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Lot 161: Invicta 4½-Litre S-Type Low-chassis Tourer 'Bluebird'

Goodwood Revival Sale, Bonhams (15 September 2012)

The low chassis Invicta was probably the best-looking sports car in the vintage tradition ever to be produced in England. I can think of no contemporary unsupercharged motor-car of similar capacity, made here, which could outperform it - and very few built elsewhere...' – J R Buckley, 'The 4½-litre S-Type Invicta', Profile publications, 1966. In an era when most cars stood tall, the 4½-litre S-Type Invicta, with its dramatically under-slung chassis, caused a sensation: few sports cars before or since have so looked the part. The origins of the Invicta Company go back to the year 1925 when Noel Macklin and Oliver Lyle, both of whom already had motor industry experience, got together to create a car combining American levels of flexibility and performance with European quality and roadholding. Like the contemporary Bentley, the Invicta was designed by men with a personal background of competition motoring and both were produced to a standard - the best. Price was only a secondary consideration, a factor that contributed largely to both firms' failure to weather the Depression years of the early 1930s. Like Bentley, Invicta struggled against rising costs and falling sales, the final car leaving the factory, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th of October 193, though a handful of cars was assembled at the company' service depot in Flood Street, Chelsea between 1934 and 1936. In all, approximately 1,000-or-so Invictas of all types are though to have been made. Apart from three prototypes built at Macklin's home in Cobham, Surrey, all Invictas were powered by the tireless six-cylinder engines made by Henry Meadows. Invicta cars quickly established a reputation for outstanding durability, which was underlined by the award of the RAC's coveted Dewar Trophy in 1926 and 1929, largely for the marque's success in long-distance reliability trials - including a round-the-world trip by sisters Violette and Evelyn Cordery. Launched at the 1930 Motor Show at Olympia, the S-type featured an 'under-slung' chassis that achieved a much lower centre of gravity by positioning the axles above the frame rails instead of below as was normal practice at the time. Just about the only thing the S-type Invicta had in common with its contemporary stablemates was the 4½-litre Meadows engine, which was also used for the 'NLC' and 'A' models. Like most low-speed engines there is ample torque available in the lower and middle speed ranges. Indeed, the Invicta can be throttled down to 6-8mph in top gear - despite its 3.6:1 final drive ratio - and will then accelerate rapidly and without fuss, still in top gear, when the accelerator is depressed. The acceleration figures given by the contemporary motoring press speak for themselves on this subject. The popular '100mph Invicta' tag notwithstanding, standard cars had a – still impressive – top speed of around 95mph, with more to come in racing trim. However, it must be stressed that the S-type Invicta was primarily a very fast but comfortable high-speed touring car, and though it met with moderate success in racing in the hands of private owners in the early 1930s, its greatest appeal lies in an ability to cover big mileages at high average speeds with no strain, either to driver or the machinery. Raymond Mays, writing of the two Invictas he owned in the early 1930s, says that they gave him some of the most exhilarating motoring he ever had, with their ability 'to crest most main-road hills at nearly the century.' The Cordery sisters having driven a 3-litre Invicta around the world only two years earlier, under RAC observation, with no failure beyond a half-shaft in the axle, it was not considered necessary to prove the S-type by subjecting it to further examinations of that kind. Instead the company concentrated on entering the cars in the most difficult long-distance trials in the motoring calendar, achieving notable successes. The Austrian Alpine Trail was chosen as a suitable test and the S-type duly excelled in this arduous event, Donald Healey twice winning a Coupe des Glaciers for Invicta as well as the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally. Later, the S-type took the International Sports Car Record at Shelsley Walsh hill climb and, by way of variety, the Mountain Circuit lap record at Brooklands in 1931 and again in 1932, courtesy of Raymond Mays. Invictas are about as indestructible in normal use as a car can be. Over 70 years after the last was built, approximately 68 of the 77 S-types are known to survive and most are in excellent order, testifying