1928' Lea Francis
The engine is the usual 1497cc 4-cylinder Meadows unit with No. 9 Cozette blower (one size larger than standard) ... The big-ends have roller bearings, the crankshaft being built up and running in three white metal bearings...' - Leonard Potter (then owner of 'WK 7492') writing in 'The Autocar', 1942.
Already established as a maker of bicycles of the finest quality, Coventry-based Lea-Francis turned their expertise to motor car manufacture in 1903 followed by motorcycles in 1911. Serious motor car production commenced in 1922. Two 12/40hp models powered by Meadows' famous 1,497cc 4ED engine were additions to the range for 1926.
More powerful than its predecessors, the 4ED necessitated the introduction of a redesigned chassis, which was longer, wider and equipped with semi-elliptic springing all round, and a stronger, spiral bevel rear axle, both of which arrived in 1927 on the P-Type. The result was one of the finest small sporting cars of the late Vintage period, and the model continues to be raced and rallied successfully today.
The Lea-Francis S Type Hyper Sports was the first 'blown' British production car, distinguished by its attractively sloping radiator and rakish two-seat bodywork, it offered exceptional performance for its size. In 1928 the RAC's Tourist Trophy long-distance race was revived at Ards in Ulster where Kaye Don's Lea-Francis won by 13 seconds, beating first-rate opposition from the likes of Alvis, Austin, Bentley, Frazer Nash, Lagonda and Riley. As well as this success the model was successfully campaigned at the Le Mans 24-hour race, winning its class and placing 8th overall in 1929, following this up with an even better 6th overall and 1st in class in 1930.
Despite the manifest quality of its products and the many sporting successes, Lea-Francis was making a loss by the decade's end and went into receivership in 1931.
The Lea-Francis Hyper offered here is highly significant, being one of the 1928 TT Works team of four such cars, and was driven in that race by Mr W.H. ‘Wilf’ Green - father of leading British historic racing driver Willie Green - alongside such great names as Kaye Don (who won the race outright in its sister car), George Eyston and S.H. Newsome. W.H. Green apparently ran the car for some time after the TT, competing at Brooklands and elsewhere. It is recorded as being the first car to lap Donington Park (in October 1931) as part of the circuit's accreditation for racing, before being laid up for two years from 1933. A 10hp engine was then fitted, unsuccessfully, before A C Molyneaux rescued the car in 1936, using it with some success in road racing at Donington and in sprints at Wetherby. Leonard Potter then acquired 'WK 7492', and a letter from him was published in 'The Autocar' of January 9th 1942, describing the car's history and contemporary capabilities (see above).
W H Green's Lea-Francis then disappeared from view, re-emerging some 40 years later in 1993 when Brooks Auctioneers' James Knight got a call from an elderly lady whose husband had recently passed away. She knew very little about the Lea-Francis but her husband had always said it would provide useful income should he pre-decease her. She didn't really know what the car was but understood that it was quite special. James Knight went to a trailer park near Bracknell and met the lady who was evidently of limited means. She took him to a lock-up containing what transpired to be one of the works Lea-Francis Hypers: the car Willie Green's father used to race.
The continuation logbook traces the car's history via five owners (following Leonard Potter) to the aforementioned lady vendor's late husband, who purchased it in 1956 when he paid £50 in two instalments of £25 each. In 1958 motor car specialists Hoffmans of Henley re-metalled its engine bearings and serviced the roller-bearing crankshaft. 'WK 7492' was then garaged by the late owner, circa 1959/1960, and would remain out of sight for the next 30-plus years.
His ex-works Lea-Francis was duly auctioned at Brooks' Motor Show Sale at Earls Court in October 1993, and the circle was completed when the Green family successfully acquired the car. At that time it appeared to be complete and rolled freely, despite being in need of mechanical and cosmetic restoration (see images of the car on file as purchased).
'WK 7492' was then sympathetically restored and was driven by W N Green and his uncle M W 'Willie' Green, who are two of the four sons of W H Green, the previous owners grandfather. The previous owners father and Willie Green carried out and supervised the sympathetic restoration, the engine being rebuilt by Meadows specialists Blakeney Motorsport Ltd, while keeping as much of the original as possible. It should be noted that the control pedals have been converted to the conventional layout, and that the engine currently runs a plain-bearing crankshaft inside a replacement crankcase (the original crankcase and roller-bearing crankshaft are offered with the car).
Following the rebuild's completion the 'Leaf' was used sparingly. Before being offered for sale by the Green family in 2016, when it was purchased by the current owner a long term enthusiast of the Lea-Francis marque. During his ownership the car has been carefully stored but used sparingly, due to a change of circumstances he has been unable to use it in the historic races and rallies he intended.
Hypers compare very well to other British marques who offered models of similar capacity such as Aston Martin, Riley, MG and Frazer Nash, and this genuine ex-Works supercharged Hyper is a potent machine, potentially eligible for Le Mans Classic, Goodwood Revival, The Flying Scotsman rally and many of the worlds leading historic motoring events.
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- United Kingdom
- 5 November 2019