Article on the Suffolk SS100 written by Barry Collyer of Kit Car
Magazine. Back copies of the article including 15 colour photographs
can be obtained from Norfolk Lodge, Balcome Road, Crawley, West
Sussex, RH10 3NJ. Tel. 01883 624964.
one of the most beautiful examples of late ‘30s styling, the SS100
lives on in the reincarnation from Suffolk Sportscars. But, like
the stunning looking woman who may be great as a mistress, would
you really want to live with her on an everyday basis? Barry Collyer
gets to give one of his mistresses a 7-day trial marriage!
way to appreciate a car’s all round ability is to test for as long
as possible and in as many varied conditions as possible. That was
my excuse recently with the Suffolk SS100.
with “beauty being in the eye of the beholder”, anyone contemplating
the purchase of their ideal car to build can eliminate 90% of what’s
available on visual grounds alone. Cost is another very important
factor of course but then, if the desire for a particular model
is strong enough, I for one, would probably part with more cash
than was perhaps, sensible. But then, when has being sensible ever
been relevant to having a mistress!
two dilemmas are easily sorted by a visit to a major show or to
the manufacturer to look at the cars in detail, test drive a demonstrator
and do the necessary arithmetic. Club owners are also a useful source
of information on which to base a decision, but they will probably
be biased in favour of the car that they have, if only to justify
their choice. You would hardly expect the owner standing proudly
beside his creation to tell you the thing was noisy, rattly, unreliable
and a pig to build. So all you have left now is your own impression
after a limited test drive. This (hopefully from the manufacturer’s
point of view) would be on a fine day, top down, wind in the hair,
etc., where any shortcomings would be concealed or overlooked by
the sheer pleasure of the experience. But what is it like when it
is raining, cold, or just sitting boiling in a traffic jam on the
M25? In other words, would the lady stand up to the rigours of everyday
life at the kitchen sink? Anyway, enough of the sexist remarks,
here is what the SS100 is like to live with - well for a week anyway.
elegance in the shape of an open sportscar is your idea of great
motoring then the Suffolk SS100 must be high on your list of options.
SS100 was one of the most beautiful of the creations from the partnership
of Sir William Lyons and William Walmsley. Co founders of SS Cars.
This pedigree, plus a very short production run of 314 cars, due
to the outbreak of WW2, was destined to catapult the SS100 into
that expensive rarefied atmosphere of desirability and exclusivity.
270 original cars surviving world wide and fetching well into six
figures for a good example, the Suffolk replica seems an excellent
BIT OF HISTORY
and its many beautiful chrome embellishments was originally created
by the skillful hands of Terry Rowing, head man of TRAC Products,
part of whose business is the restoration and supply of top quality
reproduction parts for not only the original SS cars, but other
marques including Cobra replicas. He first started producing high
quality aluminium bodied replicas of the SS100 to run along side
his restoration business using mostly original parts from dead SS
cars or from any other car of the period that used common parts.
As the source of original parts would inevitably dry up, it was
then decided to offer the replica in component form, part built
or fully built to your spec. It was now available with a GRP body
tub and wings with louvred aluminium 4-piece bonnet based on a new
chassis with XJ6 running gear.
seemed a logical step especially as many of the parts are interchangeable
with the genuine article. The market for his products would then
expand from the limited number of owners of original cars to a far
larger market of new owners. The replica is within millimetres of
the real thing!
legend has it that the marketing of the product took second place
to the very busy production of parts and restorations and so the
whole venture just ticked over with limited public awareness.
in 1995, the SS100 replica manufacturing side of the business was
acquired by Roger Williams. The project is in safe and experienced
hands and is now operating from delightful premises near Bury St
Edmunds in the heart of Suffolk.
the company with Peter Coxhead and Steve Hole to collect the demonstrator,
we were all struck with the quality and quiet air of efficiency.
You could eat your dinner off the floors and even the cars part
way through being built looked immaculate. The highly experienced
team, all experts in their own field, (especially at regularly making
coffee) enlightened us on some of the more detailed and skilled
aspects of SS100 production, especially the manufacture of the seat
backs which are handmade in wood, curved and laminated in the traditional
new, all aluminium radiator, is a work of art in its own right.
And of course, as Terry Rowing’s company still supplies most of
the chromework, the quality of these components is exemplary.
