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The Standard 8 - 1953 - How it Began - Part 1

A ground-breaking car for the motoring masses, in this new feature, written specifically for this website, Club Historian,
Phil Homer describes how the car was conceived and developed, Part 2 (coming soon) will describe the later variants.

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prototype model.jpg

This small-scale model was part of the design process. Compared to the actual car when built, the model had exposed B posts, no trafficators and valances behind both bumpers.

The Standard 8 happened because the Triumph Mayflower was not a success.


The Mayflower was announced in 1949 but it didn’t reach production until 1950. The car received favourable press in the UK. Unfortunately, that was not the case in US, where the 1.25 litre engine was considered inadequate for use on the rapidly expanding freeway network. The company also found that it was difficult to build in volume and the margins were low. By 1952, it was acknowledged that it was not going to be widely accepted by the market, and an alternative approach was needed.

By then a substitute was already in preliminary design. It was Austin that inspired the idea, with the launch of the A30 at the 1951 Motor Show. John Black came into Walter Belgrove’s office saying that he wanted a 8Hp car with 4 doors and four seats and it had to sell for £400. That meant of course that it had to be built severely down to a price. Though Belgrove had designed the Vanguard, he must have been busy with the TR2 so the project was given to Belgrove’s Number 2, Vic Hammond, who got onto it straight away. He declared that he was given a fairly free hand with the task, save for Belgrove standing behind him and asking him to adjust a line or two either up or down.

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Sir John Black with a prototype Standard 8 on a roadtest in the mountains of North Wales. Standard did not let him out without a second sunvisor, wiper blade or hubcaps. He also had a radio to keep him amused on the journey up there.

Engineering Chief, Ted Grinham had bought a rear-engined Renault 4cv to see what Standard could learn from it. Quite a lot as it would happen.  It had sliding glass all round and hardly any trim to speak of. Hammond called it a “hose-out” car. He drew out a nose that had no radiator trim, just a metal pressing that emulated a grille shape, but actually cost nothing. Cost saving also meant that there was to be no external boot opening. Here was an small lid in the bottom of the boot panel that allowed a spare wheel to be inserted. Both Black and Grinham agreed this “bootless” approach was to be the way forward and despite Belgrove’s protestations, he was outvoted by his seniors.

Hammond continued with his bargain basement theme. He specified tubular seats with Pirelli webbing, He admitted that the nylon type “Tygan” trim that he specified was dirt cheap and “bloody awful”. The only interior items of interest turned out to be a facia panel that housed a speedo and fuel gauge, plus an optional extension panel to potentially house a radio - and a parcel shelf and a cubby-hole on either side of the single instrument, fabricated from millboard and metal clips. As there were no window winding mechanisms there was no need for door cards to cover them either, just a simple panel attached to the inside skin of each door. And no quarterlights, or heater. In these respects, the first Mini copied all these features some six years later. Whilst the speedo in the mini was always centrally mounted, Standard put it in front of the driver.

The spendthrift theme, it seems, was not imposed on the development team who were specifying the major mechanical components. The engineering of the car was far more impressive than the basic nature of the equipment level.

Standard initially experimented with reusing existing components. The first iterations were based on a Mayflower platform with a reduced capacity version of the side-valve Mayflower engine, and a three speed gearbox adapted from the Vanguard. Eventually, these ideas were dropped and the design was based on a clean sheet of paper and the only constraint was the necessity of building the new engine on the same set of machine tools that had been employed on the Mayflower.

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The Standard 8 production line at Canley in June 1954.

If I havn't already mentioned it, Standard were unique in putting cars sideways down the line. Does anyone know why?  Use the CONTACT US form

The unitary constructed bodywork and sophisticated front suspension were far from poverty stricken.  All four wings were detachable from the stressed body structure, for ease of repair. The independent front suspension, developed by Alan Coaley, was far in advance of the competition, consisting of double wishbones over telescopic Dampers, all mounted on a strong front subframe that only required 4 bolts to attach it to the car. Unfortunately, the front suspension and steering required a total of 21 joints to be greased every 1000 miles, and who could rely on owners adhering to such a demanding schedule, or even finding all the points that required such regular attention?

David Eley was responsible for the o.h.v. Engine design. Though the bore and stroke were identical to the A-series Austin, Standard claimed that is where the similarities ended. The Standard engine casting was much deeper, and full height in this case, compared to the Austin, which finished at the level of the crankshaft, meaning the Standard was much heavier.  Viewed from the front, the SC engine had its camshaft on the right and inlet and exhaust valves on the left, exactly opposite to the A-series, The SC engine had separate ports for each exhaust whereas the inner two cylinders had siamesed ports on the A-series.

Whilst the engine was substantially heavier on its own, when it was mated to its bodyshell, the comparative weights was roughly the same as the competition, though there can be no doubting the Standard body was far roomier and had a bigger glass area.

The new four speed and reverse gearbox were drawn on another clean sheet of paper. There was synchromesh on the top three rations. An open Hardy Spicer propshaft drove a hypoid bevel rear axle. Brakes were hydraulic with 7” drums all round, more than adequate for the cars weight and performance. The clutch used hydraulics too.

The body design appears to have been agreed jointly with Fisher and Ludlow but it is not clear who claimed responsibility for the stressed skin monocoque design. That dispensed with all but a couple of double skinned panels, and did much to keep the shell’s weight down, whilst maintaining sufficient rigidity. Fisher and Ludlow has been contracted to press all the panels and weld them together at their Tile Hill factory only a couple of miles from Canley. Fortuitously, F&L had signed this contract, before they were bought out by Austin in 1953, so all the bodies were actually built by one of Standard’s main competitors!

despite no bootlid, the rear of the car

An early Factory photo is designed to allay fears about luggage capacity, and the necessity to place luggage through the rear doors!

The Mayflower was dropped in early 1953 after worldwide sales of just 34,000. It is rumoured that the tooling budget for the 8 had been raised to £6m, up from just £1m for the Mayflower.  This was a comparatively trifling amount, for the company was awash with funds. You should remember that the Banner Lane factory was profitably turning out 100,000 Ferguson Tractors per year. The 8 was planned from the outset to be built at a rate of 50,000 a year, or 1000 per week.

The first new car, built on the line on 10th June 1953, was called, perhaps a little unattractively, the “Basic 8”, but was probably an apt description for it. With Commission number CS1DL it was finished in light green with red tygan trim. At £481 the product price met what the competition were charging, but failed to meet Sir John’s original lower target. It was £23 cheaper than the Austin and £80 cheaper than a Morris minor, but this was only achieved by deleting a number of basic items to become “options”. These included, or rather excluded, the hubcaps, a passenger sunvisor and a second windscreen wiper.  Most owners added these to their car in the showroom.

The absence of an opening boot lid (the rear seats folded forward to allow luggage to be put in via the rear doors) was advertised as a virtue as the folded seats extended the load area and of course “it was sealed against dust and rain ingress.”


To its benefit, the car was well received by the press who praised the lightness of its controls, lively performance, accuracy of steering and most of all, its 45mpg capability. Those missing items did not, of course, go unnoticed in the market.  Within three months a decision had been made to build an upmarket variant.

standard 8 badge.jpg

The early chrome bonnet badge had painted highlights.

In Part 2, coming shortly, Phil describes the variants that followed, plus the Estate Car, Van and Pickup.

It also highlights the development of the “Pennant”.

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