'AFN Ltd were certainly living up to their reputation for building anything that the customer wanted, and perhaps even built things the customer didn't want, but bought just the same...' Denis Jenkinson, 'From Chain Gang to Turbocharger'.
One of only 14 Frazer Nash Targa Florios made, this particular car is arguably the most important, having been raced at the 1953 Sebring 12 Hours endurance classic by the Briggs Cunningham team. The model was named in honour of Franco Cortese's famous victory in the 1951 running of the eponymous Sicilian long-distance classic driving a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, the only occasion a British manufacturer won the race. It is worth noting that the Le Mans Replica was so called following the 3rd place overall achieved at the eponymous French endurance classic in 1949 by a High Speed model.
The Frazer Nashes of the late 1930s had been re-badged BMWs (parent company AFN Ltd were the official importers) but after WW2 the firm returned to producing the kind of uncompromising, competition-orientated sports car that had forged its reputation in the 'chain gang' era of the 1920s. Frazer Nash had used a variety of different proprietary engines in pre-war days and when production proper resumed in 1948 it was with Bristol power units, a particularly appropriate choice given the latter's BMW origins.
Introduced in 1952, the Targa Florio replaced the Mille Miglia model and used the new parallel-tube chassis frame around which was wrapped a beautiful full-width alloy body. The chassis boasted rack-and-pinion steering, torsion bar rear suspension and twin-leading-shoe brakes, while the 1,971cc six-cylinder engine came in either Gran Sport (120bhp) or Turismo (100bhp) variants, either of which was good for 110mph-plus.
Chassis number '421/200/175' was displayed at the 1952 London Motor Show alongside the company's Austin-engined prototype, and like many such show cars was built to a specification superior to that of the standard production model, though as the Frazer Nash was essentially a bespoke product there were, inevitably, many differences between individual examples. The accompanying copy of its entry in the AFN Archives shows that the car was completed with the lightweight (18swg) body, lightened wheels and brakes, lightweight Marston oil cooler and Hinduminium mainshaft housings, while the original colour scheme is given as Valentine Blue San Remo (French Racing Blue). Fourth completed and the second sold, this car was bought off the stand by famous American millionaire gentleman racing driver and team owner, Briggs Cunningham, and shipped to the USA aboard RMS Queen Mary on 28th December 1952. Its destination was Alfred Momo's premises in New York City where Cunningham had his competition cars prepared.
The Frazer Nash was entered in the 1953 Sebring 12 Hours race, held on 8th March that year, taking over entry number '58' that had been intended for one of its owner's Cunningham C4R Competition models. Driven by Messrs Bennett and Moran, the Frazer Nash completed 28 laps before retiring. The race was won by another Cunningham entry, the C4R driven by Walters/Finch.
Ownership records on file show that the Frazer Nash's next owner was one of the Sebring drivers, Charles Moran. New Yorker Charles Moran Jnr was president of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) in 1954/55 and bought several cars from Cunningham over the years. In 1954 he fitted wire wheels and over the next coupe of years raced the Frazer Nash at various SCCA events and venues including Watkins Glen, Montgomery, Cumberland and Westover.
The car's next known owners were (in order) Verlon Praden and Edward Osbourne, who purchased it in the 1980s. Mr Osbourne had the car shipped back to the UK where it was totally rebuilt by recognised specialists for his own use, being fitted with a new body by Smith & Cave in the process. The next owner listed (from July 1986) is one Bill Roberts of Reading, followed by David Hargreaves of Surrey (from 1995). The car has been registered as 'TYJ 999' from 1994 and since its return to the UK has been campaigned in relatively 'gentle' forms of historic competition including the VSCC's Pomeroy Trophy and Shelsley Walsh hill climb.
John Coombs purchased the Frazer Nash at auction in the UK in September 2011, since when it has been prepared and repainted by his team headed by Barry Beeson, who has worked at the John Coombs Motor Garages for over 25 years. Shortly after acquisition, the engine lost oil pressure when hot so a full rebuild was undertaken. This included a new crankshaft, con-rods, shell bearings and piston rings, together with full balancing, valves reground, carburettors overhauled and a modification to incorporate a timing chain tensioner. The body was treated to a bare metal re-spray at the same time but unfortunately this is now showing signs of micro-blisters, etc, possibly resulting from contaminated paint. The interior was completely re trimmed at the same time. The car was then set up and has seen very little use, covering fewer than 500 miles since restoration, which included a trip with John to the Goodwood Revival meeting in 2012. Accompanying documentation consists of a Swansea V5C document and an MoT that expired earlier this year, though the car's age means that it is now exempt from testing
'TYJ 999' retains its original Gran Sport specification Bristol engine, overdrive gearbox, Austin rear axle, lightweight brakes, Marston oil cooler and rear suspension adjustable for ride height. Other noteworthy features include dual-circuit braking and wet weather equipment, making it useable for touring as well as competition.
It could be argued that Frazer Nash's reputation is scarcely justified based on the number of cars built. However, it is greatly to the firm's credit that despite a lack of resources it achieved so much in international competition in the immediately post-war years. This well documented Targa Florio model affords the opportunity for the discerning collector to acquire part of the legend.