A Century for the Singer
It is always nice when your pride and joy reaches a landmark moment, old enough for a free tax disc or the milometer starts back at zero miles but a rare treat must be 100 years old. With my passion for anything Pre-War, when David Ralph contacted me with the details of his 1914 Edwardian Singer 10HP, I jumped at the chance to meet man and machine in Crawley.
Founded in 1874 the Singer Company was one of many bicycle producers that diversified into motorbikes and then onto four wheels. George Singer launched the ‘10’ at the London Motor Show in 1912; the small economy car became an instant success with the looks and features of the much larger and vastly more expensive alternatives. The all new 1100cc 4 cylinder engine (cylinders cast as pairs) with a 3 speed gearbox (inside the rear axle) was the first of the ‘mini or baby cars’ and could be yours for £185.00. One time Singer apprentice William Rootes started his own car agency in 1913 and reportedly purchased the first year’s supply of the Singer 10; later in 1956 the Rootes Group took over Singer and kept the brand alive until 1970.
For David Ralph a car of this vintage is where he likes to be, memories of standing by his garden gate as a young boy watching the Veteran Car Run pass every November was a highlight of the year. He is a restorer of the very highest standard; mostly self-taught but complemented by the natural skills passed down from his engineer father, a forty year passion shows no sign of diminishing. I browsed through a book of vehicles he and his brother have restored over the years, everything from Veteran cars to Green Line Buses. In 2011 a chance phone call from a friend about the value of a Singer 10 in need of some restoration brought the two together; it was the car of David’s dreams, a search that actually started in the 1990s. The ‘10’ was in Billingshurst, Sussex and once the deal had been struck David drove the car the sixteen miles home to Crawley. Armed with an impressive pile of paperwork nearly all of the cars history could be traced back.
The car was built in early 1914 and remarkably the selling dealer’s plaque is still attached to the solid wood dash. W M Osborne of Piccadilly would have registered the car LL2879 just as the world was plunged into the ‘war to end all wars’ and with no records available from this time the car reappears in Norfolk in 1936, a display piece for The Norwich Motor Company, at the time a Singer Dealer. When the dealership gave up the Singer franchise (coincidentally replaced by Rootes Group cars) the owner Mr Olorenshaw loaned the ‘10’ to Singer for them to display at their headquarters in Coventry. In 1961 the Montague Motor Museum opened in Brighton and this became the cars new home for nearly a decade, appearing regularly on cigarette and post cards and also on the front cover of Veteran and Vintage magazine in 1965. The ‘10’ returned to Norwich after the museum closed and remained in storage until 1976 when they finally released the car to a private buyer in Manchester. It went across to Ireland then returned to Northampton then Essex in 2002 ending up in West Sussex via Hampshire in 2009.
Bringing the car home in May 2011 should have been a joyous occasion but David’s mother was seriously ill and in fact passed away the following week. With other things on his mind the Singer was locked away for a while and restoration work didn’t begin in earnest until September. A week’s holiday and time to strip the car down, starting on Tuesday by Thursday the body was parted from the chassis, engine out Friday and by Saturday lunch time the chassis was down to just a pair of rails. The full restoration is far too comprehensive to cover here but needless to say every part of the car was refurbished and working as it should including a full strip down of the engine, leaf spring suspension and brakes. Stopping this age of vehicle can be an enlightening experience, rear wheel brakes only. The drums are cast steel with two separate brake shoe operations in one, foot brake shoes against the outer edge and inside the smaller handbrake shoes. The brake shoes are cast iron, no asbestos or lining just metal against metal thus they tend to squeal but they do work and work well. By Christmas 2011 with all the running gear restored it was time to begin the rebuild and by New Year’s Day the final parts to complete the rolling chassis, the radiator and headlights were installed, just the body to do. With the worst of the weather gone at the end of February 2012 the body work began, under layers of nearly 100 years of paint the original blue colour saw daylight. The body was remarkably rust free and the floor boards were number stamped originals that David was able to save. Small dents and slight ripples in the metal were dealt with and Atlantic Blue enamel was placed onto several coats of primer, all by hand not a spray gun in sight. Flatted back the second coat of blue applied and the finish is amazing, it deceives the eye as it looks like a good spray finish not one from a brush. The hood cover was replaced and the roof held in place with leather straps to the front wings, David purchased the fabric, made and completed the covering in just 8 hours (I doubt if I could do it in 8 weeks) and fitted to the frame in another three. July 2012, the Singer 10 now known as ‘Bluebelle’ was completed and what a stunning achievement she is. One question I thought to ask ‘Have you had problems getting parts’, no was the surprising reply, ‘no problem because there aren’t any! You just have to make them yourself’ was David’s response. A stable of five beautiful machines travelling to meetings, runs and shows they get around 3000 miles of use between them each year.
