World's Dearest Singer

25 July 2010 : 1935 Singer Nine TT Team Car Sold For £132,000 (sales information from H&H Auctions, England)

Reg Number: AVC 484 | Chassis Number: 62799 | Engine Number: 59745 | Cc: 972 | Body Colour: Brooklands Green | Trim Colour: Dark Green

"Already this year - out of 305 Singers entered in competitions, 246 gained awards, and in addition 9 Team Prizes. In the recent RAC Rally a Singer '9' gained more marks than any other car. And this month, in the gruelling Round-the-Houses Motor Car Race at Bray, Ireland, the Singer 'Nines' won the Feighery Cup, the Team Prize and were the only Team to finish the course. And the 1934 Australian Grand Prix has been won outright by a Singer"

(Singer advertisement, May 1934).

Under the guidance of its Competitions Department Manager F.S. (Stanley) Barnes, the Coventry manufacturer also contested that season's Le Mans 24-hours and Ards Tourist Trophy. The former race saw all three Works entries finish with the two 9hp cars being the first and second sub-1000cc machines home (a performance which enabled them to claim second and third places in the Rudge-Whitworth Cup), while the latter event proved a disappointment despite Singer enlisting the help of Brooklands-based tuning specialists Thompson & Taylor to fettle its trio of Works 1.5 litre entries (the only one left running when the chequered flag fell had completed an insufficient distance to be classified).

For 1935 Singer decided to focus its sports car racing efforts on creating a radical 9hp design with which to contest the Ards Tourist Trophy. The Irish event's ban on supercharged entries and intricate handicapping system made it particularly attractive to Stanley Barnes but he remained committed to the Le Mans 24-hours too. Road registered as 'AVC 481', 'AVC 482', 'AVC 483' and 'AVC 484', the new Singer Nine TT Team Cars utilised a bespoke chassis frame equipped with all-round semi-elliptic leaf-sprung suspension, heavy-duty Andre Hartford friction shock absorbers, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes and an underslung semi-floating rear axle.

Powered by the marque's jewel-like 972cc SOHC four-cylinder engine allied to four-speed close-ratio manual transmission, the quartet were reputedly capable of over 100mph (depending upon gearing). As a nod to contemporary homologation requirements, a brochure was put together to give the impression that facsimiles of the TT Team Cars were going to be made available to the public.

Featuring an artist's rendering of 'AVC 484' on its front cover, this misleading publication confusingly referred to the would-be production model as the Singer Le Mans 'Replica' and quoted a purchase price of £525 (an impressive sum given that a MG PB could be had for £222). Price aside, the specialised nature of the TT Team Cars' construction meant that they would have been ill-suited to an assembly line. Bodied in thin-gauge aluminium alloy over a steel frame, the quartet made extensive use of Elektron castings (sundry engine ancillaries, gearbox casing, rear axle nosepiece) and sat on a chassis which, though it featured box-section side rails and a substantial cruciform brace, was extensively drilled for lightness.

As a result, the TT Team Cars weighed some 4.25 cwt less than a standard 9hp Le Mans (11.5 cwt vs. 15.75 cwt). Stanley Barnes took all four 'AVC' cars to France for the June 15th-16th 1935 Le Mans 24-hours (though, 'AVC 484' only went as a spare). Having set an impressive pace in practice 'AVC 481' and 'AVC 482' succumbed to starter motor problems during the race but Stanley Barnes and Alf Langley nursed an ailing 'AVC 483' to 16th place overall and 2nd-in-class behind the MG K3 of Philippe Maillard-Brune and Charles Druck.

Just over a month later 'AVC 484' was one of three TT Team Cars entered for the LCC Relay Race at Brooklands on July 20th 1935. By averaging 85.13mph over 90 laps (with a fastest flying lap of 89mph), the Singers not only won the race outright but also lifted the MG Challenge Trophy and Wakefield Cup.

