A Doretti Reborn - NBC 742 Chassis No.1200
by Peter Lockley
The Swallow Doretti is a British sports car built by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company of Walsall.
It consists of Standard-Triumph TR3 mechanicals in a chassis built by Tube Investments, clothed in glass fibre bodywork.
The Doretti was designed by Frank Rainbow, a very competent and experienced engineer, who had worked for many years as a senior engineer at the Bristol Aircraft Company.
It was named after Dorothy Dean who provided a lot of the energy that made the Doretti and Triumph sports cars a major success on the American west coast.
About 290 Dorettis were built, around one-third of which survive or have been rebuilt.
As they are powered by Standard built components, Dorettis qualify for membership of the Standard Motor Club.
This story was originally published in two parts on the Swallow Doretti Pages and the TR Register's "TR Action"
I gratefully acknowledge their permission to publish it here. The article has now been illustrated and combined for ease of reading.
The Standard 8 is not really the car to take to Coys Historic Festival at Silverstone, but I exhibited mine on the stand of my local car club, the Midland Vehicle Preservation Society, in 1998, and thus came across the Swallow Doretti Register display, where there was a rather bent, incomplete example of a Doretti for sale. This was NBC 742, Chassis No.1200.
The vendor's son will make a good car salesman one day. I was taken in, but I took more notice of my friend, Maurice Ford, who was with me. With a pedigree comprising Raymond Mays (ERA and BRM), Rootes experimental, Leyland etc., I decided Maurice knew what he was talking about and he'd have to restore it.
Little did I realise that the vendor had probably given up after taking on what was described at the Rabagliati auction as "a straightforward restoration" and that Maurice's ulterior motive was a dry run for a later project. A week later I phoned the vendor, reduced the price and did the deal - to include a donor car, RLL 280 (Chassis No.1160). The car was duly delivered at my home on a trailer behind a Transit van but there was no sign of the donor car until a heap of scrap steel and aluminium was unloaded from the back of the van.
For a few weeks, my garage took on the appearance of an autojumbler's store until Maurice took NBC 742 to his workshop in Leamington Spa.
The car was soon reduced to a bare chassis, which was surprisingly sound with the exception of the outriggers and far superior to the chassis of the donor car, which was broken and rusty.
By this time I'd started to research the car's history. The DVLA were not a great deal of help; they revealed only one previous owner, Shirley Packard, who I decided was possibly the only owner of the car until it entered the Rabagliati collection. I decided she was probably an attractive young woman in her sports car in the 50's. "She" was in fact a retired octogenarian male car dealer from Sheffield, now living in Norfolk.
More successful were my enquiries at Leicester County Records Office as "BC" is a Leicester registration. They sent me a copy of their registration records, I rang directory enquiries and within a few minutes, I was talking to the first owner, still working as a builder in Leicester. He's now been over to see the car and provided me with some priceless original photos which show that the car had changed from white to red in colour, from steel to wire wheels and had lost its interior.
A press cutting explained everything. Soon after the builder had sold the car in the early 60's to a friend of his it had been involved in a serious smash when a Mark 10 Jaguar jumped the lights at Gibbet Hill cross-roads, near Warwick University, only six or seven miles from my home. It was towed to a garage in Coventry where there was a petrol tank fire, which explains the patch on the tank, the lack of an interior and the fibreglass rear wings. The builder last saw the car some years later being driven around Leicester by some students.
The engine was well worn on NBC 742 and this leads me on to the donor car, RLL 280, the front half of the only Mk I Doretti coupe. I did not acquire the rear half of the body, which is safely preserved in Scotland. Whoever had attempted to restore RLL 280 had started on the engine, number TS 315 FR, which has on it a lovely Standard-Triumph plate showing that it was reconditioned in 1959. The engine had new bearings, reground crank, new pistons and liners and a head so skimmed as to be scrap. The engine now has the head from the engine of NBC 742 (which was not the original engine from that car) and a rocker cover and timing chain cover from a Phase 3 Standard Vanguard which I had at home (they were less rusty than the original items).
Not NBC 742, but the Doretti prototype seen at Walsall Aerodrome, with Supermarine Seafires (the naval version of the Spitfire), in the background for repairs or upgrades at Helliwells, an aviation business based there that was later absorbed into the Tube Investments group.
The front plate of the engine of RLL 280 was cracked (a relic of a smash at Brands Hatch many years ago, which wrote the car off) and so that from NBC 742's engine was used. The whole was painted in metallic blue engine paint, the usual Standard-Triumph colour for reconditioned engines, with a black rocker cover and ancillaries. The rear axle of RLL 280 was used as it had steel wheel hubs and it was my intention to restore NBC 742 to its original condition with steel wheels.
