R. H. Lea and G. I. Francis started their bicycle business in Coventry in 1895. They branched out into car manufacturing in 1903 and motorcycles in 1911. Initially Lea-Francis built cars under licence for the Singer company but in 1919, they began to build their own cars from bought-in components. From 1922, Lea-Francis formed a business relationship with Vulcan of Southport sharing manufacturing and dealers. Vulcan supplied bodies to Lea-Francis and in return got gearboxes and steering gears. Two six-cylinder Vulcan-designed and manufactured cars were marketed as Lea-Francis 14/40 and 16/60 as well as Vulcans. The association ended in 1928 when Vulcan stopped making cars. From 1925 the Lea-Francis company acquired a reputation for building excellent sports cars with models such as the Hyper and the Ace of Spades.
After many successful years of car building, the company was reorganized in 1937 under the chairmanship of George Leek with ex-Riley Motor Company men such as R.H. Rose who designed a new engine for Lea-Francis with a similar layout to the Riley 12/4. The 12 hp and the 14 hp were introduced in 1937 and continued until the beginning of the war when car production ceased and the factory concentrated on manufacturing for the war effort. Post-war car production recommenced in 1946 with updated vehicles based on the pre-war designs but the newly designed “14 hp” Saloon and Sports became popular, if expensive because they were hand-built, unlike their main competitor the Jaguar XK which were mass produced and could be offered at a lower price. Still, in 1950 an improved and larger engine open sports car with wind-up windows, independent front suspension, hydraulic front brakes and other refinements was introduced.
But the sheer quality of these very exclusive sports cars is reflected in the number that still exist today - more than 50%, which is a better survival rate than any other car of the period.
This 1951 alloy body Lea Francis Special example, chassis number 8822, initially started life as a saloon. A tuned versions of the ‘14’ engine was fitted to a number of racing and sports cars, notably the first Connaught's. And just like the Connaught this car has the 1767 twin cam motor built mine by ‘Yarrow’, the late Steve O’Rourke’s Le Mans mechanic. Briefly: Twin 1.5-inch with twin SU carburettors. Sports upgraded head skimmed to raise compression to 8.5 to one.(7.25 as standard), Ported and flowed, larger 60 thou inlet valves, hardened seats, new exhaust valves, bronze valve guides. Modern style valve stem seals, 10mm spark plugs not 14mm to allow valve clearance. Lea-Francis double valve springs (sports spec), 7/32 diameter pushrods. Block lined and pistons machined to fit 3mm wide rings. Crank crack tested and balanced and new bearings fitted. Lightened flywheel, now 18lbs from 26lbs. Electronic ignition. Electric water pump, 4-2-1 exhaust manifold. About 5,000 miles since last build. Fitted with a modern oil filter rather than the old piano wire filter. Around 100 bhp and very brisk performance reportedly topping out at around 95/100 mph. Needs nothing doing at all. A great choice for road or classic and vintage Hillclimb's/sprints. VSCC events and UK/Continental rallies. Fabulous road car – sweet to drive, nice gearbox, brakes and steering, engine has plenty of torque as well as top end. Everyone smiles, waves and thumbs up. I even going shopping to Sainsbury’s its great! Included a few useful improvements such as an alternator and a more efficient radiator core, cooling fan.
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