One of the most resonant names in British motoring history, Railton Cars was founded in 1933 by Noel Macklin, a gifted engineer who had already established his credentials as a top rank car manufacturer with the Invicta marque which he had previously founded in 1925.
For his new venture he teamed up with Reid Railton, another brilliant engineer perhaps most famous for designing Sir Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’ Land Speed Record cars of 1931 to 1935, and John Cobb’s record-breaking ‘Railton Mobil Special’. Macklin was preoccupied with top gear performance and his goal was to produce a quiet and refined car with good handling, comfortable ride and above all, effortless acceleration.
Produced at the old Invicta works on Macklin’s Fairmile estate in Cobham, the first Railton Straight Eights used a modified Hudson Terraplane rolling chassis with a 94bhp 4,010cc straight-eight engine fitted with tourer or saloon bodywork by Ranalah. Costing around £499 they offered exceptional performance for the era with a 0-60mph time of 13 seconds and a top speed approaching 100mph, and could be driven almost anywhere in top gear alone.
From 1935 the Hudson Eight chassis was adopted with a larger 113bhp 4,168cc engine and typically English-style bodywork by a range of coachbuilders including Ranalah, REAL, Carbodies and Coachcraft. When fitted with a lightweight body, the new Railton Eight proved startlingly quick, accelerating to 60mph in just 8.8 seconds, prompting Macklin to hail it as ‘the fastest production car in the world’. No wonder the police loved it, the Railton Cobham saloon becoming a favourite with the Flying Squad in 1930s London.
Costing £433 in chassis form and typically from £600 to £900 fully finished depending on coachwork, these were expensive cars and Macklin did well to sell 1,379 Railton Eights before production came to an end in 1940. He then turned his attention to the war effort, making equally fine torpedo boats for the Royal Navy under the Fairmile Marine banner for which he was awarded a knighthood in 1946.
Hand-built to order for a wealthy client base, no two Railtons were exactly alike but all were excellent cars and survivors are rare and sought after today. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, they also spawned many imitators from the likes of Facel-Vega, Allard, AC, Bristol and Gordon Keeble.
Built in 1935 and first registered in March 1936, this Railton Straight Eight 4.2-litre has Sports Cabriolet coachwork by Carlton Carriage Co. of Willesden, the ingenious hood being swiftly raised and lowered via a sequence of cantilevers and springs based on patented Kellner principles.
CXD 817 was built to order for Lt Col Frederick Llewellyn Scholte OBE (1890 – 1984) of 20 Conduit Street, London W1, a consulting engineer and qualified flying instructor who had raced Bugattis before the Great War, and was posted to France during it as liaison officer for Trenchard’s fledgling Royal Flying Corps and the French Air Force.
A personal friend of Ettore Bugatti, Scholte wanted the car for fast Continental touring and specified generous luggage capacity which was provided by a large boot allied to a hinged bootlid which could be locked in position horizontally to take an additional steamer trunk, a pulldown roller blind protecting the contents of the boot while the trunk was in place. The spare wheel was carried externally on the offside front wing and the toolkit housed in a compartment on the bulkhead under the bonnet, with a removable base to allow easy access to the coil and electrics beneath.
Scholte also specified lightweight side windows made from aircraft-grade Perspex which necessitated a sliding railway carriage-style lever at the front of the doors to operate them and lock them to the B-posts. Other special features of Scholte’s design included no bonnet rivets but two large coach bolts fitted to each bonnet top so they contact each other when the bonnet is opened thus avoiding any damage or strain to the panels; a concealed compartment in the nearside rear arm rest for cash, passports and a pistol perhaps; bench front seat with a split back allowing the passenger to recline; front brake cables in a protective conduit to avoid chafing on the chassis; a grease nipple and tube to allow easy lubrication of the clutch thrust; all panels and wings in aluminium; long-range fuel tank with a filler cap inside the boot floor to frustrate petrol thieves; no external mirrors and a tiny rear window – which must have made reversing with the roof up quite an adventure…
Scholte was immensely proud of his Railton, much preferring it to his previous Alvis and refusing to let anyone else drive it – including his son Owen, despite the poor lad becoming an Advanced Motorist in a vain effort to prise the car from father’s hands, if only for a short while. In letters on file, Owen recalls the “terrific acceleration” of CXD and some of the adventures they had in the car. Laid up in Hampstead during WW2, it then did sterling service until 1956 when Scholte finally sold it to Jean Smit, founder member of the Railton Owner's Club, photos on file showing that it was still looking good at this point.
