Britain By Car - A Motoring History

Fairthorpe

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The first of three locations, all within a relatively small area, where sports car manufacturer Fairthorpe Ltd built their cars.

Location    
Fairthorpe Ltd, The Market Place, Chalfont St Peter (1954 -61); Station Road, Gerrards Cross (1961-64); Denham Green Lane, North Orbital Road, Denham (1964-73).

Date
1954 – 1973

Commentary
Fairthorpe Ltd was founded by Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett - pilot, navigator, and founder of the RAF’s Pathfinder Force.  The company’s name is derived from the name of the house in Toowoomba, Queensland where Don Bennett lived as a boy.

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Fairthorpe’s first car was the rear-engined Atom; a two-door fibre-glass mini-car, offered with a choice of rear-mounted BSA or British Anzani motorcycle engines, ranging from 250cc to 650cc.   

This was replaced in 1957 with the Atomata, also known as an Atom Major.  Despite its similar name, the new car bore little relation to its predecessor. Although more conventional in appearance and fitted with front-mounted BSA 650cc engine (or a Standard 10 engine, in the case of the Atom Major), it was more than twice the price of the Atom and did not sell well.

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Fairthorpe’s next model, developed in 1956, epitomised the products of small British car manufacturers in the late 50s and early 60s.

Designed by Fairthorpe’s works’ manager John Green and Ken Lowe (who went on to establish his own eponymous company manufacturing engine cooling fans), the Electron used a Microplas Mistral body and a 1098cc Coventry Climax engine.  It was a fast car, with good roadholding, but the cost of the excellent engine was a major drawback.

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The solution to this problem was the cheaper Standard 10-engined Electron Minor, available either factory-built or as a kit.  Despite stiff competition from mass-produced sports cars, like the BMC Sprite/Midget and the Triumph Spitfire, about 500 Electron Minors were sold during its production run.

Three further models were introduce between 1960 and 1963: the Electrina and Rockette with Triumph engines (from the Herald and Vitesse, respectively) and the short-lived Zeta, using a tuned six-cylinder engine from the Ford Zephyr/Zodiac.

The late sixties and seventies saw the introduction of a new range of cars, the TX series, devised by Don Bennett’s son, Torix.  With a fastback coupé style, the cars were again fitted with Triumph Spitfire and GT6 engines and a modified rear suspension of Torix Bennett’s own design.  

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The last car to be developed by Fairthorpe was the TX Tripper, launched in 1970, with a style that was a blend of sports car and beach buggy.

One further aspect of the interest in Fairthorpe is in relation to the company’s founder, Air Vice-Marshall Donald (Don) Bennett CB CBE DSO FRAeS.  Born in Australia in 1910, he joined the Royal Australian Airforce at the age of 20, before moving to Britain on a short-term commission with the RAF.

Within a year he had been promoted to flying officer and was, by all accounts, a remarkable pilot with a particular aptitude for navigation.  Qualified also as a commercial pilot and flying instructor, he wrote The Complete Air Navigator in 1935, which was, for many years, a standard text on air navigation.

Wishing to extend his flying experience as widely as possible, he joined Imperial Airways in 1936 flying between London, Paris and Cologne, and later from Southampton to Alexandria and South Africa on the flying boat service.  

In 1939, following the outbreak of war, he worked on the Atlantic Ferry Service, piloting American aircraft to Britain and then re-joined the RAF.  In 1942 he was appointed to form the Pathfinder Force, set up to find and mark targets for Allied night time bombing raids.  A year later, he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshall, the youngest person to hold such a high rank.  

In May 1945, Don Bennett left the RAF and contested the seat of Middlesbrough West, as the Liberal Party candidate.  He was elected unopposed, but two months later was defeated in the 1945 general election.  He stood at three further by-elections and subsequently campaigned well into the 1970s for a more independent Britain outside the European Economic Community.

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Don Bennett and his wife Elsa also competed in motor sport.  In a Mark VII Jaguar, they came eighth in the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally.  In 1954, again driving a Jaguar, they entered the RAC Rally, starting from Hastings.  In 1958, driving a Fairthorpe, they competed in both the Monte Carlo and RAC rallies and at the Prescott hill climb.

Air Vice-Marshal Bennett died on 15th December 1986.

Further details    
• The Fairthorpe Sports Car Club, www.fairthorpescc.com.