Historic Car Brands
In 1901 the successful Singer cycle company began motor vehicle production motorcycles, tricars and then four-wheel cars. Singer is best known for its pre-World War II overhead-camshaft powered light cars. Sadly, the company couldn’t emulate that pre-War success after 1945 and it fell into Rootes hands in 1955. The end came relatively swiftly.
1901 Singer Gents Motor Bicycle – The Supermat
In 1901 Marine engineer, George Singer, purchased the manufacturing rights to the Perks & Hooch Motor Wheel that packed a one-cylinder engine, fuel tank, carburettor and low-tension magneto inside a two-sided, cast-aluminium-alloy spoked wheel. These power packs were used by Singer & Co in the rear of motorcycles and then as the front wheel of a trike.
In 1904, the Singer motorcycles used more conventional frame-mounted engines and belt or chain drive. Singer & Co stopped building motorcycles at the outbreak of World War I.
Singer’s first tricar was the 1902 Tri-Voiturette that was powered by a 2.5hp front wheel engine and was available with the passenger either facing backwards or forwards. The Tri-Voiturette was replaced by another tricar that had two front wheels and a driven rear, with the passenger in front of the driver.
Singer made its first four-wheeled car in 1905. It was designed by Scottish engineer Alexander Craig and was a variant of a design he had done for Lea-Francis, with power coming from two-cylinder, 1.9-litre or 2.5-litre engines.
The Craig engine was replaced in 1906 by White & Poppe engines in Singer’s two light car models: a 7hp twin and a 12/14hp four-cylinder. These were joined by a White & Poppe-engined Doctor’s Brougham and two Aster-powered tourers: a 12/14 and a 20/22.
For 1907, the Lea-Francis design was dropped and a range of two-, three- and four-cylinder models was launched, powered by White & Poppe engines. The Aster-engined models were dropped in 1909 and a new range of larger cars introduced. All cars were then White & Poppe powered.
George Singer died in 1909 and the company’s ‘bicycle wheel’ radiator emblem was deleted two years later.
The Singer 16/20, powered by a White & Poppe engine and the new Singer Ten debuted in 1912 with a Singer-made 10hp 1.1-litre, side-valve, four-cylinder engine. The Ten had its three-speed transmission built into the rear axle.
The Ten became the company’s first big seller and Singer increased the number of its own power plants through the range. By the outbreak of World War I, all models except the low-volume 3.3-litre 20hp had the only remaining White & Poppe engine.
The Ten attracted the interest of former racing cyclist Lionel Martin, who bought one at Singer’s stand at the 1912 Olympia Motor Show. Martin rebuilt the little tourer for racing, improving the engine’s power and raising the top speed from 64km/h to 113km/h).
Martin’s racing success in his Singer Ten saw his tuning business grow and eventually led to the formation of his own performance car brand, Aston Martin.
William Rootes, a former Singer apprentice turned car dealer, had sales success with the Singer Ten. (In 1955 his company bought the brand.)
In July 1914, Beatrice Blore drove a Singer Ten up the Great Orme (Llandudno, North Wales) cable track that had a gradient of 1:3 in some places.
1919 Singer 10 – Steve Glover
Singer production was suspended for World War I, then resumed afterwards. The Ten continued and was upgraded with an overhead valve engine and a transmission bolted to that engine in 1923. The Ten scored a Weymann fabric-body option in 1924.
In 1921, Singer purchased motorcycle and cyclecar maker Coventry Premier, selling a four-wheeler of their design, powered by a one-litre, water-cooled, V-twin, under that name until 1924. The engine was changed to a four-cylinder Singer in 1922, but the car ceased production in 1923.
In 1922, Singer’s first six-cylinder was a two-litre, 15hp of dated, fixed head design. In 1924, the 15 was offered with a Weymann fabric body, but sales were disappointing.
1927 Singer Senior 10/26 Tourer – Graham Robertson
The new 10/26 replaced the Ten in 1924 with an enlarged 1.3-litre engine and modernised styling. It was offered in several models, from a four-seat Popular to a Saloon Limousine De Luxe.
At the 1926 London Motor Show, the company debuted the Junior, powered by a 16.5hp, overhead-camshaft, 848cc four. Meanwhile, the 10/26 was christened Senior. In the same year, Singer took over Calcott Brothers, to gain additional factory space.
1930 Singer Saloon
By 1928, Singer was Britain’s third largest car maker after Austin and Morris. In 1926, Singer made 9000 cars and, in 1929, with seven factories and 8000 employees, it produced 28,000 cars.
The Senior was redesigned in 1928, with capacity increased to 1.6 litres and an overdue, third crankshaft main bearing added. A new, Sun model was a fabric-bodied convertible saloon.
At the end of the year, a privateer ran a two-seat Junior up Porlock Hill one hundred times in fifteen hours, which moved Singer to rename that model, ’Porlock’.