to the fact that they have always been regarded as high quality motor cars. Indeed, in pre-war days there was a club dedicated exclusively to the model and members famously christened individual cars with names like 'Scythe', 'Scrapper' and 'Sea Lion'. This matching numbers Invicta S-type, chassis number 'S37' (known as 'Bluebird), was purchased in 1963 from Jack Bond of Vintage Autos, Lancaster Gate, London by the vendor's family friend, Peter Russell, together with an Aston Martin, Frazer Nash and Bentley. Its prior history is unknown, though 'S37' is believed to have started life as a fixed-head coupé and been re-bodied by Bond. Peter used these cars for the next 40 years (into his eighties) before passing on 'Bluebird' to the vendor, who has enjoyed it for almost ten years. 'Bluebird' is currently registered in New Zealand (the vendor is a member of the NZ Vintage Car Club and the Invicta Car Club UK). Some 18 months ago a three-year restoration was completed, which included a complete body refurbishment, paint and chrome, interior, hood, carpeting and some mechanical work, including a complete rewire. The body was removed and the chassis cleaned and stripped back to the original paint (still good), which was removed, revealing that the frame was in perfect condition with absolutely no sign of damage or corrosion of any kind (the original factory numbers were still painted on the rails). The chassis was repainted and the body taken to woodwork specialist Pikes Ltd for fabrication of complete new frame, then on to Steve Roberts of Brunswick, New Zealand's top craftsman body builder (trained by Aston Martin) who made a superb job down to the smallest detail, including the mudguards. Dimensions for the new bodywork were taken from a very original S-Type. Painting was carried out by a local specialist, an original type finish being chosen rather than modern two-pack, which was considered not give the correct look for a pre-war vehicle. Colour is the original deep blue. All chromed trim was re-plated by New Zealand's top specialist Custom Chrome, who still use the traditional methods of copper coating and hand finishing. The interior leatherwork, hood, etc was undertaken by Basil Shailor Auto Upholstery, one of New Zealand's top two companies specialising in workmanship of the highest quality. As much as possible of the original leather was retained. Coloured to match the original pale grey-blue, new hide was used for the door panel, sides and rear seat base; the original seats were then re-coloured to match the new, with very pleasing results. New quality carpeting (to original pattern) was fitted together with a new hood, hood cover, etc. Charcoal coloured with navy blue trim, the hood has a detachable rear section containing the original glass window. 'Bluebird' is said to be in very sound mechanical condition throughout, though the vendor has not touched the engine apart from removing the sump for an inspection and fitting new gasket. The carburettors were fully reconditioned by Auto Restorations in Christchurch, as were the twin fuel pumps, while the starter and generator were removed and checked over by a local auto electrician. A complete new set of gearbox internals has been fitted, including all gears, shafts, etc. This job was entrusted to Bettany Gears Ltd, a company renowned for their precision work. The result is a lovely sounding, smooth and easy to use gearbox. Over the years Peter Russell had carried out any required maintenance, including replacing the piston rings and valves plus fitting a new crown wheel and pinion. The wheels had been powder coated when the vendor acquired the Invicta and have not been touched. We are advised that they would benefit from truing and fitting with better quality tyres. Apart from routine adjusting, the brakes have not been touched. 'Bluebird' is offered with an original Invicta sales brochure and instruction/maintenance books, 'Profile Publications' book on the 4½-Litre S-Type Invicta, and New Zealand registration papers. The 'Low Chassis' Invicta S-Type is now regarded as one of the most desirable pre-war sports cars, sought after by collectors for its exceptional driving abilities, style and sheer presence. A guaranteed entry at the most prestigious rallies, concours and race meetings around the world, the 'Low Chassis' has an enviable reputation amongst connoisseurs, and examples are to be found in some of the most important private collections.

Lot Details
Auction Goodwood Revival Sale
Bonhams, Chichester, Goodwood
Lot Number161
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating1
Registration numberCY 9346
Chassis numberS37
Engine number7403
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors2