Fairley Convertible

Fairley Convertible. Photograph by All Car Index

Looking through dusty old archives can sometimes divulge the most unexpected stories. Take this account from July 1950, in which a newspaper revealed that a new Sheffield-made car was being built specifically for export to America.

The car was the Fairley Convertible, a five-seater family car, made by James Fairley and Sons, one of Sheffield’s oldest steel firms, on Bramall Lane.

It was designed by R.W. Phillips, known to everyone as Reg, a Monte Carlo rally driver, the firm’s general manager, and built by only five people aiming to construct one car a week.

The car was based on the Austin Seven and powered by a Jowett-Javelin engine. With a chassis made of tubular Sheffield steel, and with an aluminium body, the car weighed only 18½ cwt, made to provide a good power-weight ratio for economy and high performance.

Carrying five people, it had a top speed of 80 m.p.h. and did more than 32 miles per gallon.

“We have aimed at a high performance, small horse-power car, which can be easily handled in busy streets and parked quickly,” said Reg Phillips.

A motoring correspondent was able to give the prototype of the Fairley Convertible a test drive around Sheffield.

“At the rush hour period between five and six p.m. it slipped easily through traffic between The Moor and Abbeydale Road to Dore, and only rarely was it necessary to use third gear.

“It has four gears, with steering column change lever, which are expected to give speeds of: Second, 40 m.p.h.; third, 60 m.p.h.; top, 80 m.p.h.

“Pale blue, it has a Continental-style radiator grill and, in latest fashion, a chromium plated rubbing strip on each side of the body.

“For easy access to the flat-four engine, the whole bonnet can be lifted from the front by one hand.”

Unfortunately, despite the fanfare, the odds were stacked against the car. Priced at £850 (about £26,875 now), the Fairley Convertible was displayed for the first time at Aston’s of Coventry in January 1951.

In fact, the project never materialised and only one prototype was built, but it did get the steel industry concerned as to whether aluminium might take over from steel for car bodywork

Reg Phillips fared better. Born in 1915, he was passionate about cars and earned a reputation as a rally driver, often co-driving with Raymond Baxter (better known as a presenter on Tomorrow’s World) after they’d met at Silverstone in the late fifties. Phillips went on to become chairman of James Fairley and Sons, whose head office was in Birmingham.