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 1933 - 1949

Captain Noel Macklin

The Railton was an Anglo-American car emanating from the factory which had formerly produced the Invicta sports car at The Fairmile, Cobham, Surrey. Two similarities connect Captain Noel Macklin's Invicta with his Railton which followed it. The first is that the Invicta, although more of a quality car than the Railton, was nevertheless assembled at Cobham almost entirely from bought out components, and the second is that one of the tenets on which the design of the Invicta was based was that it should be a 'top gear car'.


In 1933 Invicta production was coming to an end, and a total of about 1000 cars had been made since 1925, Invicta being yet another victim of the trade depression of the early thirties. Meanwhile, here in Detroit, somebody had thought up the wonderful new word 'Terraplane', and Hudson-Essex Motors decided to apply it to their new six-cylinder Essex range of cars, employing the famous air-woman, Amelia Earhart, to christen the range in July 1932.

B. A. Lolfe and his Terraplane Orchestra

Early the following year, when NBC audiences were being entertained on the Hudson radio programme by B. A. Lolfe and his Terraplane Orchestra, an eight-cylinder Terraplane was available, distinguished externally from the six-cylinder model by its longer bonnet, with small doors replacing the louvres in the bonnet sides. This was the car on which the original Railton, with the clumsy name of 'Essex-Railton-Terraplane', was based.

The engine was a 75 x 114mm (4010cc) side-valve unit with a 5 bearing crankshaft, coil ignition, 14 mm plugs and a single down-draught carburetor. At 3600 rpm it developed 94 bhp with the standard compression ratio of 5.8 to 1. The three-speed gearbox was in unit with the engine and both were rubber mounted. The single-plate clutch ran in oil and had cork facings. The 9 ft 5 in wheelbase was longer by 7 in as compared to the six-cylinder Terraplane, but otherwise chassis design was the same, with cruciform bracing and semi-elliptic springs all round.

Reid A. Railton

The car's performance in England, in standard saloon form, was described as 'outstandingly brilliant', and really all Railton Cars did to it was to improve its handling and looks and get rid it of some of its weight. The chassis re-designing was put into the hands of Reid A. Railton, who had been assistant to Parry Thomas at Leylands until they both left that firm in 1923, and who was now a director of the Brooklands racing car firm of Thomson & Taylor Ltd.

This must have been a busy time for Railton as he had not long finished the re-design of Campbell's 'Bluebird' and was also engaged in the creation of John Cobb's Napier Lion engined track car, the Napier-Railton, as well as being involved in chassis design for the new ERA voiturette racing cars. The Terraplane advertisements of the time said: 'To the driver of a Terraplane his machine seems to belong to the air rather than to the earth. Has it an engine, a chassis, a body? He is conscious of none of these things - only of his steering wheel and of the road that lies before him'.

In actual fact, if he drove it at all fast, the driver was conscious of one over-riding factor - that the car's handling was not up to the performance, so that his machine may well have seemed to belong to the air rather than to the earth after leaving the road on a sharp corner! This handling problem was tackled by Railton by lowering the frame and stiffening-up the suspension, using Hartford friction dampers in place of the original hydraulic type. The steering ratio was raised, but the original Bendix mechanical braking system was retained, with the handbrake operating on all four wheels.

1938 Railton Sandown Straight Eight
1938 Railton Sandown Straight Eight.

1935 Railton 28.8 HP Ranelagh Saloon
1935 Railton 28.8 HP Ranelagh Saloon.

Reid Railton
Reid Railton, designer of the Railton road car, Malcolm Campbell's 1935 Bluebird and John Cobb's Railton-Mobil Special. Although his input on later models of the Railton was relatively small, he did receive a royalty on each car sold.
The original Terraplane was a good looking in a modest kind of way, but as the thirties progressed both the Terraplanes and the Hudsons became more and more hideous. The Railton, on the other hand, was always a good looking car, somewhat along old Invicta lines, though with a V radiator, and with a similar long bonnet with the well known Invicta external rivets down the centre, on each side of the hinge. Certain things gave it away, however, such as the Hudson wheels and controls, as well as the agricultural engine under the handsome bonnet; for the cheapest Railton of 1935 sold for about a third of the price of the most expensive Invicta of 1930, and also had better acceleration.

University Motors

Coachwork was mainly by a firm called REAL of Ealing and Coachcraft of Hanwell, the latter being a subsidiary of the London Railton distributors, University Motors. By 1935, the Terraplane range (the name Essex had by now been dropped altogether), covered six-cylinder models only, while the more expensive Hudsons had both six and eight-cylinder engines, and it was on the eight-cylinder Hudsons that the Railton became based from 1934 onwards. The English press often referred to the eight-cylinder Hudsons as Hudson Terraplanes, but Terraplanes and Hudsons were considered as separate marques in America until 1938, when a model with the official name of Hudson Terraplane was marketed.

The Hudson Terraplane

The Hudson eight-cylinder engine was slightly bigger than the previous Essex Terraplane version, with the bore increased by one millimetre, bringing it up to 76 x 114 mm, 4168 cc. With its Carter carburetor and Autolite coil-ignition, the engine now produced 113 bhp at 3800 rpm. Big-end lubrication was on the primitive splash feed trough and dipper system, but it seemed to work satisfactorily, nonetheless. The cost of the Hudson chassis was a mere £290, whereas the Railton chassis price was £433, and every Railton at this time cost about £150 to £200 more than its Hudson counterpart.

