Wednesday May 30, 2018
I suspect that for many people their first glimpse of the Triumph Mayflower was not in the metal but in late night re-runs of the 1970 film version of Loot. It is comedy that often prompted two questions – firstly, why is Richard Attenborough overacting so much and secondly what is that small car that he is driving? To which the reply is a) poor direction and b) a Triumph Mayflower.
Some British cars may be best described as ‘bold attempts’ and the Mayflower falls into this category. In 1949, there was a need for a small upmarket saloon that might compete with the likes of the Lanchester LD10 for the ‘retired Major’ sector of the market at home and earn vital hard currency abroad. Sir John Black, the MD of Standard-Triumph, was of the belief that the terms ‘luxurious; and ‘large’ were not synonymous and so there were hopes that the Mayflower would find a home as second car in upmarket US suburbia. After all, the model name could not fail to appeal to a patriotic American motorist while even the bonnet mascot/catch contained a subtle reference to the Pilgrim Fathers.
The Mayflower was launched in October 1949, at a price of £473.10s 7d with Vynide trim or £479 18s 4d for seats finished in leather. When visiting the Earls Court Motor Show The Motor raved about the car on Stand No 142:
“a 1.1/4 litre car with a full four seater two door body of highly original design. So far from competing with very small, cheap cars, the Triumph Mayflower is a notable addition to ranks of the luxury small car and should make an instant appeal.”
The Times was similarly impressed – ‘the whole car is an attractive combination of the merits of modern design with the high quality looked for in British cars’ - and The Financial Times noted that ‘Within a few minutes of the opening of the doors the avenues between the stands were crowded. It was noticed that the initial surge was towards the new Triumph Mayflower’. And then there was the anonymous lady (who should have been played by Joan Greenwood or Coral Browne) who took one look at the Mayflower and utter the memorable phrase ‘oh, how perfectly bloody’.
In terms of engineering, the latest Triumph made logical use of existing S-T components – the transmission was sourced from the Vanguard and the 1,247cc side-valve engine from the pre-war Standard Flying Ten – but it was the company’s first unitary bodied car. That distinctive styling, which resembled a scaled down Triumph 2-Litre, was the creation of Leslie Moore of Mulliners, assisted by Walter Belgrove of Standard, and the result was a two-door saloon that looked both more formal and more upmarket than a Morris Minor MM. As the story goes, Black was advised by Louis Antweiller, Mulliners’ Managing Director that as Rolls-Royce was much respected by Americans so how could a miniature Silver Wraith clone fail to succeed? Unfortunately, the narrative also relates that neither Sir John nor his senior advisors had actually visited the States for themselves.
In the event, production commenced in June 1950 and ended just three years later. The great US motoring writer Tom McCahill thought that ‘this slightly stuffy look, at first glance silly, soon gave it a sort of aloof Country Club appearance’ but too few American motorists wished to invest in a Triumph as alternative to their Buick or Chrysler. In the UK, the Mayflower was praised for its engineering and S-T also built a handful of exceptionally charming drophead coupes - See Video Below The brochure drawing attention to how ‘The facia, finished in colour to match the body, and the polished black instrument panel are in good taste’. Yes, forget ergonomics – taste is the essence of a fine dashboard layout.
S-T’s next small car, the 1953 Eight, was almost defiantly utilitarian but the Mayflower’s spirit lived on in the Herald of 1959. It was a brave, almost quixotic, experiment – and you cannot deny its sense of sheer individualism.