The front nearside hub was a big problem as the nearside front suspension was missing in its entirety from the donor car as a result of the Brands Hatch crash. I acquired an identical Triumph Mayflower front hub from a Standard Motor Club member.
The steering wheel, horn push and steering box of NBC 742 were all in good order save for a missing stator tube which was intact on RLL 280.
Both gearboxes were in good order but neither had an overdrive. A TR2 owner provided one with a Triumph 2000 A-type and with a Vanguard rear casing and new mainshaft supplied by a person recommended by Manvers Triumph, I had an overdrive conversion.
The remaining mechanical parts, which required renewal, came largely from Moss, TRGB, the TR Shop and various autojumbles.
It only remained to bend two new outriggers to original specification and the chassis was then shot-blasted and powder-coated and was ready for reassembly.
NBC 742 now had four replacement steel wheels in body colour and was a complete rolling chassis. All I needed now was a decent body. I had acquired two front body tubs. That on NBC 742 was badly bent at the front and totally bodged up and patched. That which came with RLL 280 was straight and so cannot have belonged to the car, but was un-patched and Maurice's preferred option for repair. NBC 742's rear body tub was equally badly bodged but would have to do as RLL 280 came without a rear end.
I acquired one good straight aluminium front offside wing with RLL 280 along with a bent nearside one. The front wings of NBC were badly bent, riveted and full of filler. The front of the front shroud of RLL was very bent but the back will have to be welded to the rear of the front shroud of NBC 742 as the rear of that shroud had been cut back at some time to take a plywood dashboard. RLL 280 had a correct aluminium dash, albeit a little battered.
I found an autojumbler at Yeovil Festival of Transport who had two aluminium rear wings to replace NBC's fibreglass ones. In an exchange deal with Ken Yankey, I subsequently acquired a better pair by trading RLL 280's chassis and some other parts for a straight bonnet to replace my bent example, a windscreen top bar and a number plate plinth.
I had one decent boot lid and rear shroud. All I needed now was a hood, hood frame and some decent Doretti seats, which are unlike any others, along with a lot of patience as the body went together.
Peter Lockley continues with Part 2 of the Story.
I was very surprised to realize that the first part of this restoration article was originally published in the March/April 1999 edition of TR Action magazine. The article dealt with the restoration of the car up to the rolling chassis stage and at that time I was blissfully unaware that this was the easy part of the job. Indeed the rest of the rebuild was to raise so many headaches for my restorer Maurice Ford that he confessed to me that at one stage he was ready to give up the job altogether.
Mechanically the Doretti is essentially TR2 components mounted on a strong tubular chassis (the tubular construction is hardly surprising when Swallow's parent company at the time was the giant Tube Investments group). The steering column and box differ but this was not a problem as they were amongst the few sound parts on the original car. The engine is set further back in the chassis and the wheelbase is longer making the handling of a Doretti better than a TR2. All the mechanical parts we needed were available from TR specialists and no undue problems arose.
Maurice started on the bodywork with the front body tub. We had two to choose from, one from the original car NBC 742 (No.1200) and one from the donor car RLL 280 (No.1160). Surprisingly the tub from the donor car was in marginally better condition. It was straighter and only had body rot in about the bottom six inches despite having collided with a telegraph pole at Brands Hatch whilst racing in the late 50s and then spending the rest of its life in a scrapyard. The lower eight inches of the original tub was rusted away and it also showed serious evidence of a front end shunt.
The letting in of new metal at the bottom of the wheel arches and the side panels of the tub caused no real difficulties and the front tub was soon mounted on the car with the aluminium dashboard fitted in place. This was also from the donor car as the original car had a dash formed from a piece of old laminated sideboard with an aperture for a TR2 instrument panel cut into it. Fortunately, the donor car's original dashboard straightened out fairly well and now has a vinyl covering. I managed to source a Doretti instrument panel from Protek Engineering at Wallingford.
Restoration of the rear body tub was a different matter to the front section. There was no option of using the rear end of RLL 280 because it wasn't with the car. It was once the only Mark I Doretti Coupe and Duncan Rabagliati had sold the rear end elsewhere. The original car's rear tub was so rotten that the only part Maurice reused was the boot lid aperture lip. The boot floor was in a reasonable state and could have been reused but it has a mound in the centre upon which the spare wheel rests taking up virtually the whole of the boot. We decided on a modification to a flat floor with the spare wheel offset thereby giving space in the boot for a couple of overnight bags with space for a few tools in the centre of the spare wheel. Maurice himself made all the new parts for the rear tub with the help of machinery in the workshop of his then neighbour Norman who at one time was involved in the designing and building of Thwaites Dumpers in Leamington. The only parts where Maurice needed help was in respect of the rear wheel arches which were made by a local engineering firm that had a wheeling machine. The rear tub was soon welded together and on the car and with both front and rear tubs on the vehicle was beginning to look like a car. The floors were also a part where it was easier to make new flat panels rather than repair the originals. The originals had strengthening channels pressed into the top whereas Maurice welded new strengthening channels on the underside. This may seem unoriginal but I understand that early Doretti's were built like this before the press tooling became available.
