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Chassis No.SKD-146X7

Registration No. 720 CRF
Owner: Gerard Hill,  UK


I saw a Swallow Doretti advertised in Motor Sport for December 1972, arranged an RAC inspection and bought 720 CRF in Walsall from Michael Wilkins on 31 December 1972 for 390, quite a lot of money at the time, to me. I drove it northwards up the M6 in heavy rain, stopping only briefly at Sandbach services on the 200-mile journey home. For the next four years it was my daily transport to work, entirely reliable and great fun. The steering was heavy, because someone had fitted a tiny Motolita steering wheel, and the brakes were not really equal to the power plant, but the handling was excellent.

Chassis No.1220

Mike Wilkins had done some research and he gave me the letter dated 29 April 1971 that he received from Frank Rainbow, as well as a (rather poor) photocopy of a letter dated 16 December 1968 from Frank Rainbow to Howard Gosling, the first Swallow Doretti Registrar, and a six-page typed document headed "The authentic Doretti story - by Frank Rainbow, designer". I wonder how widely that has been seen. I also got copies of various bills (paid!) for work done on 720CRF over the previous two years, a typed list of the vehicle of origin and part nos. for proprietary parts used on the Doretti, and roneo copies (purple and rather blurred) of a circular letter from Howard Gosling and his brief history of the Doretti.

In the 1968 letter, Frank Rainbow says "The best car which was built was, in fact, a prototype which I had for my own use ... I am not sure what the registration number was but ... look under the car to find whether a panhard rod is fitted to the rear axle. Mine was the only car so fitted." In the 1971 letter he again says "it was, in fact, the only one fitted with a panhard rod". Since 720CRF was fitted with a panhard rod when I bought it in 1972, it seems as certain as anything can be that my car was originally Frank Rainbow's.

The car came with two logbooks, a duplicate apparently issued in 1958 and a continuation book issued on 3 June 1971. The car was registered on 20 June 1954 and evidently taxed for six months, but the original logbook must have been lost or damaged. The first entry in the duplicate logbook showed payment of 12 10s 0d. taxation on 31 December 1954; this was handwritten and rubber-stamped 'London' but it seems to date from the change of owner to Alex Mellon of London on 5 September 1958.

The logbook gave the chassis no. as SAC105X7 but the chassis plate on the scuttle shows that as the bodywork no. and SKD146X7 as the chassis no. The logbook and chassis plate both gave the engine as TS4E of 1991cc but in fact, when I bought it, the engine number was TS4377E. The logbook shows the colour as originally black - which Frank Rainbow confirmed - and it seems to have become (British racing) green at some point after 5 September 1958.

The car had eight owners between 1958 and 1970, the first two of them in London. On 8 January 1960 the car was re-registered in Birmingham, to Geoffrey Squires; and it then remained in Warwickshire until 1972. Between about 1963 and 1966 it was owned by K. D. Hughes, who raced it at Silverstone. The modifications included discarding the bumpers and side screens, changing the engine, fitting an electric fuel pump and cooling fan, removing the heater and replacing the steering wheel and driver's seat.

In my turn I too changed the engine, for a 2138cc factory-reconditioned unit, TS966FR, which had been breathed upon by MacDonalds of Lanchester. It had one of their cams fitted and I had it tested on their rolling road. It gave 117bhp at the wheels, which they estimated as 126bhp at the flywheel. It certainly went better than the Rover P4 I was used to!

I bought a set of 5J knock-on wire wheels from an acquaintance and fitted them with a set of Dunlop SP Sport 185 HR 15 radials. They lengthened the gear ratios, of course, which meant the speedometer read slow; but I did manage 115mph on a gentle downhill, as calculated from the rev. counter. On the journey to work I gradually increased my speed and found the Doretti would go round one of the corners at 100mph without fuss.
 ...Gerard M-F Hill 31 May 2004

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