Spirits were understandably high ahead of the September 7th 1935 Tourist Trophy race with Barnes opting to run all four TT Team Cars; the first and last time that the quartet would compete together. Allocated to Alf Langley (Car Number 35, 'AVC 483'), J.D. (Donald) Barnes (Car Number 36, 'AVC 481'), S.C.H. (Sammy) Davis (Car Number 37, 'AVC 484') and Norman Black (Car Number 38, 'AVC 482'), the Singers failed scrutineering after it was discovered that their steering gear layout had yet to appear on a production model. Hurriedly modified by the marque's Belfast agent, the 'AVC' cars were cleared to race.

Recalling the day's events some fourteen years later in 'A Racing Motorist - His Adventures at Wheel in War and Peace', Sammy Davis wrote:

"And then, very swiftly it seemed, a flag dropped, ten starters 'wowled', the engines woke to life, and off we went in the usual uproar, with clouds of smoke and each car almost bumping off the others in close company. Team orders were that Norman ran his own race with the fourth car, free from limitations, and then came the other three - mine, Langley's and Donald Barnes'.We all swung beautifully round Mill Corner and, accelerating hard, got by the White Adlers and two of the Fiats, then sliding a bit on the top turn, settled down. And immediately we got involved in a world's record dog-fight, ffrench Davis' Fiat, Norman, myself and Langley, all in one group so compact that they could have been covered with a carpet. Three abreast we had to get round corners, and whenever a car used the footpath from Newtownards to Comber, up came a huge cloud of stinging dust through which we drove blind hoping the cars were straight". Poor visibility notwithstanding, Davis found that Car Number 37 ('AVC 484') "was very easy to drive, it took a bit of holding just after a turn, but otherwise let you relax entirely, so there was no feeling of fatigue at all, just a general sense of great enjoyment".

In a successful attempt to dispatch ffrench Davis' Fiat, the only class rival keeping pace with the Singer team, Davis briefly ran his engine up to 5,500 rpm (some 700 revs above Stanley Barnes' suggested rev limit). The powerplant seemed undamaged by the extra load and Davis was circulating faster than ever when Car Number 37 succumbed to the same steering gear failure as Car Number 35 and Car Number 38; Car Number 36 was withdrawn shortly thereafter on safety grounds. The incident was clearly traceable to the last minute modifications insisted on by the scrutineers but with three of the TT Team Cars crashing out on the same corner, Bradshaw's Brae, and Davis' machine ending up atop Black's, the Singers' misfortune all but overshadowed Freddie Dixon's victory.

Thankfully none of the drivers were injured and as Davis commented:

"At first sight number 37 seemed pretty bad, even as wrecked cars go, and some perisher had pinched my Christopher plaque, which was the sort of thing to drive one to a cold fury, for it meant a lot to me and absolutely nothing to the souvenir hunter. But, as a matter of fact, though the body was beyond repair, the chassis was none too bad, and there was just hope that we might have another run together some time in the future".

Eager to minimise the ensuing negative publicity, Singer closed its Competition Department at the end of the season; a move which prompted Stanley Barnes to begin working for Autosports Ltd full-time. A joint venture between the Barnes brothers, the North Worcestershire-based Autosports outfit wasted little time in purchasing the four TT Team Cars together with their associated spares.

Enjoying a degree of tacit Works support, the Barnes brothers continued to campaign the rejuvenated 'AVC' racers at a variety of high-profile meetings. For 'AVC 484' the highlights of its time with the Autosports equipe were the 1937 Le Mans 24-hours and 1937 Donington Tourist Trophy. Driven by G.H. Boughton and F.H. Lye, it dropped out of the French enduro with faulty ignition but a little less than three months later Norman Black helmed the alligator-tailed two-seater to a fine 6th place overall at the TT (the little Singer finishing ahead of Arthur Dobson's Riley TT Sprite and H.J. Aldington's BMW 328).

At the end of the 1938 season 'AVC 484' and its three siblings were finally relinquished into 'private hands'. Acquired by the partnership of Arthur W. Jones and motoring writer Gordon Wilkins, the Singer found itself competing in a mixture of national and international events. As if being rewarded for its persistence, the TT Team Car was piloted by Jones and Wilkins to 18th overall (4th-in-class) at the 1939 Le Mans 24-hours and even managed a strong 8th place overall (1st-in-class) at the Crystal Palace Plate Handicap race that same year. Wilkins assumed sole ownership during the course of World War Two and in January 1946 he sold 'AVC 484' to Mr William of Halesowen, Birmingham.

