A roadster carries that unique charm of allowing open air motoring in as relaxed or sprightly a fashion as one might desire. The owner of this Singer Nine Roadster says that the happiest owners of all roadsters might be those who drive Singer Roadsters. The car’s charming looks, rorty British engine and the limited numbers all add to the charm of owning and driving a Singer Roadster.
The 1950s were a time where the MG brand reigned supreme in the roadster landscape of Great Britain, and Singer aimed to occupy a small niche of the roadster market, manufacturing their cars in far lower numbers than MG. In fact, Singer dates back far earlier than MG (it also has nothing to do with the eponymous sewing machines). Founder George Singer started building bicycles bearing his name in Coventry, England, in 1874, transitioning to motorcycles and cars around the turn of the century. By 1908, Singer sports cars were racing at Brooklands. The company persevered through the death of its founder in 1909 and the first of what would be several reorganizations, and it prospered in the years leading up to and following World War I. It peaked as the third-best-selling British automaker in 1929 and scored a series of strong Le Mans finishes in the early 1930s.
The Nine Roadster, introduced after this famous race car focused more on comfort and style than all-out performance. It was available only in four-seat configuration and shared most of its suspension and powertrain — a 1074-cc four-cylinder and a three-speed manual — with the Singer Bantam sedan. The aluminum-bodied, wood-frame Roadster rolled out of a modernized factory in 1939, before the British war effort sucked up all of Singer’s production capacity.
When peacetime production resumed in 1946, the Roadster, essentially a one-year-old car, showcased several updates, including a stiffer chassis and a roomier cabin. Like other British brands during this period, Singer shifted its focus to favor exports. The Roadster sold reasonably well, finding nearly 13,000 mostly American and Australian buyers. It received continual updates throughout the period, most notably a four-speed transmission (for 1950), an independent front suspension (1951), an increase in engine displacement to 1497 cubic centimeters (1952, when the name officially became SM Roadster), and dual carburetors (1953). And, despite its grand touring pretensions and a lack of factory support, the car proved to be a tough competitor on the burgeoning American road-racing scene. The Roadster’s overhead-cam engine and lightweight aluminum body gave it an edge over the more common steel-bodied MG T-series, which in most iterations relied on a 1250-cc overhead-valve four-cylinder.
Into the Singer Roadster is built a combination of qualities which are not usually found in a car of this era. With distinctive and flowing lines, it has a powerful engine (available with single or twin carburetors) and a lightweight hand built body, giving vivid acceleration and high cruising and maximum speeds for the period. In fact the car looked so gorgeous that Royalty of many colonial countries ordered it including a few Indian Maharajas.
Unfortunately the car was made in small numbers and a hint of what might have followed appeared at the 1953 London motor show, where Singer showed the fiberglass-bodied, modern-looking SMX Roadster. By that time, however, Singer was hemorrhaging too much cash to build more than a handful. In late 1955, the Rootes Group bought the company and quickly ended production of the Roadster, which with its handmade body didn’t exactly support the new low-cost business plan. The Singer name lived on for another fifteen years, mostly as rebadged Hillmans.
The Singer company in its quest for market segmentation in 1950 requested James Young the luxury British coachbuilder to make a few roadster bodies based on prior orders. These cars featured extra trim and a full timber dashboard. According to the internet 63 cars were made with bodies by James Young.
The car featured today is CN 1406 a 1950 Singer 9 4A Roadster. Around five Singer roadsters had been imported to Ceylon and two including this one are supposed to be surviving although records are scarce. This priceless rare beauty sits in Kapila Jayawardena’s motor museum in Battaramulla. It was given a nut-and-bolt restoration with a bright red body and beige leather upholstery to match.
Kapila is fastidious when it comes to restoration and it shows. The engine fires up at a tickle of the starter and settles to a beautifully smooth yet suitably period idle. Watching him drive it up and down some hilly roads in the Battaramulla-Kotte area, it is clear that this car would be able to hold its own even in modern traffic – although the haphazard traffic conditions of our sunny isle mean that Sunday sojourns are best. All indicators and lamps work, and Kapila’s mechanics proudly point out the ammeter and oil pressure gauge working too!
An added place of pride to have this particular car in Sri Lanka is that CN 1406 is one of the few James Young-built cars. The serial number plate and the JY badge is part of the outer dashboard within the engine compartment. The original engine with matching numbers appears to be in top shape mechanically and cosmetically. The twin chrome plated D lamps in the rear provide combination of tail stop and number plate lighting.
Kapila purchased the car in 2017 and did the aforementioned nut-and-bolt restoration on it. Many parts including the D lamps windscreen mirrors hub caps were imported from England. The 425 by 16 inch tyres became a real challenge due to its scarcity in this part of the world. Finally the tyres were imported from the USA from a vintage tyre supplier. This Singer roadster is a combination of rarity and value encapsulated by a near perfect restoration for future generations to appreciate.