1931 Singer Junior Saloon 8hp – Stein Sjolie
In 1929, a 2+2 on the Junior chassis appeared and the Senior disappeared, replaced by a new, 1.8-litre Six, based on the 10/26 four and fitted with four-wheel servo-assisted brakes.
It was joined by a Super Six, with a two-litre, overhead-valve engine and four-speed manual transmission. This was, said The Autocar, ‘the most impressive Singer yet’.
The 8hp, 972cc, Junior Special of 1931 had styling resembling the top-priced saloon and a ‘waterfall’ grille, which gave the car its common name.
1933 Singer 2-litre – Charles 01
Hampered by their new acquisitions, the cost of new machinery and a moving assembly line in their latest acquisition, Singer’s offerings were eclipsed by new models from Austin, Morris, and Hillman. From 1932, it got worse when the Ford Model Y arrived.
The Singer range was far too complex, consisting of developments of the overhead-camshaft Junior engine (848cc and 972cc); the Ten, the side-valve 1.5-litre 12/6; the side-valve 18/6 (then two-litres in size) and the overhead-valve Silent-Six (then 2.2 litres).
1933 Singer Nine Sports – Altena Classics – Marc Vorges
At the top of the price range was the ‘C F’ Beauvais-designed Kaye Don saloon, built on the Silent-Six platform.
In 1932, Leo J Shorter became chief engineer and he and two other designers created the new Sports Nine, which made its debut at the London Motor Show. The Nine was joined by a new 14hp six-cylinder, while the Junior was dropped and a side-valve-engined 12 displaced the Ten.
1933 Singer Nine – Argentin Novate
The Sports Nine’s close-ratio, four-speed box made it an immediate success among trials racers. Singer entered a specially-prepared version at Le Mans, which led to the Nine being commonly called the Le Mans.
Not so good for the marque’s reputation was the appearance of three works Nines at the 1935 Ulster Tourist Trophy, where all three crashed, from the same steering failure problem, at the same spot.
1934 Singer 11hp 1.5-litre – Charles 01
Independent front suspension was added to the Nine in 1935 and the larger models got clutch-less transmissions. A new 1.4-litre Eleven and two-litre Sixteen debuted that year as well, both also with IFS.
Independently of Chrysler, the Eleven was also offered with aerodynamic Airstream coachwork.
The Nine became the Bantam in 1935 and debuted at the London Motor Show, but it was more expensive than the Ford Model Y that it resembled closely.
No longer viable, Singer & Co Limited was dissolved in December 1936 and a new company, Singer Motors Limited, was formed.
Singer 1.5-Litre Le Mans Two-Seater Sports – Lars-Goran Lindgren
In 1938, a three-bearing, 1.1-litre, 9hp OHC engine was introduced in a model whose three speed gearbox had synchro only between 2nd and top.
From 1938 to 1955, Singer Motors Ltd supplied engines and some transmissions for fitment to HRG Engineering Company’s sports cars, replacing the 1.5-litre Meadows engines fitted to earlier models.
1936 Singer Bantam Saloon – Clive Barker
Continuing decline in sales led to financial trouble and Singer attempted to cut costs, including switching back to mechanical brakes on the Nine in 1939. After World War II, the Roadster and the Ten and Twelve saloons returned to production with little change.
1939 Singer Nine Sports – Lars-Goran Lindgren
In 1948, Singer’s first post-War design car appeared. The Shorter-designed SM1500 had coil spring IFS and a separate chassis, and was powered by the SOHC 1.5-litre engine. Unfortunately, it was expensive and hopes it would save the company proved unfounded.
Singer SM1500 Saloon – GTHO
The SM1500 was given a traditional radiator grille and renamed the Hunter in 1954, but sales were slow.
New models were announced for the October 1955 Earls Court Motor Show: a more basic model, the Hunter S and a more powerful Hunter 75 that had a twin overhead camshaft engine, topped by an HRG-designed cylinder head. Very few, possibly 20, of the 75s were made before the range was cancelled.
Singer Hunter – Red Simon
By 1955, the business was in financial difficulties and the Rootes Brothers bought it the following year. The Singer brand was absorbed into their Rootes Group, which had been an enthusiastic exponent of badge engineering since the early 1930s.
The next Singer car, the Gazelle, was a more up-market Hillman Minx, but retained the pre-war designed Singer OHC engine for the I and II versions until 1958, when the IIA model was powered by the Minx pushrod engine.
After 1958, all Singer products were mere badge-engineered models
The Vogue, which ran alongside the Minx/Gazelle from 1961, was based on the Hillman Super Minx with differing front end styling and more luxurious trim.
By 1970, Chrysler-owned Rootes was again struggling financially, so in April 1970, as part of a rationalisation process, the last badge-engineered Singer rolled off the assembly line, almost 100 years after George Singer built his first cycle.