1950 Lea-Francis 14hp Special
Unique and striking two-door coupe built on a 1950s chassis; veteran of various European tours; recent new set of tyres; driven to the sale; a most impressive LeaF all round
Like so many British car companies, the Coventry firm of Lea-Francis started out in life as a manufacturer of bicycles, first trying their hand at motorcars in 1904. For most of the 1920s and ‘30s they concentrated on building small capacity sporting models. The 12hp and the 14hp were introduced in 1937 and continued until late 1939 when the factory switched to manufacturing for the war effort.
Post-war car production recommenced in 1946 with updated vehicles based on the pre-war designs. The 14hp Saloon and Sports were luxurious and sporty for the era and were well-received, if rather expensive, appealing to those who preferred individuality and craftsmanship over mass produced conformity.
Power came from Lea-F's own Riley-style twin-cam overhead-valve 1.8-litre four, designed by Henry Rose who was also the key engineer behind the wonderful Riley engines. From 1949 independent front suspension was adopted and demand for these fine cars rose steadily, 2,133 finding customers before production came to an end in 1954.
The background of the car is slightly unclear, until just earlier this month the Lea-Francis Owner’s Club had the car logged as being one of three Coach built Specials by Cowell and Watson, but upon investigation this looks unsubstantiated, the club’s archivist looking into the history further. They think the original registration in 1950 was FJY735 and that the engine is not the original linked to the chassis which was #7301, but now #2763.
They do know the original supplier was Car Sales Ltd of Plymouth in September 1950 to an unknown first owner. The first known owner the club have logged was a Mr A Weaver of Cornwall, who looking at the history file appears to have been a cabinet maker of high regard, and possibly the ‘coachbuilder’ of this fine car, with various images and letter in the file suggesting so.
It then passed to a Mr G Williams in Norfolk who wrote about the car in the Club’s 2003 Jubilee book – “…a 1950 saloon chassis dressed up to go to a 1930’s Ball. I bought it in March 2000 as a 1937** Coupe which was restored in 1972 and then in a Dutch museum until 1993. I had my suspicions but loved it and bought it. The chassis date, which we only discovered in 2001 at the Stanford Hall rally confirmed my suspicions of it being a 1950 car – it causes some fun and puzzlement, and is both eye-catching and fun – but who made the body, where and when?”
The lower windscreen and swept body, which has a whiff of the ‘Blue Train Bentley’ about it, is, we think, a Weymann type with fabric over a hard wood frame and is so well constructed that it still feels rock solid over 50 years later.
Mr Williams of Norfolk, an active Lea-F Owner’s Club member owned the car some 20 years, from 2001 – 2021 and took it on several European tours including up into Sweden (as images online show testament to, as well as touring the UK and Ireland with many of the rally plaques included in the file.
Correspondence and club magazines on file document some of these trips during which the car was said to cruise happily at 65mph with 26mpg economy. Six old MOTs show that the car has covered around 11,000 miles since 1993. Also on file are some of the email correspondence we have had with the owner’s club archivist including mention of the current registration, AAY275 which is a Leicestershire registration dating from 1937**
The car has recently been serviced and treated to four new Waymaster tyres. We gather the LeaF performs remarkably well and is surprisingly easy to drive, and was driven to Brightwells.
We have enjoyed tootling it round the yard ourselves and can confirm that it goes well, feeling like a much younger car. The vendor advises that the tachometer is not currently working and will need a new cable (it looks like there is one in the boot, but this may be the old one).
The build quality is a tribute to the skills of who-ever built it (maybe Mr Weaver of Cornwall) and the attention to detail is marvellous. Nice touches include the milled aluminium dashboard, the vanity mirror and art deco lights for the rear seat passengers, the LeaF pennant on the front wing and the Perspex-lidded tool tray under the bonnet. Other useful features include twin air horns, a thermostatically controlled electric fan, a red jerry can on the running board and of course the independent front suspension.
Supplied with a good file of history, this unique and handsome LeaF is well known to the club and will draw lots of interest wherever it goes. It feels remarkably robust and no doubt has many more European tours ahead of it in the hands of a fortunate new owner. Go on, you only live once…
For more information contact - email@example.com
* All charges are subject to VAT