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Coachwork by Swallow
*Please note that this vehicle is titled by its engine number.
The SS company and the SS1
When R.W. Walmsley and William Lyons joined forces in 1922 to build sidecars and later, automobile bodies, Lyons seemed to continuously look for the next product to design and build, always improving along the way. Keenly aware of the increasing demand for affordable performance within the automotive market, Lyons began to look beyond his current pursuits and, in 1931, introduced the first SS-badged model at the Olympia Motor Show, the SS1 coupe.
Touted as “The car with the £1,000 look for £310,” the dramatic long-wheelbase coupe appeared low and lithe with its long cowl and bonnet, backset radiator, and helmet type front wings. Built on a custom specified chassis that was supplied by the Standard Motor Company, it featured a spirited two-litre inline six-cylinder engine and four-speed gearbox. Styled to the design convention of a longer bonnet equating to higher horsepower, this first model had no running boards; and, though technically a four-seater, featured a blind rear quarter – further emphasizing its sporting character.
According to its JDHT certificate, this striking first-series SS1 was built on February 25, 1932, and was sold to Mr. W.K. Shipton of Penzance, Cornwall, England, two months later. Its known history continues through 1938, when the SS1 was registered by Brian Sawers in South Australia. Having previously been converted to a tourer, the SS1 remained in this configuration through numerous Australian owners. The car retained its original, matching-numbers engine; though by 1969, a Vauxhall engine had been fitted for increased horsepower, with the original engine and gearbox always remaining with the car. In the early 1970s, the SS1 was imported to the US for the first time, reportedly in running order. In 1979, the SS1 was purchased by the consignor and was stored until a full restoration could be undertaken, beginning in 1997.
The restoration of the rare SS1 was conducted as a personal project and to a very high standard. Original patterns and materials were sourced for the project and the car had the benefit of being restored alongside an identical example; a major stroke of luck as only eight examples of the early helmet-fendered coupe are known to exist worldwide. Having the second car nearby was especially helpful when the roof and door timbers were recreated, and the finished product is faithful to its original design and proportion. The consignor states that all of the SS1’s mechanicals, including the original engine, were rebuilt to “as-new” condition and installed in his own restoration shop, and the frame and running gear components were powder coated.
For interior and paintwork, the coupe was sent to Dave Davenport in England. Mr. Davenport has long been regarded as the leading authority on the early SS cars. The interior, with its soft, medium blue leather, was completed in consultation with an original SS factory trimmer and appears just as the interiors had been done originally, with correct pleat width and the distinctive sunburst door panel pattern re-created exactly. The interior wood, with its mirror-like surface, is finished with a green hue that enlivens the complex grain of the veneer.
When completed in 2003, the consignor debuted the Lavender Grey and black SS1 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and has exhibited the car at several Concours in California, earning many first place trophies along the way.
A CCCA Full Classic, the SS1 is eligible to take part in club-sponsored CARavans and numerous other events. Its distinctive looks are at once quintessentially British, yet exclusive to this particular rare model. One can clearly see Sir William Lyons’ penchant for sleek, low-profile automobiles even at the early point in his career, when he designed the SS1. This rare coupe is ready to continue its concours career with its fortunate new owner.