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 1919 - 1950

Captain Noel Macklin

Captain Noel Macklin - the man behind the Invicta car - loved the lazy, effortless torque of the steam engine, which could take a vehicle from a stand-still to maximum speed without gear-changing. That sort of performance was what he looked for in his motor cars, whatever their motive power.

Barely out of his teens, he had raced big Mercedes and Fiats at Brooklands from 1909; during World War 1, he served with the Royal Horse Artillery. In 1919, he decided to go into car production, so Macklin and Hugh Eric Orr-Ewing took over part of the Handley-Page aircraft factory at Cricklewood, where they built a sporting light car called the Eric-Campbell; its specially tuned 1.5-liter Coventry Climax engine gave a maximum speed of 65 mph, and two cars were built for the Targa Florio.

The Silver Hawk

One started, and failed to finish, but it was notable to break into international competition so soon after the war. Macklin, however, soon parted from the Eric-Campbell, and next attempted to market an even more sporty light car, the Silver Hawk, produced in the three-car garage and workshop behind his house in Surrey. The project was abandoned after a year.

Macklin next decided to experiment with steam, and bought both Stanley and Doble steamers for trial purposes. After being badly burnt on several occasions, he became convinced that steam and the average motorist would not mix, so he decided to develop a petrol car whose lazy top-gear performance would emulate the desirable characteristics of steam as closely as possible.

Three prototypes of the new car, which Macklin called the Invicta, were built in the garage at Cobham in 1924; however, their 2.5-liter Coventry Climax six-cylinder engines did not have the flexibility that Macklin sought. A fortuitous meeting with Henry Meadows of Wolverhampton resulted in the supply of 2.0-liter Meadows sixes for subsequent Invictas; these power units gave the top-gear performance which Macklin was seeking, at the expense of maximum speed, which the overall gearing restricted to just over 60 mph. The cars could, however, climb the one-in-four Brooklands Test Hill in top.

Production versions of the Invicta were built in a new factory on the Fairmile at Cobham; finance for the venture was provided by Oliver Lyle (of Tate and Lyle) and Earl Fitzwilliam, formerly the power behind Sheffield-Simplex. The designer was W. G. Watson. The handsomely square-cut radiator of the new car recalled both the Silver Hawk and the Eric-Campbell, and rivets down the bonnet-hinge line emulated Rolls-Royce. To improve the top speed, the engine was bored out to 3 liters for 1926, giving a maximum of around 70 mph.

The Monza Autodrome Endurance Run

To gain publicity for the new model, Macklin arranged a remarkable endurance test at the Monza Autodrome. Even in the 1920S, they were using sex to sell motor cars, for a pretty young lady driver,  Violette Cordery, headed the Invicta team. Starting on the 1st March 1926, the car averaged around 60 mph - stops included - for four days. Then, one of the drivers nodded off at the wheel, and the car overturned into the iron railings edging the track. After extensive repairs at the Isotta-Fraschini factory, a fresh start was made at midnight on the 9th, and the car ran until Sunday 21 March, covering 25,000 kilometres at an average speed of 55.78mph, breaking 33 Italian and four international records, despite frame fractures caused by damage sustained in the crash.

Violette and Evelyn Cordery

A few months later, the irrepressible Violette was off again, this time with her sister, Evelyn, on a 10,000-mile round-the-world tour, which won Invicta the coveted Dewar Trophy for 1927. At Olympia in 1928, Invicta Cars showed their latest model, the 30 hp 4½-liter; the chassis price was UK£985, and the Meadows power unit developed over 100 bhp. In mid 1929, a number of these cars were acquired by Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, as the Invicta's rapid acceleration made it ideal for chasing smash-and-grab raiders.

1926 Invicta Streamlined occasional 4 seater
1926 Invicta Streamlined occasional 4 seater.

1928 Invicta 4.5 liter fitted with Harrison body
1928 Invicta 4.5 liter fitted with Harrison body.

1931 Invicta 4.5 liter
1931 Invicta 4.5 liter.

The Flying Squad Invictas

In September 1929, three men were tried at the Old Bailey after a chase by one of the Flying Squad Invictas. They had driven off at high speed in their 30/98 Vauxhall (which had eluded a police car by its sheer speed on a previous occasion), when signalled to stop in Victoria Street, just down the road from the 'Yard'. The Invicta drew alongside the 30/98 in Buckingham Gate, and one Inspector Ockey jumped on to the Vauxhall's running board. A desperate fight ensued: the Inspector was hit on the back of the head with a jemmy, and rolled into the gutter outside Wellington Barracks.