I was immediately
impressed with the overall quality of the car. The attention to
detail and the lengths that the company have gone to in order to
reproduce parts exactly to the original spec., even down to the
dash mounted fuel tap that has no function now other than to look
authentic. I have very occasionally seen real SS100s and the Suffolk
or TRAC replicas many times in the past but they never fail to impress
whenever I am reacquainted with either one.
a car in the late ‘30s must have been the complete opposite to today’s
legislation led constrictions. Now we fit a given number of Euro-sized
bodies into a protected crumple zone, add one engine in as tight
a space as possible and then let a computer encase the whole thing
in a steel shell.
SS100 it seems as though there was a desire to create a stylish
sportscar with elegant, flowing lines, add a thumping great engine
up front with the ultimate in accessibility and then, if a couple
of people could squeeze into it, all well and good.
is how it remains today. The car is fairly large at 12 foot 6 inches
long by 5 foot 2 inches wide but deduct the width of the enormous
runningboards and wings and you have a cockpit only 3 foot 3˝ inches
wide at the shoulders and fairly narrow footwells. However, I am
just over 6 foot 2 inches with fairly big feet and I have no trouble
at all in getting comfortable. In fact, although the seats are sited
on top of the chassis, you still sit fairly low within the car.
The dashboard is right up in front of you and my eye line was nicely
positioned halfway up the screen, as opposed to having to look over
the top screen rail or crouching, in order to look through it, as
is the case in many period style roadster kits.
windscreen is folded flat, the aeroscreens are also in the perfect
position to do the job they were intended for. Even with the hood
up, I still have about 3” of headroom which is far more in fact
than in my Volvo. I would therefore suggest that anyone up to 6
foot 4 inches would have no trouble at all, but dainty feet would
be an advantage!
demonstrator was thoroughly checked over and made ready, and so,
with hood down, screen flat and my not so dainty little feet tucked
in the footwell, I bade farewell to Suffolk Sportscars and headed
back down the M11 on a searing hot Friday afternoon …… Bliss!
It is three
years since we last tested a Suffolk SS100 and I must admit that
I had forgotten just how great these cars are. The handling still
came as a bit of a shock initially, not that it was in anyway bad,
but just how vintage it feels considering that all the running gear
is from a relatively modern XJ6.
seems to have all the plus points of driving a period car but without
any of the shortcomings such as mechanical brakes, vague steering
or agricultural gearboxes. This simply means that the car can be
enjoyed to the full in modern traffic conditions without worry.
It may look very period by today’s standards but it is far superior
to the original cars.
has everything you could wish for in a period sportscar. It looks
right from any angle, the view along the vast bonnet has to be experienced
to be believed and most importantly, it is great fun to drive. Of
course, the steering wheel is close to the chest in traditional
style so no straight arm driving techniques here, but the cutaway
doors allow unrestricted elbow room and the gear lever falls perfectly
speed Jaguar manual gear box with Laycock electric overdrive on
fourth in an excellent choice. The car can be supplied to suit the
Jaguar auto boxes of course but the XJ6 four speed manual unit is
a perfect match. It is modern enough to be easy to use with synchro
on all forward gears but just has that long throw and slightly notchy
feel to compliment this type of car. Operated by a pull switch on
the dashboard, the electric overdrive is sited just to the left
of the steering wheel and can be used at virtually any road speed
unit was quick at disengaging but slower to engage. In fact, once
switched in, momentarily backing off the throttle would induce it
to engage immediately. It sounds complicated but was very easy and
virtually indiscernible in practice.
the feel for the steering and handling, as mentioned earlier, was
simply a matter of re-acquainting myself with the characteristics
of crossply tyres. A few minutes on some nice winding country roads
in Suffolk soon had that sorted. I had almost forgotten how forgiving
crossply tyres can be. They may not have the ultimate grip of a
radial but they will give ample warning long before they reach the
limits of adhesion. Even when pushed hard, the front of the car
would go exactly where it was pointed and the back would drift a
little but with the slightest correction bringing it back into line
without any drama.
So far all
this has been in perfect weather conditions, but what if it is not
so good? Within two days of collecting the car, the weather broke
and gave me an ideal opportunity to test the wet weather gear.
neat little accessory now available from Suffolk Sportscars is a
pair of wind wings that simply clip to the side of the windscreen
pillars with lift-the-dot fasteners. They can be fitted or removed
literally in seconds and, like many good ideas, it is the sheer
simplicity that makes them so effective. They also fit the original
cars without modification.
wings cut down buffeting a fair amount and are a valuable addition
to improve creature comfort on a long journey or in cold weather.
