The ex-Works, Irish Tourist Trophy, Brooklands 'Double Twelve', George Field, Dudley Froy 1931 Invicta 4½-Litre S-Type 'Low Chassis' Sports Coachwork by Cadogan Registration no. GK 8263 Chassis no. S39
'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 Invicta Company's origins go back to the year 1924 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 an exemplary standard. 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 1933, though a handful of cars was assembled at the company' service depot in Flood Street, Chelsea between 1934 and 1936. In all, its is estimated that approximately 1,000-or-so Invictas of all types were made.
Apart from a handful of 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 factory-backed around-the-world trip by lady drivers Violette Cordery (Macklin's sister-in-law) and Eleanor Simpson in chassis number 'LC134'.
Launched at the 1930 Motor Show at Olympia, the S-type featured an all new '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-revving engines it delivered ample torque in the lower and middle speed ranges. Indeed, the Invicta can be throttled down to 6-8mph in top gear - despite its relatively high 3.6:1 final drive ratio - and will then accelerate rapidly and without complaint when the accelerator is depressed. Contemporary motoring press reports typically recorded acceleration figures of 10-70mph in 19 seconds, which speaks volumes for the Invicta's legendary flexibility.
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 a substantial mileage 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/Simpson 3-litre Invicta having driven around the world only two years previously, under RAC observation, with no failure apart from a broken half-shaft, which occurred while crossing Australia, it was not considered necessary to prove the S-type by subjecting it to similar examinations. Although there was a limited racing programme, the company's main effort focussed on proving the cars by entering the most challenging 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 car left the Cobham factory, approximately 68 of the 75-or-so S-types built 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'.
Believed bodied by Cadogan, chassis number 'S39', registered 'GK 8263', was kept by the Works and raced extensively by various drivers including George Field, Dudley Froy and Major F H Cairnes during 1931, 1932 and 1933. Driven by Messrs Field and Froy in the 1931 Brooklands 'Double Twelve', the car encountered engine problems and was even fitted with a new set of pistons during the race, but was still expected to maintain an average speed of 99mph. The car did actually finish the race, despite the various issues.
'S39' was then out again soon afterwards for the 1931 Irish 'Tourist Trophy', and the Invicta received praise for even being there, after the extremely hard use it had in the 'Double Twelve'. Sadly it retired on lap 27 with engine problems. However, considering how very hard these cars were driven, it is not surprising that the engines did not always last the length of the race and had to be changed.
Also during 1931, the car won the 'Long Mountain Handicap' at Brooklands, recording 100.26mph, driven by George Field. It competed in numerous other races at Brooklands, before eventually being sold in late 1933 to a Mr Morgan. He immediately started to use it again at Brooklands, and entered no fewer than six races at his first meeting (he must have thought that number of races would be a good way to get to know the car). Morgan carried on competing with the Invicta until he sold it in 1937 to R M Blomfield who also raced at Brooklands and competed with it at the newly established Prescott hill climb.
After World War 2, 'S39' changed hands, passing to John 'Jack' Marsh in either late 1949 or early 1950. Jack was a serious competitor and raced the ex-TT Invicta extensively for many years at venues such as Silverstone and Goodwood, etc. He also used it for hill climbs and ran the car several times in the special Invicta Class at Prescott during the late 1950s/early 1960s. Jack Marsh eventually sold the car in the mid-1980s to the immediately preceding owner, a marque specialist, who also competed with it at Silverstone, Prescott, etc and also displayed it at Brooklands for the 'Double Twelve' reunion event. Since its relatively recent acquisition by the current owner the car has formed part of his private collection of important Invicta motor cars in Germany.
'S39' is pictured more than once in the Profile Publications volume 'The 4.5-Litre S-Type Invicta' by J R Buckley, from which much of the foregoing information has been drawn. One of these photographs depicts George Field at Brooklands behind the wheel of a 'Low Chassis' model, believed to be this car, with Violette Cordery in the passenger's seat. Bonhams would also like to thank Jo Moss Kitcher of the Invicta Car Club for her assistance in preparing this description.
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.