The two cars raced down Ebury Street at 70 mph, until the Vauxhall skidded, ripped off two tyres and crashed into a wall. After a hand-to-hand struggle on the pavement, the criminals, well known smash-and-grab raiders, were arrested; at their trial, they were sentenced to penal servitude: 'Since these really fast cars were added to the fleet, the police have been successful in capturing a number of alleged motor bandits,' commented The Motor.

A Second Dewar Trophy

In mid 1929, Violette and Evelyn Cordery were off again. This time they travelled over 30,000 miles in 30,000 minutes, driving round and round Brooklands over a two-month period. Their average running speed was 61.5 mph, the car used a gallon of petrol every 18.47 miles, and needed no more than routine maintenance throughout the run, which took place in atrocious weather conditions. This triumph of reliability won Invicta their second Dewar Trophy. By the autumn of 1929, production was concentrated on the 4½-liter, and the 3-liter had been dropped. However, as the larger engine had been fitted in a virtually unmodified 3-liter chassis, it became obvious that the extra power was too much for the frame. So, at the 1929 Motor Show, an entirely new chassis was introduced. This was the Type NLC, the most expensive Invicta model that had then been produced, with a chassis price of UK£1050, and finish and fittings to Rolls-Royce standards.

The Invicta NLC

Lower and more rigid than the old chassis, the NLC also had longer springs and a wider track. For speed merchants, however, Invicta had a new thrill in store, and one that was not to be seen at the Show. This was the new S-Type sports chassis, which appeared at the very end of 1929. It was exceptionally low-built, with side-members which were dropped behind the radiator and then continued backwards beneath the rear axle. The top of the engine was at the same level as the top of the radiator, and the steering was sharply raked to keep the overall height down. A massive cast-aluminum dashboard carried reserve oil and petrol tanks, and there was a twenty-gallon fuel tank at the rear of the chassis.

The engine was endowed with two massive bronze SU carburetors and dual magneto and coil ignition, with separate plugs for each system. The twin exhaust pipes emerged spectacularly from the bonnet sides, clad in chromed conduits like those of the then contemporary Mercedes sports models; and burrowed beneath the side valances, where a massive silencer and tail pipe were fitted to take away the roar of the engine. On the radiator of the new model was a distinctive badge, with the word 'Invicta' vertically on a gold 'I'-shaped ground, supported by red, green and blue wings in iridescent enamel like some fantastic butterfly - as can be seen above in the top left panel.

The '100 mph Invicta'

The car's performance was sufficiently high for the new model to be nicknamed the '100 mph Invicta', although its makers described it only as the 4½-liter Sports; the top speed was well into the 90s, and the car could go from 10 to 90 mph on top gear in 32.5 second sand from 10 to 60 mph in 15 seconds. Almost as newsworthy as the performance of the new Invicta Sports was the marque's massive price reduction during 1929, achieved mainly by production economies such as the use of aluminum instead of Elektron for chassis castings, and the substitution of chromed brass for German Silver brightwork.

The cost of the high chassis was cut from UK£1050 to UK£650, the new sports chassis sold at UK£750, the high chassis saloon cost just UK£765 and the sports four-seater was UK£875 complete. In a complete reversal of all that the Invicta stood for, the Cordery sisters drove their '30,000 miles in 30,000 minutes' high-chassis tourer from London to Edinburgh in top gear during 1930; Donald Healey then used the same car to win his class in the Alpine Trial that summer.

Donald Healey Takes The 1931 Monte Carlo Rally

More spectacular was Healey's performance in the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally. Driving an S-Type, he started from Stavanger in Norway, slid off the road soon afterwards and demolished a telegraph pole, bending the chassis and putting both axles out of alignment. Despite this, Healey won the Rally outright and beat all his competitors in the Mont-des-Mules hill-climb which followed the event. Healey repeated the Mont-des-Mules success the following year, but only managed to take second place behind Vasselle's Hotchkiss in the Monte. His car, however, already had 50,000 miles on the clock before the rally started, Long-distance reliability trials of this type were more within the 'Invicta's compass than track events,

although S-types appeared in the 1931, 1933 and 1934 Tourist Trophies. The leading Invicta track driver was George Field, but the racing Invictas rarely stayed the distance. In the 1931 Brooklands Double-Twelve, Field's car was the fastest car around the sharp curve from the Members' Banking into the Finishing Straight (the race was being run the wrong-way-round), but holed a piston. A new set was fitted overnight and, by the middle of the second day, the car was lapping at 90 mph. It was still running at the end, but failed to complete the distance.

