Singer or Ringer?


Say, Che, what IS that purple car?
   "Runs like a sewing machine" is a phrase you don't come across often now, but once was common in the car world. It's a compliment, meaning that an engine is smooth and reliable ... though maybe a bit buzzy.
   Owners of Singer cars no doubt heard it regularly, although when directed at their vehicles, it was probably intended more as a gentle jibe. And they, no doubt, responded that Singer Motors Ltd., founded by George Singer as a bicycle manufacturer in Coventry, England, in 1874, had nothing to do with the sewing machine company Isaac Merritt Singer and partner Edward Clark launched in New York in 1851.
   Singer – George, that is – first built motorized three-wheelers in 1901. A four-wheeler followed in 1905, and in 1912, the company achieved significant success with its Singer Ten, a sturdy two-seat roadster that was good on gas.
   Singer Motors was quick to adopt mechanical innovations, from steel frames to fluid-coupling transmissions, but while its cars were smart looking and lauded for their reliability, the company could never match the sales of rivals Austin, Morris and Ford.
   In 1956 Singer was absorbed by the Rootes Group, which was headed by William (Billy) Rootes, a one-time Singer apprentice, and already owned Hillman, Sunbeam and other British brands. Rootes maintained the Singer nameplate, but the Singer models – the Gazelle, the Vogue and finally, the Chamois – all were rebadged Hillmans. In 1967 Rootes was absorbed by Chrysler, and in 1970 the Singer brand was dropped.
   And speaking of rebadged – I'm puzzled by the apparent Singer above, spotted in a Havana Harbour parking lot overseen by the author of Cuba's agrarian reform laws.
   It might be a Gazelle, or it might be a Austin or other British marque that somehow acquired a Singer emblem – and a strange, tombstone-like emblem it is.
   The owner wasn't around, or I would have asked about this car's pedigree. Naturally, I would also have asked if it ran like a sewing machine.

The Singer Chamois, a rebadged Hillman Imp.


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