Race Retro Competition Car Sale 2018

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1959 Fairthorpe Electron - Coventry Climax

Lot No.: 229

Registration: 641 XUY
Chassis Number: 8179
Engine Number: FWA400-67746
Number of cylinders: 4
CC: 1220
Year of Manufacture: 1959
RHD/LHD: Right Hand Drive
Sold for (£): 22,500
  • Fabulous little fifties' racer designed and built by a war hero
  • Ground up 'labour of love' restoration by our vendor. New chassis and bodywork
  • Full-race 1220cc Coventry-Climax built by Peter Waller
  • FIA Passport has now lapsed but can easily be renewed
  • Eligible for FISCAR, Equipe GTS, Goodwood, and owner's club events

Donald Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO (14 September 1910 – 15 September 1986) was an Australian aviation pioneer and bomber pilot who rose to be the youngest Air Vice Marshal in the Royal Air Force and is probably best know these days for leading the 'Pathfinder Force' (No.8 Group, RAF) from 1942 to the end of the Second World War in 1945. He has been described as "One of the most brilliant technical airmen of his generation: an outstanding pilot, a superb navigator who was also capable of stripping a wireless set or overhauling an engine". 

Those legendary mechanical skills were put to good use in the 1950s when he formed Fairthorpe Cars in Chalfont St. Peter planning to build lightweight sporting cars that could achieve 60mph and 60 mpg. Success came quite quickly with the Fairthorpe Atom, a little coupé that featured one of the earliest applications of glass-fibre and a twin-cylinder motorcycle engine  In 1957, this was replaced by the front-engined Atomata, however, both these cars sold in low numbers. But Don Bennett was also working on a more sophisticated car built around a Coventry-Climax 1098cc engine, a new chassis and a Microplas Mistral body that was sourced externally. This car was the 1956 Fairthorpe Electron which did well in motor racing but was too expensive to sell in numbers. In 1957, Fairthorpe launched a cheaper version; the Electron Minor; which saved money by using a tuned Standard Ten engine and transmission. The 'Electron Minor' was good enough to stay in production until 1973 with upgrades in engines, brakes and chassis from the Triumph Spitfire and GT6.  Because of their light weight and nimble handling, they were very successful at club level, but for more serious racing something else was needed. To address this, Don used the suspension, brakes and axle from the Triumph TR3 and the legendary FWA Coventry Climax engine, which had been very successful in international competition. He dropped the 'Minor' from the name and it became, simply, the 'Electron', however, only 21 or 22 cars were built, and with only seven believed left in existence, they are now very rare cars.

Our enthusiastic vendor, Robert Cobden found this Electron on the Isle of Wight languishing in a garden where it had rested for more than 20 years, and of course was in poor condition. The engine was the original Coventry-Climax unit but hadn't run for years, the chassis from the front suspension back was in a very poor state, and someone had attempted some amateur aerodynamic modifications to the bodywork, however, the TR3 running gear was all there and Rob is a 'glass half full' sort of person. There followed a 'labour-of-love' 18-month restoration and the result, as you can see, was undoubtedly worthwhile.

A new chassis was fabricated using the existing as a template (in Historic racing, with safety paramount, most older cars will have had a new chassis at some point), a new bonnet and rear body were made by a company that make Cobra bodies, the brakes and suspension were rebuilt, fitting Gaz shocks and springs, and the gearbox was stripped, checked, and carefully reassembled. The engine was rebuilt and modified for racing by the marque expert Peter Waller; the crank was ground to 10 thou u/s and balanced, as were the rods and pistons, which are Arias forged, it was fitted with FWE liners thus taking it out 1220cc, and special lightweight flywheel and modified rear seal fitted. The head was gas flowed, larger valves fitted, and a 'Kent Cams' five-bearing camshaft fitted. We understand that it now revs happily to 8000rpm and showed 112 bhp at the flywheel on the dyno. A smart roll-bar which can easily be removed was fitted and, with circuit use in mind, the car was fully equipped with belts, extinguisher, battery switches etc as required by the regulations. (Potential buyers should satisfy themselves as to the currency and legality of all safety equipment). It was issued with an FIA passport which has now expired but can easily be renewed.

This pretty little sports-racer is eligible for a surprising number of events including FISCAR (50's sports cars), Equipe GTS, Goodwood and many club sprints, hill climbs, and road rallies or, if competition is not your thing, it could quite easily be put back to road use and would make a very rare sight at the local pub.