SWALLOW DORETTI - CARS & OWNERS

Swallow Doretti
by Brian Jenkins

A Retrospective Look at VTN 793 Chassis No.1264

My interest in motor sport turned to enthusiasm with the holding of the two local race meetings in 1952 and 1954 at Fairwood Aerodrome. I then joined the Swansea Motor Club who jointly organised those events, and began to compete in their rallies and autotests, driving Austin Seven specials, and a Jensen-bodied A40 sports. The first sports car I really wanted was a Triumph-engined Morgan Plus Four but my parents thought that the A40 was more suitable for a teenager. The A40 sports (ODE Castle Farm Hillcilmb, September 1960 242) however altered my thoughts on how a "modern" sportscar should look, so after about a year of events, which included the London Rally held in mid-Wales, I saw an advert, with very full description, for a Swallow Doretti having previously learnt from the factory that all new cars had been allocated and sold. I thought that the Doretti was the ideal car with such excellent modern lines, a strong chassis and super performance from the TR2 engine.

I then got in touch with the advertisers, Mercury Motors of Wembley; they suggested bringing the Doretti to Gloucester, where my father and I would meet J. H. Staveley bringing the A40 sports with us. We arrived on the Gloucester ring road to see under a bridge a gloaming silver sportscar, which looked more like a Frazer Nash of treble the price. An amicable deal was agreed to part exchange the A40 sports for 425 against the price wanted for the Doretti of 845.

I then remember driving VTN back via Tintern in the Wye Valley, where we stayed overnight (no motorways or bypasses in Wales in 1955). The deep exhaust note reverberating between stone walls and houses in village streets was a musical revelation after the A40.

VTN was finished in metallic grey with a light maroon hood and tonneau cover with toning leather bucket seats, scuttle and door rolls. It was fitted with wire wheels but not an overdrive. VTN was a unique looking Doretti, for instead of the usual teardrop bulge on the bonnet it had two air scoops fore and aft (the grilles were from the heater intake of the Morris Oxford MK II). These were added to reduce heat in the cockpit on long runs from Newcastle to London, often travelled by the first owners, Mr and Mrs Hayman (according to J. H. Staveley). This modification gave the car a more aggressive and purposeful look than the standard cars.

I then competed in rallies with VTN, winning some class awards and winning outright the Carmarthen Rally, and competing in the 1956 London Rally, held in south west Wales. My navigator D. F. Evans and I just about finished hours late, after D. F. E. had suffered some car sickness, not surprising considering the lanes, rough tracks, fields and river beds we had traversed that night! Incidentally at this time such events were dominated by TR2s, but a Doretti, even in 1956, was a great rarity.

I then concentrated on entering auto tests, because I had difficulty in keeping navigators for long, mainly because they wanted to drive on their own account. I had some success in these tests winning several local events, and was picked for the Pembrokeshire Motor Club Team in the National Blackpool Tests in 1956 and 1957, and also a reserve for the Wales team in the 1958 Ken Wharton Memorial TV tests at Chateau Impney, Droitwich.

About this time the tiny Berkeley 500 was winning all the English auto tests, so I bought the demonstration car from the local agents (TCY 622). This proved to be a fantastic car for that specialised sport, and after winning the Welsh Driving Championship at Aberystwyth, I was picked for the Wales Team for the 1959 Ken Wharton Memorial TV Tests in Dudley; however VTN was there again attending as tow-car for the Berkeley. In 1960 and 1961 I continued to tow with the Doretti, by now a Berkeley B.105 (XCY 887) to auto tests, but increasingly to local sprints and hillclimbs; Castel Farm, Llandow, Lydstep, Pembrey and Pontypool Park, when I often entered both cars. By this time VTN was over six years old, but usually beat new MGAs, Austin Healeys and TR3s.

The road holding of the Doretti was safe and predictable, for I never recall having a "moment" in all the time I competed with VTN. The body/chassis unit was so strong and rigid that the doors never dropped or rattled and "scuttle shake" was entirely absent. In 1961 I came across an Aston Martin DB 2/4 coupe for sale at a garage at Barons Cross, Leominster and then partexchanged VTN for the DB 2/4 (MVJ 974), and until I contacted TR Action and Cyril Harvey, who put me in touch with the present owner Ray Wilton, I had not heard of the car for 33 years.

After a few years with the DB 2/4, which had become too heavy for competition, I went back to my first love, a Morgan, and back to a Triumph engine, perhaps the most effective competition application of the TR2/3/4 power unit, the Lawrence-Tune engine installed in a Plus Four Super Sports, which I raced for some years before selling it in 1980.

I gained nearly all my early competition and invaluable speed experience with the Doretti and consider it was a most underrated car. What a pity it did not survive long enough to have the lfl+or Qnninoo nr cnian the Lawrence-Tune Pembrey Sprint Meeting unit! What might have been; comfort and performance way above the average for the time. When I went to order the Plus Four SS at the Morgan factory, I mentioned that I had owned a Doretti to Peter Morgan, he replied, "Oh yes, the Doretti was a very good sportscar. In fact it was too good really!"

I am so pleased to know that VTN still exists and is now being sympathetically restored, and that I and all Swallow Doretti enthusiasts will soon be able to see the result of such painstaking restoration work.
 ... Brian Jenkins

This article was first published in TR Action No.119

 

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