Thereafter, the Singer migrated to Edinburgh and the custodianship of Roy Mitchell Esq (March 1947), garagiste John Brown Esq (August 1948) and Bentley expert Ian Cunningham Esq (July 1949). The latter restarted the Singer's competition career by entering it for the Midlothian Sporting Car Club's 1949 Sand Races. This meeting held on the West Sands at St Andrews was apparently the first motorsport event to be held in Scotland post WW2.

The TT Team Car took to the West Sands again the following year too but by then it belonged to Tom Leggett Esq who in turn sold the racer to A. McCourtney Esq of Barrhead for the princely sum of £450 in July 1951. McCourtney gave himself something of a scare while piloting 'AVC 484' at the Bo'ness hillclimb and subsequently had Jim Morrison of Camelon, Falkirk campaign it on his behalf at a variety of venues including Winfield and reputedly Charterhall.

The car's next keeper was McCourtney's nephew F. Champion Esq of Leigh, Lancashire. He gained charge of the Singer in April 1957 and looked after it for six years prior to fellow Leigh residents Miss J Brown and J.E. Anthony Barclay Esq taking possession in May and October 1963 respectively. Mr Barclay wrote to Motor Sport magazine in late 1963 / 1964 seeking more information on the car and put pen to paper again during 1972 when 'The Adventure of the Ill-Fated Singers' was being discussed by various correspondents.

Alongside a photo of himself sitting atop the TT Team Car he included the following account:

"Acquired is a good descriptive word here - I did a straight swap for a 1936/7 Austin Ruby that cost me precisely nothing! How about that for a bargain - a Works sports / racing car for free! Anyway, I did a quick bit of rebuilding and used the car for everyday transport and, believe me, this was fun. My car had, I think, an ENV back axle with Brooklands ratios: 40mph in 1st, 60 in 2nd, 80 in 3rd and a speed (at Brooklands) of 103mph. To try and drive this in Manchester city traffic was not the easiest of things to do.On the open road this car gave me the most fun I've had in years. The whine of straight-cut gears, bags of fresh air and really superb steering and road holding. There is absolutely no comparison between the normal everyday Singer Le Mans and the Team Cars. Each one reputedly cost Singers in the region of £10,000 to develop and run for a season and each one was hand built . . . Chassis number on mine was 62799 and I finally sold the car to a gentleman who promised to rebuild it to as new condition".

The gentleman referred to in the letter was Alan Salem Esq of Sale, Cheshire who got as far as refurbishing the chassis frame, axles, brakes, springs and shock absorbers before business commitments prompted him to sell 'AVC 484' to the vendor in 1969. Mothballed for over thirty years, the partially dismantled TT Team Car was finally entrusted to Ian Blackburn, proprietor of The Singer 9 Workshop and technical advisor to the Singer Owners Club, during 2000.

As a precautionary measure after thirty years of storage the chassis was checked for alignment and repainted, while the rear axle gained hard chromed / ground half-shafts. The brake drums had previously been relined but were augmented by a rejuvenated master cylinder and wheel cylinders. The handbrake mechanism received attention too as did the Bishop Cam steering gear.

The original engine was overhauled with the assistance of Dave Hardwick, Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire (new counterbalanced steel crankshaft), Tony Leslie, Herstmonceux, East Sussex (new high compression pistons / piston rings) and Brunts of Silverdale, Newcastle, Staffordshire (block crack / pressure tested, rebored, new liners, remetalled bearings). Fed by twin 1.25 inch SU carburettors and utilising coil rather than magneto ignition, the four-cylinder unit has been converted to run on unleaded fuel and further benefits from the adoption of a two-bladed cooling fan and replacement radiator core.