Although there was only one Railton model, it was offered with no less than seven varieties of bodywork in 1934/5. These comprised the saloon at £568, the tourer at £543, the drophead coupe at £598, the 2-door sports saloon at £633, the Fairmile coupe at £650, the Cobham saloon at £598 and. the University saloon at £672. Gear ratios were the same as on the Hudson, 4.11, 6.62 and 9.95: 1, and at the time Hudson quoted 60 mph as being available in 2nd and 85-90 mph in top, whereas the Railton figures were 62 mph in 2nd and 84-88 mph in top. The Railton saloon weighed approximately 25 cwt to the 30 cwt of the Hudson.

Axle Flex Independent Front Suspension

In 1934 Hudson had announced their Axle Flex independent front suspension and, of course, the Railton had to have this as well. The axle really did flex, too, by means, of a parallelogram affair jointed just inboard of each of the front semi-elliptic springs. Both Hudson and Railton abandoned Axle Flex by the end of 1934, possibly because it offered few advantages over the cheaper beam axle. Everyone was amazed by the flexibility and top gear performance of the Railton, and also by its acceleration, contemporary motoring journals recording a 0-50 mph time of 7.2 secs with a tourer in 1934.

The Railton Light Sports Tourer

Even more exciting was the special Light Sports Tourer, of which some half a dozen were produced in 1935. This model accelerated from 0-60 mph in just under ten seconds, and had a maximum speed in 2nd of 75 mph and in top of 98.9 mph. One example ascended the test hill at Brooklands at 29.2 mph, which compared favourably with the all time record of 32.44 mph by a supercharged single-seater 1.5-liter sprint car, the Frazer Nash Terror. For 1936, Hudson raised the output of the engine to 124 bhp, which was just as well because like most cars, as the years went by, the Railton became more luxurious and put on weight, the razor edged £688 Cobham saloon of 1937/8 being some 2 cwt heavier than the standard saloon of 1934/5.

The Railton Sandown

A cheaper and lighter model, the Sandown (at £538) was offered as an alternative. There was also a limousine, the University, on a 10 ft 7 in chassis, which cost nearly £900. The old 6-volt electrical system had by now been replaced by 12 volts, and the Bendix mechanical brakes were replaced by hydraulics. After 1937 tourers were only made to special order, and two six-cylinder Hudson models were turned into Railtons in 1938, the 16.9hp, 2723cc and 21.6hp, 3255cc. However, out of a total of 1460 Railtons produced, only 81 had six-cylinder engines and these, of course, did not have the performance of the eights.

Railton, with their sporting image, did not seem ever to have fitted the Hudson automatic transmission of the time, which went under the sinister name of the Electric Hand. After World War 2 the Hudson depot at Chiswick on the Great West Road, which had formerly supplied chassis to the Cobham works, now took over Railton assembly using up 1939 production parts, with the latest 'Powerdome' version of the old engine and a steering column gearchange. When Hudson had fitted a column change before the war, Railton had converted it to a floor change on their models.

Only fourteen post-war Railtons were made, ranging from a drophead coupe to a long wheelbase limousine. In 1938, a Railton had been produced, allegedly for the managing director's daughter, which was rather out of context and of which only fifty examples were subsequently sold to the public. This was the 'baby' Railton, like the larger.ones in appearance, but constructed around an apparently unmodified 7 ft 1 in wheelbase Standard Flying Nine chassis fitted with a 1343cc Standard Flying Ten engine. The price was £299.

In the sporting field perhaps Railtons were less successful than their high performance suggested. Their best international award was a third place overall in the 1934 Monte Carlo Rally with a Portuguese crew, and three cars did well in the less significant RAC Rally at Eastbourne in 1935, gaining first class awards. Several class wins were recorded in sprints and hill-climbs, the most notable being the fastest sports car time at the 1938 September Shelsley Walsh meeting where Charles Follet drove his Light Sports Tourer, which had taken the Brooklands Test Hill sports car record, to return a Shelsley time of 44-40 secs. This took the Shelsley Walsh 'T.T. type' sports car record from A. F. P. Fane's 2-Iitre 328 Frazer Nash BMW only to be beaten in 1939 by both Ian Connell's 4-liter Darracq and Fane's car with times of 43.76 secs and 44.20 secs, respectively.

Follett ran his car in the Light Car Club's 3-hour Sports Car Race, in 1938, over the Campbell Road Circuit at Brooklands, but was a disappointing 7th. after trouble with his rear brakes catching fire. He did, however, come second in a handicap 50-mile track race in the same year at Brooklands at an average speed of 107.8 mph. The Railton had several imitators who sought to obtain low-cost high-performance by putting a large, lazy American engine in an anglicised chassis with British coachwork, a formula that was to prove popular in the future, but it is recognised as easily the most successful of these.
1938 Railton Straight-Eight Tourer
1938 Railton Straight-Eight Tourer.
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