Raymond Mays's White Invicta

A special single-seater was built for the 1931 Brooklands 500-mile race, but was written off during practice. More successful was Raymond Mays's White Invicta, which did well in sprints, hill-climbs and sand races. However, it was rumoured that the low-chassis Invicta was liable to become tail-happy under racing conditions, a contention that seemed amply borne out in the summer of 1931, when S. C. H. Davis wrapped his S- Type round a telegraph pole at Brooklands.

That same summer, Donald Healey was back in the news: driving an S-Type he completed the International Alpine Trial without a single penalty point, winning one of the coveted Coupe des Glaciers awards and making the fastest climb of the Galibier Pass. He repeated the Coupe des Glaciers feat the following year; two other Invictas also gained the coveted trophy for their performance in the Trial. The 1931 Olympia Motor Show saw a new small Invicta, designed to bring the marque's appeal to a wider market. Priced at just UK£399, the car had a dropped frame along similar lines to that of the S- Type. Its power unit was a six-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft Blackburne engine.

However the car turned the scales at nearly 24 cwt, which meant that to get any sort of performance from the engine, the depressingly low final-drive ratio of 6:1 had to be used, resulting in engine speeds of over 5000 rpm in normal use. The Motor, testing a tired example which could only reach 67 mph instead of the 70 mph-plus claimed by enthusiastic owners was, nonetheless, impressed: 'Here is a car with altogether exceptional roadholding qualities and superb springing, capable of excellent hill-climbing and rapid acceleration, besides having a very fair turn of speed, and all this, mark you, for the very modest upkeep and running charges of the smaller and more-conventional type of light car'.

Even then, a few months after the model's introduction, Invicta must have realised that the engine was not really up to the task of moving this car around with the traditional reliability and speed for which the marque was renowned, so, in July 1932, a supercharged 1½-liter with 80 mph performance was announced. It was not particularly successful, due to carburation problems; the 14/120 announced at the end of 1932 had a similar supercharged power unit, this time of 1660 cc, but, although it was listed as available, it is unlikely that the model ever reached the public.

The Invicta 5 Liter SS

Stillborn, too, was the 5-liter twin-overhead-catnshaft SS-Type, with three valves per cylinder: two prototypes were apparently built, with Reid Railton as consultant designer, and there was talk of a team, headed by Humphrey Cook, for Le Mans, but nothing came of the car or the competition version. In any case, Invicta production was virtually at an end. In 1933, Macklin sold the company to Lord Fitzwilliam, and perhaps half-a-dozen Invictas were assembled from spare parts at the company's London depot in Flood Street, Chelsea. They were the last of perhaps 1000 examples of the marque, of which 77 were the low-chassis S-type.

The Railton Terraplane

Macklin had retained the Fairmile works and soon they were busy with a new departure in motor-car construction, the Railton Terraplane, which was the remarkable Essex Terraplane adapted into a characteristic English class car by the designer of the Bluebird, and the experimental staff of a famous British sports car. In fact Reid Railton had not had much to do with the design of this first of the Anglo-American sports cars, but his was an impressive name to have on the square-cut radiator shell, which had a distinct family resemblance to that of the Invicta (with rivets down the bonnet).

There was talk in 1938 of reviving the Invicta name for a range of re bodied French Darracq’s assembled in London, but it came to nothing. From 1934, the Railton had a Hudson 8 engine (Hudson sixes became available in 1938) and there was also a 10 hp standard-engined version from 1938. Hudson Motors acquired the company in 1940 - they had been assembling the cars for some time anyway - but production of Railtons was minimal after that, and ceased entirely in 1949.

The Invicta Black Prince

Noel Macklin died in 1946, having received a wartime knighthood for his work as head of a gunboat factory; a few weeks before his death, a new Invicta was announced, but he had nothing to do with this new venture, which originated from the Invicta Car Development Company of Virginia Water, Surrey. The designer was, again, W. G. Watson, and power was by a Meadows six-cylinder engine, but there the resemblance ended. The 1946 Invicta Black Prince had all-round torsion-bar independent suspension and a complex Brockhouse hydrokinetic automatic transmission.

During the new company's four-year life, production amounted to between twelve and twenty Black Princes, and then the moribund company was acquired by AFN Ltd, makers of the Frazer Nash, but no more Invicta’s resulted from the takeover.

Also see: Lost Marques- Invicta (AUS Edition)
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