However, it seems that the Railton’s fortunes went downhill thereafter, passing through the hands of a Lancashire farmer called Davey before ending up in a Cambridgeshire scrapyard by 1965 at which point it was showing some 70,000 miles on the clock. Fortunately it was spotted by another ROC member, Bryan Tyrell, and in 1968 he rescued the car and put it into long-term dry storage where it was to remain for the next four decades.
In 2009 our vendor was enjoying a quiet breakfast at the ROC AGM when he fell into conversation with Tyrell and the subject of CXD cropped up. A leading light in the owner’s club and a serial Railton restorer, the vendor was also a glutton for punishment and before his coffee had gone cold he had become the owner of yet another Railton in distress.
Over the next five years he treated CXD to a meticulous nut-and-bolt restoration which has resulted in the fine specimen you see today, the whole process being documented in many photographs on file and in articles written for the Railton Club newsletter. This included constructing a completely new ash frame to which the original aluminium panels were then attached, galvanised underwings also being fitted to protect the panels for years to come. The colour has been changed from the original sombre black to a more cheerful two-tone Old English White over red which accentuates the lines of the car, although to be fair the white paint has the odd imperfection here and there. The chromework is all original and has polished up nicely.
One of the biggest challenges was to get the complex hood mechanism back in working order. The original design had fixed the mechanism direct to the ash body frame and, with all those powerful springs at work, the wood had inevitably given up the unequal struggle. To fix this problem once and for all, the vendor constructed some ingenious steel bracketry which now connects the hood mechanism directly to the chassis, the vendor recalling an address given by Coachcraft designer Geoffrey Durtnal at the inaugural ROC dinner in 1956 when Durtnal ruefully pointed out that “the cars were never meant to last this long”.
The interior of the car is particularly fine, the vendor electing to replace the original brown West of England cloth trim with red Connolly hide, including an Art Deco sunburst pattern on the sizeable doorcards. The woodwork has also been refurbished and the dash instruments rebuilt as required, although the vendor admits that the complex fuel gauge defeated him and the level needs to be checked via a precision instrument known as a stick. The Bluemels steering wheel has been purposely left unrestored to remind the owner of just how far the car has come since he acquired it.
Naturally the original engine has been fully rebuilt with new pistons, reground crank etc, the gearbox has also been overhauled with a new clutch fitted, as have the Bendix brakes and the suspension, including the Andre Hartford Tele Control shock absorbers. The electrics have been converted to 12v and the wiring renewed as required.
Since the restoration was completed the car has only covered some 200 miles, the 70,650 miles displayed being almost certainly genuine. Starting easily and running beautifully as we moved it around for these photos, the vendor states that it is “very good to drive, being rattle-free and pleasingly light on the road with the bonus of fully operational Andre Hartfords. The hood works wonderfully and fits very snugly, giving you the option of a nice airy tourer or a proper closed car.” Although exempt from such things, the vendor intends to get a new MOT in time for the sale as a gesture of his confidence in the car which will be driven some 30 miles to get here.
The history file includes many invoices and photos charting the restoration; some period photos of Scholte and his son Owen with the car; old green log book from 1968; current V5C; two old tax discs from 1962 and 1964; magazine cuttings referring to the car; correspondence from previous owners; plus much technical literature about Railton, Coachcraft, Kellner and Andre Hartford.
Fascinatingly, it also has copies of correspondence between Scholte and Ettore Bugatti spanning the period 1917 to 1930 in which the two friends swap technical advice and family news, Scholte at one point using his contacts to obtain supplies of the new Discol racing fuel for the Bugatti team cars in the Grand Prix de Lyon. The letters were given to the vendor by Owen Scholte and the originals are now in the The Bugatti Trust archive.
Only reluctantly for sale due to health issues, this rare, low mileage, matching numbers grand tourer is in lovely condition throughout following a meticulous restoration by its knowledgeable owner and comes with a wealth of intriguing documentation. A powerful and most usable machine, it doubtless has decades of useful life ahead of it and now only needs a caring new custodian to add their own chapter to its interesting life to date.