1955 Swallow Doretti Roadster

The story of the Swallow Doretti sports car of 1954 & 1955 is a fascinating footnote in the history of the British sports-car revolution. The first piece of this interesting mosaic comes with the industrial conglomerate TI, also known as Tube Investments. Abingdon-based Tube Investments was founded in 1919 with the merger of several seamless steel tubing makers. The company would grow to include a number of important industrial suppliers and manufacturers across England, including Reynolds and Armstrong. By the 1960s, the portfolio included Raleigh, BSA, Triumph Cycles and Rudge. Swallow Coachbuilding was added in 1946 when William Lyons, founder of Swallow, sold the sidecar and coachbuilding business to TI to form Jaguar Cars. Without Lyons’ leadership, Swallow sidecar sales languished. In the early 1950s, bosses at TI felt that a sports car could inject some excitement into the Swallow brand, as the storied coachbuilder was still held in very high regard.

The firm tapped Frank Rainbow, an ex-Bristol Aircraft engineer who served many different TI companies, to design the car. He was given a clean sheet to work with, though to save time, the engine, gearbox, rear axle, and front suspension was shared with the Triumph TR2. A nearly impossible timeline of nine months was given to produce a running prototype. Amazingly Rainbow and his small team came through, delivering the car in time for the 1954 London Motor Show. Based on a Chromoly steel ladder chassis built from Reynolds tubing, it was longer and wider than a TR2 which allowed the engine to be mounted further back for superior weight distribution. Ironically, the pretty Frank Rainbow-penned body was built by Panelcraft, as Swallow could not meet production requirements.  California importer Arthur Anderson suggested the name Doretti after his daughter Dorothy Deen, who ran a successful business selling sports car accessories under the Doretti name.

The Swallow Doretti was met with rave reviews, and the price point put it neatly between the Triumph TR2 and Austin Healey 100. The car enjoyed swift sales from the start, and plans were put in place for follow-up models. However, suddenly, production was stopped after just 276 vehicles. History sometimes paints the Swallow Doretti as a failure given its short production run; however, the reality is that it was a victim of its own success. Sir William Lyons did not appreciate one of his primary suppliers building a rival sports car, and he suggested that TI decide whether they wished to continue making sports cars and if he should consider a new supplier for Jaguar’s bumpers, door locks, and other parts. The message was received loud and clear, and without a public statement, production of the Swallow Doretti halted abruptly.

This 1955 Swallow Doretti is chassis number 1110, a lovely car with a well-maintained older restoration in beautiful colors. According to letters in the history file, this car was purchased by a young man from Boise, Idaho in about 1974. Sadly, he was killed in action in Vietnam soon after, and the car sat for some time before being sold to a family friend. The new owner got it back up and running and drove it on a regular basis. It would be put back into storage by the next owner, who held the car for many years, though it is believed he never drove it. In the mid-1980s it was acquired by Bob Carpenter of Caldwell, Idaho who began the process of restoring the car from the ground up. Letters, information, and correspondence in the file show that Mr. Carpenter was a passionate Doretti enthusiast. Letters between him and Dorothy Deen are included, where she offered insight on the car’s history and color suggestions for the restoration.

The Swallow Doretti presents very well today and is a lovely and charming car with a mild patina from age and careful use. The pretty light green paintwork is contrasted with red cockpit rails and top. Paint quality is overall quite good, with some texture visible in places, but overall remaining glossy and attractive. Bumpers and chrome trim pieces also present very well, and the grille shows a bit of care-worn patina in the plating. The chrome wheels are excellent, wrapped in appropriately-sized black wall radials.

Red and black upholstery provides a pleasing contrast to the paint. The seats, dash, and carpet are trimmed in black with red piping to complement the red door panels, cockpit rails, and red pinpoint vinyl top. In spite of the years since restoration, the interior remains tidy and attractive. One advantage the Doretti had over its competitors was the roomy and comfortable cabin, a definite step up from the utilitarian Triumph TR2 which it shared many of its components.

On this example, power comes from a slightly later specification TR3A engine from 1957. The engine is well-detailed, and fitted with S.U. carburetors and a rare Doretti-branded alloy rocker cover. The additional power from the later-spec engine is welcome, as is the four-speed gearbox with overdrive. The Swallow Doretti is a delight to drive, feeling brisk and lively on the road and the restoration has been lovingly maintained through the years by a passionate enthusiast. Triumph-sourced components allow for ease of service, while the refined handling and unique style make it an ideal candidate for historic driving events, including the prestigious Colorado Grand and the Mille Miglia. This Doretti is an appealing and enjoyable example of this fascinating yet short-lived English marque.

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