Next came the front wings - I had two pairs. The originals from NBC 742 looked superficially good but on closer examination they were a mixture of rivets, patches and filler at the front where the car had obviously had a heavy shunt. The ones from the donor car, RLL 280 were in far superior order except that on the nearside there was a crease at the top of the wheel arch which had to be straightened and that is not as easy in aluminium as in steel.
The front shrouds were a different matter. That from NBC 742 was a mixture of rivets, patches and filler at the front and for some inexplicable reason had lost the lip around the bonnet aperture. The shroud from RLL280 had a telegraph pole shaped indentation in the front indicating that it had hit it at high speed. It was so severely rippled and split as to be unusable. Fortunately, with a little begging and pleading Ken Yankey came to our aid with the front shroud from VPP 915 and also threw in the rear wings from that car which were far better than the 65% fibreglass ones on NBC 742, no doubt a relic from the early 60s when, after being towed from Gibbet Hill Crossroads into Coventry for repair, the car caught fire in the workshop. Presumably most of the originals melted in the fire and the remains were bodged up with fibreglass. The rear shroud on NBC 742 cannot have been the original as it too would have melted in the fire but was in good enough condition for reuse.
As for a bonnet, NBC 742 did not have one when I bought it. There was one with RLL 280 but that had an indentation matching that on the front shroud and the steel reinforcing round the edge was rotten. Again Ken Yankey came to the rescue with one from VPP 915. That only left the doors, which on a Doretti are the only steel outer panels along with the sills. I had three doors, two from NBC742 and one which I had bought from T&M Classics at Wallingford. You could also perhaps describe the doors of RLL 280 as still extant. They consisted of approximately one foot square pieces of rust attached to the door handles and locking mechanisms.
Actually getting the panels to fit together was easier said than done and is where I suspect most Doretti restorations come unstuck unless you have an original set of straight panels from an original car. My jigsaw puzzle was far from easy for Maurice to put together. The largest panel gap we encountered was approximately an inch between the rear wings and rear shroud. The rear wings were not in a good state and Maurice had to weld up serious cracks in the front of the rear wheel arches on each side.
Maurice reskinned the rear boot lid of the car which was unlikely to have been the original though there is a possibility that it may have been. This is because the original owner Roy Stimpson had a boot rack and our boot lid was full of holes.
The doors of the car were also reskinned since the originals were full of filler and were not easy to fit between the new front and rear wings. At last in January 2001 the car was sufficiently complete to go into the paintshop at Alcester Car Care where the body was given its final preparation and etch primer before being resprayed in 1990's Rover Old English White. I selected this colour as the car was originally white and the Rover colour was more mellow than many modem whites. We had nothing to go on to achieve the original colour and at least if I need to touch up paint I can get it from my local Halfords.
We still had problems when the car returned from the paint shop in July 2001. Maurice had left gaps for the heading to go in the seams between the front and rear wings and shrouds. As the authentic Doretti items are unavailable we used TR3 items which are marginally thinner. Five front TR3 strips are needed, the fifth to be cut up to fill in the gap beneath the sidelights. Of the chrome strips on the body sides I had two from the donor car, one on the door from T&M Classics and I acquired the fourth from an Austin Devon specialist autojumbler since the strips are identical to those beneath the driver's door window on the A40 Devon.
The front bumper is a new Austin Healey BN2 rear and the over-riders are also BN2 Healey acquired from a specialist two miles from my home. The rear bumper is a BN2 Healey rear with 2 inches chopped out which I picked up for £25 at Beaulieu. Headlights are original Lucas tripod lights which I acquired at the NEC Classic Car Show still in their original boxes.
External door handles were not a problem as they are Standard 8 or Vanguard and I had several in stock as I own both an 8 and a Vanguard. The locks and strikers on NBC 742 were there but very worn. I had been told they were also Vanguard but I had difficulty working out why those of my Vanguard, an estate, were different to those on the Doretti, both front and rear. I finally discovered that the Doretti has Vanguard phase I and 2 saloon rear door locks whereas the estate car has Vanguard front door locks on the rear doors. Not even the Vanguard experts I had spoken to realised that. Once we knew what was needed Brian Shakespeare, a well known Vanguard expert, came to my aid.
