1936 Railton Cobham Deluxe Saloon
One of only around six surviving; known history from new; largely original with few owners; well-maintained; powerful straight-eight engine; recently went to Le Mans and back; VSCC eligible; a fine example of this rare and potent saloon
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.
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.
The 1936 models gained hydraulic brakes, improved front-axle location and Andre Hartford Hydro-Telecontrol shock absorbers which could be adjusted from the cabin. A DWS built-in jacking system was also included in the new specification. Carbodies was the coachbuilder of choice for the factory models, a substantial pressed-steel B-post effectively supporting the front and rear doors. From 1937, the chassis was increased in width after which the cars lost a little of their elegance.
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.
Thought to be one of the most original of the half-dozen or so survivors, this splendid Cobham saloon was ordered in Deluxe specification and abounds with nice details including a Leveroll tilt mechanism to the front seats, zip up door pockets, commodious rear ashtrays, rear window blind, twin horns and a large central fog light at the front.
DBH 137 was bought new in September 1936 by a Mrs Ethel Robarts of Lillingstone House, Bucks, who employed a chauffeur to drive her around in the car. When she died in 1967, she left the Railton to her son, Lt Col AVC Robarts, at which point it had covered some 61,000 miles. He never really used it and in 1969 he wrote to the Railton Owners’ Club asking if they could find a buyer for the car, although whether they did or not isn’t clear. The Railton appears to have spent the next 16 years in storage before being acquired by a Mr GA Boden of Barton Turf, near Norwich, in October 1985.
Mr Boden got the car running again before selling it to a Mr JA Burdon-Cooper of Crieff, Perthshire, in December 1986. In 1989 he sent the car to a professional motor engineer, Rolf Knoery of Aspatria, Cumbria, for a full mechanical overhaul (engine, gearbox, brakes, suspension), the works carried out being amply detailed in invoices on file.
In 1993 the car was sent to Frank Dodgson of Bootle, Cumbria, for localised repairs to the bodywork, following which it was treated to a bare metal repaint in black cellulose. The exterior brightwork was all replated at the same time by Prestige Electro Plating of Barnsley. The interior was sympathetically refurbished by Knoery including new carpets, a new headlining, repairs to the leather seats and all woodwork removed, cleaned, waxed and refitted.
The car was then driven to the 1994 Railton Owners’ Club National Meeting where it won the Thompson & Taylor Award in recognition of its high state of originality. It was then little used and kept in Carcoon storage until being acquired by the Railton Owners Club Secretary, Barrie McKenzie of Sheffield, in 1999. He used it more regularly, getting it MOT’d most years, going to local shows and not being shy of undertaking the odd longer journey, including trips to Shelsley Walsh and to the Brooklands Centenary celebration in 2007, reporting that it always proved very reliable.
During McKenzie’s 18-year ownership the car was initially maintained by Knoery and then by his own son, Iain McKenzie, proprietor of Railton specialists Fairmile Restorations of Worcestershire. Work included replacing a cracked exhaust manifold with a new cast-iron one supplied by the Railton Club spares scheme and rebuilding the front axle with new kingpins and bushes. The radiator was recored by Serck of Birmingham and the brakes overhauled with new cylinders etc. The front seat bases were showing their age so new leather was carefully blended in by a skilled local trimmer.
Our vendor acquired the car from McKenzie (via Brightwells) in 2017, a saleroom notice at the time declaring that the engine had developed a top end rattle at speed just before the auction. This turned out to be a problem with a con rod which was soon fixed by Fairmile Restorations who also skimmed the head, fitted various new gaskets and overhauled the carburettor. A new electronic fuel pump was also fitted along with new HT leads, a new coil, new suspension fluid reservoirs and bushes and a new set of tyres.
The car has provided sterling service ever since, including a run to the Le Mans Classic and back in 2018 during which we are told that it ran faultlessly, easily keeping up with modern traffic and being much admired along the way and at the race track.
The car has been sympathetically improved and renovated over the years rather than being fully stripped and restored so it retains the honest charm of the original as a result. The only non-standard feature are the extra rear lights on the back wings which supplement the ‘D’ lights in the rear number plate box – a useful upgrade. The original trafficators still function, powered by a clockwork self-cancelling unit.
The speedo recently had a new cable and works as it should, although it seems from the old MOTs that the odometer has been stuck on the same reading for the last 30 years or so, although it briefly started working again recently only to fail again, the vendor surmising that the cable has worked loose from the mechanical drive off the gearbox which should be a relatively easy fix.
At some stage the car has been fitted with a new Club-supplied Power Dome aluminium cylinder head and the engine seems to be in fine fettle. It has certainly been starting promptly and running beautifully as we have moved it around on site, still pulling smoothly in top gear from little more than walking pace, as intended by its maker, with notably effective brakes and light steering. It comes with an interesting history file, various show plaques, a copy of an original Instruction Manual, some useful notes on driving, two sets of keys and a plain radiator cap plus a more decorative bird mascot.
Offering bags of performance, originality and good looks, this pre-war Railton is on the Post-War Thoroughbred list of the VSCC so offers plenty of potential for its new owner to enjoy in competition should they so wish. An interesting alternative to an Alvis or Bentley of the same era, this sporting saloon is ready for a new owner to enjoy right away and is on offer here at a fraction of the cost of its period rivals.
For more information contact James on 07970 309907 or email [email protected]
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