The biggest surprise of the day for me was how well the Singer drove; brisk off the line and once up to speed David negotiated the country lanes with some ‘gusto’. The car responded well to being driven firmly, not easy to adapt to for the novice, accelerator the centre of the three pedals, plenty of double-de-clutching up and down the three speed box, all second nature to the man
behind the wheel; I just enjoyed the drive. Up the steepest hills was a bit of a struggle and down-hill topping out between 35-40mph although it seemed much faster.
How I would love to see a greater number of these very early cars at regular car shows, some struggle to get many pre-war machines let alone pre WW1 cars but that’s a debate for another day. I was lucky enough to have a great time with David Ralph’s superb Singer 10, built just before the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 ‘Bluebelle’ looks and goes beautifully today, a fine machine and a great experience for me.
Why a 1914 Singer?
Custodian David Ralph shares his thoughts on owning and driving a Pre War Singer 10 on today’s roads.
I have always had a keen interest in early vehicles which stemmed from watching the various London to Brighton Runs which passed the family home. Veteran cars, historic commercials and pioneer motorcycles were all highlights of the year from a very early age. The desire to take part in these runs led me to buy a vintage lorry on my 20th birthday which I then completely restored. Since then I have owned over 30 early vehicles. Cars, vans, commercials even a bus. For my 40th birthday I purchased my first veteran car, a 1903 Humber. It has always been the very early vehicles that have interested me as these are extremely rewarding to drive. Vintage cars are not difficult to drive but do demand far more involvement and concentration. Many people are frightened of double-declutching but this technique is quickly mastered and soon becomes second-nature. It is hugely satisfying to master a crash gearbox. The Singer 10 is very different from classic cars with its centre throttle pedal and unusual gear selection layout. But the Singer is easy to drive and it is a real pleasure to be driving such an early and historic car. Anyone interested in vintage car ownership should talk to owners at car shows as they will be only too willing to offer advice and even a ride.
Singer 10 Specification
Engine: 4 cylinders cast in pairs 1096cc 10 HP
Gearbox: Three forward 1 reverse no synchromesh
Ignition: Bosch high tension magneto
Brakes: Rear only independent hand or foot operation
Length: 10ft 6in
Cost New: £195.00/£204.15s with electric lights
House prices in 1914 were in between £1000 and £4000 but you only paid 3d for a pint of beer (80 pints for £1!). Average wages prior to WW1 were around 30 shillings valued at about £14 today; it took a lot of saving to afford a Singer 10, a car that was considered great value for money. Present day and cars like David’s do not come up for sale very often and usually change hands via word of mouth although they are occasionally seen on the pages of your regular classic car publication. The oldest I have seen advertised recently were 1920s vehicles but to get an idea David would not expect his stunning Singer to change hands for less than £25k with a top end price of £35k.
Singer Cars Early Moments
George Singer already an accomplished engineer set up his own bicycle manufacturing business in 1875, creating a variety of new designs he was to patent the curved front forks which is still on virtually every bike produced today.
Always keen to promote good relations with his workforce George Singer encouraged social and sporting activities outside of work including cycling, rugby, athletics, cricket and the ‘Singers’ Football Team which became Coventry City FC in 1898.
Just prior to World War 1 a Singer agent in South Kensington run by a Lionel Martin converted a Singer 10 Sedan into a rather quick ‘Singer Special’ which (Cornishman) Lionel took first place in the hill-climb event at Aston Clinton near Aylesbury. Customers loved the little special, so with financial help from Robert Bamford, Martin built his 2nd, this one using a Coventry-Simples engine mounted on an Italian Isotta Fraschini chassis. He combined his motorsport success and with his name and the Aston Martin was born.
Singer became the first manufacturer to cover 60 miles in one hour on a 350cc machine in 1912. This took place at Brooklands with the renowned rider George E (the Wizard) Stanley in the hot seat.