The interior door handles are also Vanguard. As the picture in Part One of this article showed, the grille was in a bad way. As well as re-chroming, it had a serious dent in the top nearside corner which was removed by Maurice - performing a miracle as it looked unrepairable to me.
The final chrome item was the windscreen surround. I had uprights from both cars. Those on RLL280 were the early type and those on NBC 742 the late-type with a different hood fixing at the top. I also had a bottom bar but no top bar until Ken Yankey kindly provided one. Rechroming was no problem - the windscreen itself was, as I had no glass. Much to my surprise a firm called Tamworth Windscreens actually had access to a supplier with 6 Doretti screens in stock. Unfortunately when Maurice checked the measurements the screen was about 2 inches too short for my aperture and would only fit the early type of screen surround, as would the screen rubber being remanufactured in the USA of which I had acquired a sample. We solved the problem by Tamworth Windscreens cutting a screen from a larger screen and finding 2 sections of proprietary rubber to be glued together to take the new screen. However the fitting of the screen in its surround to the car was not easy and as Maurice was tightening down the first one the surround twisted slightly, cracking the screen. The final solution was packing pieces and extreme care.
Hood and trim was another aspect of the restoration where several attempts to solve a problem had to be made. I only had 2 seats from my one and a half cars, both from RLL280. One seat frame was reusable and Maurice rebuilt most of the other as the base surround had crumbled to almost nothing. He also made 2 new seat pans using a pattern from another car, only to later discover a simpler type, easier to make, on a third car. I used a Jaguar trimmer who worked on a spare-time basis to do the whole car and whereas he made a good job of seats and carpets he came badly unstuck on hood and door trims. At least the car went on the road in November 2001 and appeared at the NEC Classic Car show. However, I discovered that the hood leaked like a sieve and got drenched inside the car in the first shower I encountered. I thus tried another trimmer who managed to reduce the leaks only to those coming in from above the screen rather than from every join. We then tried some thicker rubber trim affixed to the front of the hood and this improved matters still further. Finally, we replaced this with similar rubber relocated slightly and placed rubber Dinky toy car tyres around the locating pins in the hood top bar. I remained relatively dry apart from the odd drop of rain coming in from the side-screens when I took the car to the paint shop to have its final paint rectification during a torrential downpour on 2nd January 2003.
The car on the road has way exceeded my expectations. Though it is in its original specification apart from radial tyres it performs and handles like a modern car. Only the brakes need to be treated with respect, though after driving a Vanguard that is not difficult.
The highlight of 2002, the car's first year on the road, for me, was reuniting the car with Roy Stimpson, its first owner, at his home in Leicester in September. I began the day by posing the car at a railway bridge in Leicester which still carries an advert for the dealer which supplied the car, Browetts, who have long since ceased trading.
The advert still describes them as Standard-Triumph and Jaguar dealers. On arrival at Roy's home, I met not only him but also his brother and a friend who also drove the car in the 1950s both as a car in everyday use and at Melton Mowbray Motor Club events. The car was regularly taken on Continental holidays and from time to time, was stopped in Leicester for speeding; though as Roy's father played snooker with the Chief Constable, charges did not ensue. It was clear that Roy was really fond of his Doretti when he owned it and I think he would buy it back given half a chance.
Since the two parts of the article above were first published, I have taken the car to many events, Standard Motor Club, TR Register and others.
Many Standard owners have shown a good deal of interest in the project in view of the close connection of Dorettis with the company and Sir John Black and the car is generally accepted at SMC events, including this year's West Midlands Group Rally, when the Saturday road run to Cadbury World coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the date of the car's first registration on 4 June 1955 for which it just had to be on the road.
I must also at this point include my thanks to all the SMC members who have provided me with help, parts and advice both during the restoration and since the car has been on the road, particularly Brian Birch, Brian Shakespeare (who has been only too glad to help in view of the fact that the Doretti is essentially a Vanguard kit car) and Malcolm Graham, whose late father worked at the Standard for many years and could remember the accident which Sir John Black had in his Doretti at the gates of Banner Lane.
We also have two SMC members who were connected with Browetts, the Leicester Standard dealers who supplied the car. Gerry Hayes, who was a junior salesman in the showroom when the Doretti was in there and now owns several Fergie tractors and Robert Browett, who owns a Standard Kenilworth and is one of the family.
Further information about RLL 280 (Chassis No. 1160 - donor car) can be found in The Story of a Rare Doretti Coupé.
Our thanks to Peter Lockley for such an in-depth review of his car's restoration.