Lost Marques: Derby and Vernon-Derby

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Derby Cars

Derby / Vernon Derby

 1921 - 1936
Although the Derby was a French car, it was built under British control and with British capital, a somewhat unusual thing in those days. However, there was nothing unusual about the marque's origins, the company having been founded at Courbevoie, Seine, in 1921, just one of the dozens of tiny cyclecar makers which were struggling for a share of the post-war market.

Derby's initial offering was a voiturette with an American-built vee-twin motor-cycle engine, but this was soon replaced by a Chapuis-Dornier engine, and the car became virtually a carbon copy of the successful 5CV Citroen.

It was cheap, too, and the English concessionaires could afford to sell the two-seater at £195 in 1923, only £30 more than the cost of the Austin Seven. Somehow the marque failed to catch on in England, although one of the models at the 1923 Olympia Show did give a promise of where the marque's future lay.

This was the 9 hp Sports, with wire wheels and a British-built body, costing £275 complete; a special racing version had already appeared in the 1923 200 miles Race at Brooklands.


In 1927, the car was being sold on its sporting merits in England, under the name Vernon-Derby, by its new agent, Vernon Balls, who had forsaken his originally chosen vocation (of veterinary surgery) for motor cars.

By now, the 8 hp Derby had gained a four-speed gearbox instead of the three-speed unit originally fitted, plus brakes on all wheels. Despite the improvements, the price remained at £275. The agency passed to Morgan Hastings Limited, of Berkeley Street, London, in 1928, although the Vernon-Derby name was retained for a while.

Three models were now available, the original 9 hp sports, plus two new models, the side-valve 1.5-Iitre sports and the 14 hp. Both had proprietary six-cylinder power units. Another new model appeared in 1929, replacing the side-valve 1.5-liter. This was the 12 hp six, which had a smaller power unit than its predecessor and, again, was a side-valve unit.


The Vernon-Derby sixes were sporty rather than sports cars; they were generally fitted with two-seater or sportsman's coupe coachwork, although at the 1930 London Motor Show a rather handsome sports two-seater on the larger six-cylinder chassis (increased in size to 16 hp, with a swept volume of 1847 cc) had styling similar to that of the contemporary Bugatti. Around this time, the marque became seriously involved in motor sport: racing driver Douglas Hawkes had brought a 1500cc front-wheel-drive Miller racing car over to France, and this, usually handled by Mrs Gwenda Stewart (sister of Glubb Pasha, and later Hawkes' wife) was campaigned as the Derby-Miller.

Part publicity-raiser, part test-bench, the qr came to incorporate more and more Derby parts over the years. In 1930, Mrs Stewart took the 1.5-liter class record at Montlhery, covering a mile at 118.13 mph; the engine was later bored out to 1.7 liters, in which form Mrs Stewart, in 1934, set up a record lap of Montlhery at 147.79mph, which stood for five years. A second 1500 cc racer to bear the Derby name came in 1935, this was the Derby-Maserati, with a super-charged, twin-over head-camshaft Maserati power unit in a chassis with independent suspension all round.


It did not enjoy the success of its predecessor, but still survived in 1974, making occasional appearances at vintage events. Derby's last production cars were unusual, too. In 1931 came the 12/50, with all-round independent suspension again and front-wheel drive. Two years later, it was joined by a front-drive, 2-liter V8 model with a similar chassis layout, but this time costing £525 before coachwork was added. Both cars had an interesting forecast of future practice in the positioning of gear and handbrake levers, which protruded through the dashboard.

Gwenda Stewart competed at Le Mans with the V8 in 1934 and 1935, but retired on both occasions. The front-wheel-drive models, plus an obscure rear-driven, Meadows-engined car, were the last new models to be produced by Derby, which abandoned car manufacture in 1936.

1928 1100cc Derby Four, fitted with a Chapuis-Dornier engine
1928 1100cc Derby Four, fitted with a Chapuis-Dornier engine.
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