By Rod Ward
The British were not the first European car manufacturers to put big American engines into their cars. In the 1920s and 1930s many Continental car-makers used engines from the USA. Sizaire used the Willys-Knight sleeve-valve engine. BNC, Delaunay-Belleville, Hansa and others used Continental straight eights, and the famous Bucciali 16-cylinder engine was made up from two Continental eights. These were mostly large luxury cars, which needed the power of the big American engines to haul their heavy bodies around. The aim of the British car makers who used American engines (and chassis in some cases) was rather different; they wanted high performance. Many elegant British sporting machines were rather lacking in power (and often in reliability), whereas imported American cars offered high power for much less money, but some British drivers did not want to be seen in cheap trans-atlantic cars. As prices of cars from the classic British marques spiralled upwards, however, fewer and fewer buyers could afford to buy their products, especially in the financially straitened 1930s. The answer was to offer classic British coachwork, but with the power and reliability of an American engine under the bonnet. This also allowed smaller firms to get a toehold in producing speedy British-built tourers in competition with the larger and more established marques. Many names have been applied to this class of car; ‘hybrids’ (nowadays more usually applied to cars with more than one form of motive power, such as petrol and electric), ‘big bangers’ (more bang for your buck, perhaps) and ‘bastards’ (more to do with their unmentionable parentage than with their behavioural characteristics). In this book we look at British car makers who adopted American car engines from the 1930s to the 1960s; Allard, Atalanta, Batten, Brough-Superior, Gordon-Keeble, Jensen, Lammas-Graham, Leidart, Railton, TVR and Trident. Other notable British marques which used American engines, such as AC and Bristol, are covered in other titles in the Auto Review series, so they just get a passing mention here. Many other makers tried inserting a big American engine into a British car, so we apologise in advance if we omit your favourite obscurity, though a few byways are explored here.