The Singer Nine Roadster survived WWII and propped up its company's sagging image
Following World War II, all leading British car manufacturers had to make a fresh start. To reclaim their pre-War positions in the industry, they had to produce cars that would meet consumer aspirations beyond the domestic market. Thanks to the Minor designed by Alec Issigonis, the Morris Motor Company passed the acid test.
In contrast, the Singer car company managed to stay in consumer consciousness by continuing with a pre-War model, the Nine Roadster. It was re-launched without any changes. Singer persisted with the same design and dimensions until 1949, when it began to treat the Roadster to one improvement after another, and re-introduce it as different models.
Despite having just a three-speed gearbox and a top speed of 65 mph, the original Nine Roadster (1939 to 1949) did not do too badly. What it lacked in power, it made up in style. Najm Musvee was taken up with the graceful lines of a 1947 Singer Nine Roadster, which had been wowing people in Bangalore for many years.
Sulaiman Jamal, a key member of the Karnataka Vintage & Classic Car Club (KVCCC) and an uncle of Najm's wife, told Najm he had spotted a roadster for him. As he clinched the deal over the Nine Roadster just a day before a colourful KVCCC rally, Najm took part in the pageant.
That was seven years ago, and the two-door car has since become an integral part of the Musvee household. Najm's sons Faizaan and Amaan have grown up believing Sunday is dedicated to driving vintage cars. “We take the Singer out every Sunday,” says Najm.
Recently, the Roadster surprised the Musvees by lasting the entire course of the punishing Chennai-to-Puducherry rally without any hiccups. Having gained in confidence, the Musvees took the Singer to the Irungattukotai race track. It did not disappoint this time, either.
Since he bought the Roadster, Najm has undertaken a few major repairs, including the one on the 1074cc inline-four, overhead cam engine. “The upholstery has been redone in conformity with standards specified for the car,” says Philip Miller, who looks after the car's maintenance.
Miller points out that there is a lot of wood in the car's body — the wooden framework supported by aluminium panels was common bodywork in those days.
This bodywork continued into the subsequent versions of the roadster. The later models underwent significant changes in other areas. When Singer upgraded the Nine Roadster to a four-speed machine and replaced the SU carburettor with a solex, the new model was named 4A. With other improvements and changes, including the suspension, braking system and engine, the 4AB, 4AC, 4AD and SMX came in quick succession.
When the last car rolled out of the Coventry factory in 1955, there was no doubt that the Roadster had done wonders for Singer's image; but the gains from the car were not so substantial as to save the company from financial nightmares. A dying Singer was absorbed by the Rootes Group in 1956.