25 February 2015

Many ups and downs for Lea & Francis cars

Starting with bicycles, then moving to motorcycles and then cars, Lea & Francis Co. never had huge success

In 1895, Richard Henry Lea and Graham Ingoldsby Francis became partners and formed the Lea & Francis Co. to manufacture bicycles.

Their first experiment building cars in 1904 was less than successful, with only three cars built and production ceasing in 1906.

In 1912, they branched out into motorcycles and had much more success with that line until 1924.

Automobile production resumed during the 1920s when they gambled their future on a small, lightweight supercharged sports car capable of 144 km/h — the Lotus Seven of the day.

Production and sales were going quite well until the Great Depression caused economic turmoil within the company. Lea resigned in 1931 — Francis had left in 1924 — and the receivers moved in.

They tried to keep the company afloat and built 61 cars before the last gasp in 1936.

In 1937, two ex-Riley employees, out of work because of the collapse of that company, tried to breathe new life into Lea-Francis and managed to build 83 cars before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Their attractive postwar sedans, station wagons and sports cars resulted in the sale of 3,500 cars before the company fizzled out again in 1956 and the Lea-Francis board decided to concentrate on the engineering side of its business.

Demands from enthusiasts prompted the board to reconstitute the automotive division of the company in 1960.

A controversial sports model called the Lynx was built in an ill-fated attempt at a comeback.

The Lynx used a revived 1948 tubular steel chassis, was fitted with a Ford Zephyr in-line six-cylinder engine, a Triumph TR3 gearbox, Dunlop disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering.

The model displayed at the Earls Court Motor Show was built in six months.

What a tribute to the dedicated factory staff working in times of financial uncertainty!

Of the three built, only two were sold to customers.

The Daily Telegraph in the U.K. voted the Lynx as No. 25 in its list of world’s ugliest 100 cars.
I think that was a little harsh. The art deco body style seems to grow on you over time.

The total production over 37 years amounted to 8,293 cars, of which 420 are accounted for today.

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