 Mk III specs, with ZF.' It is presumed that the BS1 engine, disc brakes and ZF differential had been fitted by Roy Bloxam. Very few of these elderly Frazer Nash competition cars retain their original engine, and 'XMC 1' would undergo another transplant later in its life (see below).
The Frazer Nash was advertised by The Chequered Flag dealership in Autosport from May to November 1962 as 'wine red with pale beige upholstery' and in 1963 was purchased by Dr Ron Thorpe of Norwich. Dr Thorpe had the car repainted in dark green, and in December 1965 it was recorded in the Frazer Nash Register as fitted with engine number 'BS1A/MkIII/141'. In September 1969 Dr Thorpe sold 'XMC 1' to John Melville-Smith of Malvern, Worcestershire who commissioned Cleobury Garage to removed the rear suspension's Panhard rod and reinstate the 'A' bracket. The front drum brakes likewise have been reinstated but it is not known when or by whom, though they are shown in the accompanying FIA papers issued in March 1996.
The car was owned subsequently by (in order) Michael Hetherington of Peacehaven, Sussex (1971), Richard Dixon of Buckhurst Hill, Essex (1970s) and Ake Andersson of Sweden (1987). There is a bill on file for miscellaneous body repairs and a re-spray, issued by George John Coachworks Ltd of Midhurst, Sussex in December 1973 while the car was owned by Richard Dixon, together with a letter from Michael Hetherington to Dr Thorpe. Correspondence on file from Bristol Cars to Richard Dixon concerns the repair of engine number 'BS1A/MK3/141' and gearbox number 'BWCR6/122', which were fitted to the car at that time.
While in Ake Andersson's ownership the car was repainted dark blue and carried the Swedish registration 'NXM 776'. Circa 1993 it was purchased by David Vine of Newton Ferrers, Devon who commissioned specialist David Morris to carry out an extensive service of the Bristol engine (see detailed bill on file dated 31st October 1993). In October 1994 the Frazer Nash was sold at auction in the UK, at which time it was registered ' WYJ 989' and said to be fitted with engine number 'BS1/141'. The original registration 'XMC 1' was offered for sale separately. Craig Davis, a resident of Switzerland and Pebble Beach, California, was the purchaser at the 1994 auction and he must have also bought the original registration, which remains with the car to this day. The Swiss Permis de Circulation, FIA papers and FIVA Identity Card issued to Mr Davis in 1997 are on file.
In December 2002 'XMC 1' was sold to Richard Procter of Mellor, Cheshire and a new FIVA Identity Card issued. This document records a change of engine to that currently fitted, 'BS4/1/415' (the previous ID Card recorded it as 'BS1A Mk3 141'). The car was repainted in light green metallic, close to its original colour, and in May 2004 was invited to participate in that year's Goodwood Revival meeting (see letter from The Earl of March on file). In more recent times the car has twice taken part in the Colorado Grand and it is, of course, also eligible for other prestigious events such as the Le Mans Classic and Mille Miglia.
In November 2004 the Frazer Nash was sold to William E Roberts of Bainbridge Island, Seattle, USA. During Mr Roberts' ownership new seats were manufactured, seat belts mounts fabricated and a fire extinguishing system installed among other works (see bill of file from Vintage Racing Motors Inc dated March 2005).
The car's next recorded owner is Richard Ainscough of Bispham, Lancashire, who acquired it in February 2012. Soon after acquiring the Frazer Nash, Mr Ainscough despatched it to Blakeney Motorsport of Buntingford, Hertfordshire for extensive re-commissioning as detailed in an accompanying detailed invoice for £9,913. The current owner acquired the car in May 2014, since when it has been track tested by racer/journalist Tony Dron for a feature in Octane magazine's March 2015 edition (copy on file).
Currently taxed for the road and described as in generally good condition, 'XMC 1' is offered with an extensive history file, which in addition to the aforementioned documentation also contains a current V5C registration document; numerous period photographs, press cuttings and advertisements; assorted correspondence and other material. Two sets of seats the original set and one made for taller occupants are included in the sale.
It could be argued that Frazer Nash's reputation is scarcely justified based on the number of cars built. However, it is greatly to the firm's credit that despite a lack of resources it achieved so much in international competition in the immediately post-war years. This exceptionally well-documented Le Mans model affords the opportunity for the discerning collector to acquire part of the legend. Additional, it has the most important cachet of being eligible for all the most prestigious motor sports events including the Tour Auto, Mille Miglia, Goodwood Revival and, of course, Le Mans.