This intriguing Triumph Vitesse-based special dates from 1937 and has recently been retrieved from a barn in Cheshire where it had been quietly slumbering for a decade-and-a-half.
An appealing amalgam of Duncan Drome aluminium bodywork and pre-war Vitesse running gear, it is believed to have been built in the early-1950s using a 1937 Triumph Vitesse Saloon as the donor vehicle. The V5C records it as a Triumph Duncan Drone, declared manufactured 1937 and first UK-registered in January 1989.
The engine is the four-cylinder 1,767cc overhead valve unit as fitted to the 14/60 Vitesse and 14/60 Dolomite of 1937/8, luxury sporting machines which were developed by Donald Healey when he was technical director at the Triumph Motor Company. We are told that the engine has been recently recommissioned and runs sweetly.
With twin SU carbs and the light alloy body, it should prove a lively performer although the car has not yet been driven any distance since it came out of hibernation and will doubtless benefit from further precautionary checks before any long journeys are undertaken.
The vendor believes that at one time the car was fitted with a Ford V8 Pilot unit and used for hill climbing, although there is nothing on file to substantiate this. The 16” offset wires on the rear certainly look purposeful and perhaps hint at competition use in the past. The beam axle chassis also looks impressive and does not appear to have been shortened. Front shock absorbers are with the car but have yet to be fitted.
The aluminium body was apparently fitted in the early Fifties when the original Vitesse saloon body was discarded. Evidently fond of the car, the then-owner must have elected to give it a new lease of life by fitting the Drone body you see today.
Ian Duncan’s Norfolk-based company, Duncan Industries (Engineers) Ltd, is best known for supplying bodies to Healey and Alvis, though Allard, Bentley and Daimler were also clients. Duncan supplied 15 Drone bodies to Healey at a time when hefty purchase tax had been introduced at 66.66% on cars costing over £1,000.
The Drone just managed to undercut this figure but it meant that the screen, passenger seat and spare wheel were classed as optional extras. Owners could elect to rebody their minimalist machine as a second-hand car and thus avoid the dreaded purchase tax.
The survival rate of Healey Drones wearing the original body is tiny, though one has recently successfully competed in the Mille Miglia. In all likelihood this body started life on a Healey but has had its Triumph underwear for the last 60 years or so. The interior looks very smart and has clearly had a substantial amount of work at some point in the past, including retrimming the MG seats in red hide.
A most interesting confection that will no doubt reward further research, it is certainly the only Triumph Drone in existence and is sure to prove a real talking point wherever it goes.