Convair Cars - homebuilt Ford powered specials from the 1950s
Angus got in touch late in 2005, with a plea to find out more about Convair Cars, one of many companies around in the 1950s that supplied racey fibreglass bodyshells which could be fitted, with some work, to upright Ford Sidevalve chassis & running gear. These specials were fore-runners of the kit-car building hobby that still exists to this day. Here is a brief history of Convair Cars, plus Angus' request for anyone with information on these cars to get in touch.....
Convair was set up by two brothers, Terry and Clive Wren. Terry was a typical East End lad and was very good at spotting "opportunities". One such "opportunity" came along in the form of glass fibre. He could see that it had potential especially in the construction of car bodies. He was a keen motorsport participant and wanted to create his own racing cars. Clive was much more technically minded and between them they set about designing and building a lightweight body to fit the Ford 7'6" chassis which was very popular at the time.
Terry had already spotted that once the moulds had been made they would be able to reproduce the body and sell it on to other Specials builders and so get their one for free. They were well connected and travelled in the right circles and used to meet with the 750MC at Abbey House. Soon a few more orders were coming in. Clive started to upgrade the Ford chassis using the usual boxing in techniques etc and these strengthened chassis were available to customers as well. At this time they were really only making bodies. Terry started "souping-up" his car and soon Aquaplane and Bellamay bits were available too.
During this period Clive was getting to grips with the new glass fibre technology and frequent requests were made to the US for advice and materials. Terry went to work for British Thermoplastics and Clive went to BOC and other companies to gain more experience in their required fields. Clive helped set up one of the first electron microscopes in Britain and took out a patent for aluminium/glass fibre bonding. He also designed a dual feed resin gun with automatic glass fibre cutter to speed up the layering process. The curing process was carefully studied and they ended up making a wooden oven to heat shells to about 70 degrees.
This formative stage was carried out at their fathers workshop in Type Street, London. Soon the need for a second set of moulds meant that they were no longer appreciated here an had to find new premises in Cathall Road, Leytonstone. They were producing about 2-3 bodies a week at the time and the waiting list was about 6 weeks long. Most customers bought shells, some with modified chassis but others wanted tubular chassis as well. Terry (probably with the help of his friend Chris Threlfall, a racing driver of the period) "came up" with an inverted cradle tubular chassis design which fitted their shell and took Ford or BMC running gear. It could also be fitted with a Panhard Rod and De Dion rear suspension, the LMB IFS setup was available at the front.
During this period Terry was keen to take more "opportunities" and they produced a number of aircraft radoms, air conditioning ventilation flues and roadside electrical junction boxes as well. The firm was ticking over quite nicely and they indulged in lifes luxuries including fast cars, ski-ing at St Moritz, tobogganing at the Cresta run and flying aeroplanes.
The brothers then decided to build a stronger more robust shell for sale as a road car. The other shells were basically designed as racing bodies until then. The Excell body was formed at Maurice Gomm's workshops in Byfleet. About the same time a new chassis appeared in the form of the S-Type. This was constructed along the lines of Jon Tojero's racing chassis and had two straight 3" tube chassis members with lots of cross bracing. It was designed to use Nash Metropolitan suspension at the front but could be modified to suit Ford or other bits. Torque tube or prop shaft propulsion was avaiable but most people opted for the BMC rear axle, again a Panhard Rod being avaiable. The chassis was designed to take a number of engines including Coventry Climax, MGA or MG TD, Morris Minor, or Ford units. The rolling chassis had avery low centre of gravity and was very lightweight. Either the old Convair body or the new Excell body could be fitted.
Soon after this Terry mysteriously moved to Newark and hence split the company up. They took a set of moulds each. Terry set up TWM based at his new garage in Newark and Clive continued producing cars under his engineering company's Nordec name. Terry raced Convairs on a number of occasions and also bought a Formula Junior and Cooper. He raced mainly in the UK but did occasionally feature abroad.
After a few years Terry returned to London to buy another garage and had somehow managed to get into the oil delivery business. The brothers soon linked up again and owned a fleet of oil tankers supplying the East End. The Austin Healey Sprite also materialised and Terry saw it as a direct threat to their cars as it was a proper sports car with the backing of a major marque and he had seen it race very successfully. That basically brought the car production to an end and the brothers continued with the oil tanker business while starting to trade in light aircraft.
Terry was tragically killed in a light aircraft accident a few years later which was a huge loss to his brother Clive. Clive continued in the aircraft business running several companies in ground handling and maintenance and is now retired and living near Southend-on-Sea.
The total production appears to have been:
Anyhow, I have a rough idea about the company, but I have very little information about the cars themselves. Any information at all about them would be useful. Pictures, receipts, adverts, names of owners, previous owners etc as I am trying to collate as much data as possible. I hear that two bodies ended up on Buckler chassis, which would probably have made a very nice sports car. I have seen the one in the Haynes Museum, which is a GT and only 6 of these were made, but I have not seen or heard of any others.
- Convairs (racing shell) and Vitesse (road versions) - approx 60-70
- Excell (TWM and Nordec) - approx 40
- GT coupe - 6
Can anyone help Angus in his search for information on these rare cars, and news of any as-yet undiscovered survivors out there? chances are there is at least one bodyshell out there still I'd have thought. I stumbled across the only known surviving Nickri Champion a little while ago (it had been thought to be the more common Falcon Caribbean), so there's a chance that a Convair still languishes out there awaiting restoration!! Please drop me a line via the contact page and I'll forward your info on to Angus.
[Update] In 2007, Bob contacted me from the US with details of his Convair - read all about it on the Convair MG TC page.
[Update] In 2016, Barry in Canada sent me a photograph he has of a Convair he used to own while still living in the UK. That can be seen here, in the photo section of the site.
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