Singer SMX &
Singer Motor Company

Fiberglass SMX 1953

Fiberglass SMX 1953
Submitted by Rick Feibusch, 2012

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Singer 10 HP 1913
Singer 10 HP 1913


By Geoff Wheatley & Rick Feibusch
SMX images from Hendrik Jan Bakker

One of the more successful auto companies in Britain was the Singer Motor Corporation, based in Birmingham. Singer started by making motor cycles in 1900 until 1905 when they produced their first automobile. Between 1905 and 1954, Singer produced cars that were solid and conservative, yet unique, incorporating advanced features such as twelve volt electrics, when the rest of the industry was still playing around with six and nine volt systems, electric starters, double-shoe brakes, a retractable top/hood that could be operated as the car was underway, and other delights like a built-in-dash radio and comfort heater.

Their only claim to fame as a performance car was a Singer Sports Nine that, by chance, came in 13th at the 1933 Le Mans and came in 7th in 1934. The Publicity Department then started to call the car the Singer Le Mans.

Priced mid-range, Singer products were marketed to, what in those days was known as the "Professional Customer." The company never tried to market to the same general public that Ford, Morris, and Austin catered to. Flashy design or sporting style was never a prime feature for Singer, a firm that had developed their reputation on being conservative and dependable. The North American British car crowd knows little about the Singer marque, as its postwar impact was minimal compared with MG, Triumph and Jaguar. and the 4AD roadster was never a "real" sportscar because it still was powered by a prewar engine.

Singer Le Mans 1936

Singer had difficulty in the post WWII era when the British Government's "Export Or Die" program, that linked steel allotments to export ratios, was in full swing and were unable to establish a viable export market. This was especially a concern in the US market, where the more successful British motor manufactures were exporting at least 75% of their production. Despite various attempts to sell Singer products in the US, it was never a success and many of the cars that had been exported to America never sold and were eventually reshipped to Australia. This had a serious impact on their steel allotments. Singer 1953 Marilyn Monroe
Singer Le Mans 1936

Marilyn Monroe with a Singer 1953

The Fiberglass SMX

Singer SMX Prototype 1953 Singer SMX Prototype 1953

The fiberglass Singer story starts with flamboyant American Singer distributor, Bill Vaughan. Vaughan, an adept promoter, had purchased a Ghia-Aigle special bodied coupe and raced a reworked version in local Sports Car Club of America races along with some standard Singer4AD Roadsters. Vaughan saw the future in fiberglass and was considering opening three manufacturing plants (California, New York and Florida) to produce plastic bodies to be fitted to production Singer roadster chassis. They were to be molded in "Vibrin Polyester", an early type of fiberglass. This developing enterprise, along with GM's Corvette, inspired Singer's serious consideration of building a fiberglass car body.

The SMX development program in the UK was headed by George Minton and his team in Singer ‘Special Projects.' They developed the final design, but a number of American fiberglass pioneers like Bill Tritt, who had worked with Vaughn on his personal fiberglass body projects and engineer/designer Perry Fuller who built a ‘glass bodied Singer-based special and had some input into the earliest of prototypes, though Fuller's name is not mentioned in any Singer record or literature as having been directly involved in the SMX program.

The design, loosely based on the Singer SM1500 sedan grille, trim, and components, was finalized in January of 1953. The car was fitted with smaller wheels to lower the center of gravity. The SMX bodywork consisted of three separate fiberglass molds in addition to the doors and the weighty, front-tipping hood and front fender unit. It was engineered to pivot forward and give access to the engine and front suspension (like an E-type Jag). The brunt of the stress was forced upon two open-ended front chassis members that were not strong enough to hold up the hood as they were, so a 'U' section member was welded across the front to reinforce the frame for the pivoting hinge. Even though the SMX never went into production, this chassis upgrade was continued on the prewar styled roadster until the end of manufacture two years later.

Having all 4AD chassis fitted with this extra cross-member meant that if the SMX had developed into a production car, any Singer sports chassis could have been taken off the line and fitted with a fiberglass body. This alone indicates that Singer management had a serious intention to put the fiberglass car into production.

