Been in the same family for over 70 years
Published on 19 Feb 2023
Railton was a British automobile marque made by Fairmile Engineering Company in Cobham, Surrey between 1933 and 1940. Subsequently there was an unsuccessful attempt to revive it by a new company between 1989 and 1994 in Alcester, Warwickshire.
The company was started by Noel Macklin who was looking for a new car-making venture after he sold his Invicta company in 1933. The name came from Reid Railton, the world speed record car designer; but his input was thought to be small although he did receive a royalty on each car sold.
The first Railton branded car was made by fitting a British body made by coachbuilder John Charles Ranalah to a 4010 cc, 100 bhp, 8-cylinder Hudson Terraplane chassis. The high-performance car has been described as a pre-war Shelby Cobra. The car was at first available as a two-door tourer. Being lighter than the original, it had for its’ time, exceptional performance, with a 0–60 mph time of 13 seconds. A saloon-bodied version was soon added to the range, and the cars were priced at £499.
In 1935 the original Terraplane chassis was replaced by the one from the Hudson Eight, the engine grew to 4168 cc producing 113 bhp. A wider range of bodies from several coachbuilders were available from at least seven different vehicle coachbuilders including; Ranalah, R.E.A.L, Carbodies and Coachcraft. Two special lightweight models were made in 1935 and, with a 0–60 time of 8.8 seconds, were claimed to be the fastest production cars in the world. Altogether 1379 of the Railton 8s were made.
A smaller six-cylinder car named the Cobham, was added in 1937 using a 2723 cc Hudson 6-cylinder engine and chassis, but only 81 were made in saloon or drophead coupé form and priced at £399.
The Railtons were fascinating cars made during a short period. They were at the time a status symbol mostly acquired by affluent families.
The car featured here was imported into Ceylon and was owned by the same family since 1936. The two door four seater sports tourer, was recently purchased by an avid collector who prefers to remain anonymous.
The car has a fascinating history behind it. At the 1936 Earls Court Motor Show, the Railton 2-Door, 4-Seater Sports Tourer was admired by one Victor Manual de Mel, a prominent civil servant of Colombo, Ceylon. On returning to the island, he ordered a car of this model through the then local agent Walker & Greig Ltd. in Colombo and paid a sum of £553 for it. The registration number allotted was Z-1770. He was a keen motoring enthusiast and was fond of the car. This is evidenced by every document pertaining to the car being preserved by him including the original hand-book, service records, spare parts usage and paper articles.
The ownership records show that the car was first registered 2nd November 1936 and the first owner was Victor Manual de Mel of 39, Flower Road, Colombo 7. The second owner from 28.5.1972 was Iris Sita Francisca de Mel of the same address. The third owner from 17 February 1998 is Viran Nirosh de Mel their grand-son. All these documents including a hand drawn owner’s manual are now in the hands of the new owner – the first time when the car has gone out of the De Mel family.
Having clocked just over 20,000 miles in its 86 year life, the car has never been “restored” or indeed pulled apart for any major repairs. And it shows. The wiring harnesses in the engine compartment are neatly clipped into groups as they were when it left the factory. There is some light chipping and scruff marks on the bodywork, but no visible respray. The current owner also intends to maintain the car in its original form without getting in to major restoration.
The car had taken part in many rallies and won two prizes at the Times ‘Great Race’ in 1969 for the Best Maintained Vintage Car and Smartest Vintage Car. At the Veteran Car Club Rally in 1972 it won the prize for the Best Maintained Vintage Car.
Railton cars were very fast with a 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds and at the time were claimed to be the fastest production cars in the world. They were also used by the Scotland Yard Flying Squad.
About Reid Railton
Reid Anthony Railton was born in Alderley Edge, England in 1895 and was an automotive engineer who designed record breaking vehicles for land and water. He died in 1977 in Berkeley, California, USA.
A principal client of Reid Railton was John Cobb, who in his Napier-Railton with an aircraft engine reached a speed of 144 mph at the Brooklands race track. The Napier-Railton set records in 1938, 1939 and 1947, the final record of 394.2 mph stood until 1963. Between 1933 and 1937 John Cobb broke 47 world speed records at Brooklands, Montlhery and Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Malcolm Campbell’s record breaking Blue Bird was also designed by Reid Railton.