The latter was fabricated to an original pattern by Oldham Radiators Ltd; the same firm being responsible for repairing / testing the top and bottom tanks. Treated to new seals and bearings but otherwise judged to be in rude health, the close-ratio gearbox was one of the last components to be added to the by then rolling chassis before its appearance at the Singer Owners Club's Millennium Rally during June 2000.

Tasked with restoring the racer's bodywork, Michael Sharpe of Mickleover, Derby discovered that electrolytic corrosion and general wear and tear had left the 1930s sheetmetal in a perilous state. Rather than risk damaging the thin-gauge aluminium alloy any further by welding, he opted to replace it in its entirety (though, almost all the seventy plus year old panelling has been preserved and accompanies the car should a future custodian wish to remount it on an additional support structure).

By contrast the equally aged steel body frame required little more than some corrective welding and straightening. Pleasingly, existing bodywork fittings were refurbished and reused including hinges and the quick-release bonnet-strap over-centre clips. In the interests of safety, the vendor had Michael Sharpe fabricate a full-length aluminium propshaft tunnel and rear bulkhead to separate the driver from the 15-gallon fuel tank. Thanks to Archie Linton's generosity in allowing 'AVC 483' - the most original of the TT Team Cars - to be exhaustively photographed, details such as the aforementioned fuel tank were replicated with a high degree of authenticity.

Repainted in a close approximation of its original mid-green livery by Dialstone Motors and sporting a new engine-turned aluminium dashboard stocked with Patrick Henry overhauled gauges, 'AVC 484' further benefited from the ministrations of Rockhall Auto Electrics, Hayfield. Carrying halogen bulbs, its double-dip headlamps are complimented by restored side lamps and flashing indicators. While to the interior Michael Sharpe repaired two original seat frames which were then reupholstered in green hide by David Beswick Coach Trimmers of Mickleover, Derby. With the addition of such finishing touches as a black tonneau cover and twin aeroscreens work was completed in October 2002.

Since then the TT Team Car has attended various Singer Owners Club meetings, made frequent trips to Shropshire, participated in the Ards 75th Anniversary Celebrations (2003), graced The Automobile magazine's front cover (March 2006) and visited the Le Mans Classic (2008).

Describing the racer as being in "very good" condition with regard to its engine, gearbox, electrical equipment, interior trim, bodywork and paintwork, the vendor adds that:

"Performance is excellent and roadholding superb due in no small part to the stiffness. The downside of that is the hard ride and yet it is not uncomfortable over long distances. It took a little time to get used to the straight-cut crash gearbox. Now it is easy to use, except for engaging first gear from a standing start, the reason being that there is no clutch stop which necessitates easing it into first gear rather gingerly. Initially, I found the car rather high geared using the 4.77:1 final drive ratio in its 'Brooklands' differential unit, especially on steep hills. I have now installed a new 4.89:1 crown wheel and pinion which is housed in its own differential unit sourced by Ian Blackburn because I wanted to keep the original assembly intact. Certainly, the car is now more tractable for normal road use, noticeably so on inclines".

As well as the replacement differential, post restoration fettling has seen Chisbon Restorations of Colchester work on the engine (cylinder head overhaul and new pistons etc, December 2008), while Western Coachworks Ltd were responsible for crafting a new petrol tank (May 2008). Riding on wire wheels, this historic Singer Nine TT Team Car is offered for sale with continuation buff logbook, handwritten ownership record, V5C Registration Document, current MOT certificate, VSCC Standard Class Eligibility Document (non-transferable), assorted correspondence dating from the 1950s / 1960s, various copy magazine articles (including several featuring 'AVC 484'), three photo albums (historic TT Team Car images, detail shots of 'AVC 483', restoration images of 'AVC 484'), sundry 9hp service / maintenance manuals, numerous restoration invoices, 1930s bodywork, overhauled Scintilla Vertex magneto and associated drive gear plus several boxes of spares (details of which can be supplied on request).

Eligible for a host of prestigious events, 'AVC 484' boasts a rich and fascinating history. Little wonder that Gordon Wilkins referred to it as the 'Meistersinger'.