Although only four or five SMX prototypes are believed to have been built, as many as 15 bodies were constructed for design studies during the development program.

Singer Motors went into bankruptcy in 1954 after showing their fiberglass car at the 1953 Earls Court Motor show, it was not a show stopper and got limited media coverage. Despite various attempts to sell Singer products in the US, it was never a success and many of the cars exported to America never did sell so they were reshipped to Australia where they can still be seen at Car Events today.

The Rootes Group picked up the pieces and produced Hillman-based, badge-engineered Singers for the next fifteen years before they were sold by the British Government to Lee Iacocca when he was at Chrysler, for almost nothing on the understanding that his company would keep Rootes going for the next ten years. Within two years of this sale Rootes had been broken up and sold off to the highest bidders!

Driving Impressions - The Singer SMX

By Geoff Wheatley

I acquired a 1952 Singer 4 AD roadster in the 1980's that was sitting in a garage looking for a new owner. It needed work including some mechanical parts and as you can imagine such items were not available via Moss Motors! Knowing that the best way to find spares was to join a Singer Club, I discovered that there were two such organizations both located in the UK of course, my eventual choice was the "Association of Singer Car Owners" ´where I placed an advertisement for the required parts. A few weeks later a member in the UK contacted me and that's how I met Bill Haverly., a friendship that lasted several years.

Singer 4AD roadster 1952

We met every time I returned to the UK which was, and still is, about once or twice each year. Bill was to my mind one of the best informed Singer owners in the world and he certainly gave me some valuable advice on restoration including a 1929 Singer that I acquired and restored.

The last time I met Bill he said that he had a surprise to show me and in a large private garage where he kept his toys there was a Singer SMX. He had just acquired the car, although he told me that he had had his eye on the vehicle for some time. It was not, by any standards a sleek design and the fiberglass body was crude compared with the type of type we see today.

There was no trunk/boot as I recall only space for the top/hood which was not on the car at that time. The dash was also rather unattractive but remember I am recalling a car that I saw twenty five years or more ago so I may be a little hazy on the finer details. I do recall that to lift the hood/bonnet was almost a two man job due to the weight and the design and the Singer 4 AD twin carb engine was lost in the available space. Again on memory, the color scheme was cream and red with an ivory steering wheel.

The car started on the first try and with the top/hood down, it sounded like a real sportster. I cannot recall the gear box it may have been the standard three forward or four but I did get the chance to take the car for a short drive around the block. It handled quite well but it was heavy which effected the steering effort at slower speeds. It seemed lower to the ground than the my standard 4 AD as I recall, but again I have to remind myself that this was quite a few years ago and I have sat in and driven many cars since then.

Singer 4AD roadster 1952

Over the years I lost touch with Bill Haverly and have no idea if he is still playing around with his Singer toys. On reflection, looking back on the brief and short history of Fiberglass cars in the UK, I doubt if the SMX would have been very successful. Several manufacturers tried to promote fiberglass vehicles with limited success. I recall the launch of the Daimler Dart in 1962 with a fiberglass body and a Hemi V8 power unit. It never took off despite the Daimler pedigree.

Another factor that reduced the appeal of fiberglass in the UK was car insurance. You could expect your premium to be at least 20% higher if you drove a ‘glass vehicle and for something like the Daimler considerably more.

A number of companies produced fiberglass kits that could, with some dedicated skill, be transferred to a Morris or Ford chassis, but again, these had a very limited market primarily because it was easier and cheaper to buy a second hand MG or Triumph. The Brits also apparently like the feel of steel around them, as indicated by an equally limited attraction of alloy bodies. During the period of steel rationing several companies tried to promote alloy bodied cars including the post war Singer. Body repairs were expensive compared with steel and the suggestion that performance and fuel economy would improve was never accepted .

Although the general public never associated fiberglass with the motor industry it was almost immediately welcomed by the yacht and power boaters. Easy to clean, would not rot, required little attention, and easy to repair as if and when it got damaged. As early as the 1950's fiberglass boats were featured at all of the British Boat Shows and within a few years it was difficult to find any company offering wooden water craft.

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