They can be used with or without the hood in position.
of engineering, the hood and frame are permanently fitted to the
rear and sides of the cockpit and when folded back is covered by
a neat hood bag. Raising the hood is just a matter of pulling it
over to meet the screen rail, fastening with two over centre catches
and attaching two small side flaps with press studs. A very quick
operation if you’re caught in a downpour.
cover can also be a permanent fitting, and here is the real bonus,
the hood and tonneau can be used simultaneously to effectively seal
the cockpit with only the right side of the driver exposed. This
combination proved invaluable on the run back to Suffolk in the
wet, especially when passing juggernaughts in conditions reminiscent
of powerboat racing. Even the little windscreen wipers coped admirably
under the circumstances.
hood up, vision is excellent all round. The deep screen and the
open hood sides afford an almost panoramic view of about 270 degrees.
Elliptical, convex rear view mirrors give good visibility behind
and the wing top side lights adequately mark the car’s width extremities.
was one aspect I was also keen to look at. Here too, the car proved
very user friendly. This was due in part to good visibility coupled
with excellent headlamp illumination and the big, clearly lit instruments.
Even the side lights with their red tell-tails again making the
positioning of the car in the dark an easy task. In fact, although
the headlamps were very good on main beam, it was the dip beam that
had particularly good illumination of the road ahead without causing
any annoyance to oncoming traffic. Better than many current production
cars I have driven.
from the rear, the hood looks a little quaint with its wide top
and narrow waist but even this has a practical aspect other than
just cosmetic. When stationary in the car in the pouring rain, the
wide overhang of the hood top acts like an umbrella and again the
cockpit remains dry at least if there are no cross winds and the
rain comes down vertically.
heater at full blast and fully intent on removing the hairs from
my left leg, the cockpit remained warm and cosy at least below waist
level. The heater is very effective with the hood either up or down.
Of course, most of this macho-man against the elements stuff is
irrelevant if side screens are fitted. On this car there were none
but they are usually fitted to customers cars. It does genuinely
mean the car can be used as every day transport without too much
compromise should you so wish. It is restricted only by the risk
you are prepared to take when parking and leaving the car for any
length of time.
It is almost
certain that with side screens fitted, the car would be extremely
cosy. There is more than adequate room in the cockpit for two people,
both width wise and fore and aft. The passenger footwell is especially
comfortable. The interior is trimmed in leather and Wilton carpet
to a very high standard and the seats, also in leather, are comfortable
even though they seem a little upright at first.
of its period layout, the dashboard ergonomics are actually effective
and user friendly. The silver instruments are both clearly positioned
and easy to read. They indicate speed, revs, amps, water temp, fuel
level and oil pressure. The oil pressure is right in front of you,
between the two main instruments.
dash mounted switches for head, side and tail lights including instrument
illumination; heater blower, wipers and overdrive. Warning lights
cover direction indicators, head beam and ignition. An under-dash
column mounted stalk switch covers functions such as horn, direction
indicators, headlamp dip and flash. Tucked away under the dash initially
seemed to be an awkward place to fit such an important control but
being a modern switch it had to be out of sight. It only took a
few minutes of regular use and the left hand soon found it first
time, every time.
of the instruments and switches are all predetermined in the body
with holes already marked on the dashboard. The company have followed
the exact layout of the original cars even to the correct style
of switchgear. Although they are all in the correct position, they
do not necessarily control the same functions as in the original
photo shows the current function of each switch with the bracketed
legends indicating a 1938 original set up. Obviously, anyone can
modify the switch functions to achieve even more authenticity if
the dummy fuel tap, the curly fuel tank breather is about the only
other item on the car that is for visual purposes only and of no
practical use. The slab fuel tank is a glass fibre shell and an
integral part of the body tub. It covers the 14 gallon steel tank
and leaves a very useful boot area above it. This is concealed by
a carpeted, hinged and lockable panel.
I will leave
the accompanying photos to show off the overall lines of the car
and the intricacy of the chrome fittings but suffice to say, a fully
dressed up Suffolk SS100 would be almost impossible to distinguish
from the original unless you looked past the dummy brake drums and
friction shocks at the modern XJ6 suspension or opened the bonnet
to reveal a Jaguar 4.2 six instead of an old OHV Standard unit.
over 400 miles of country lanes, A-roads, the M11 and the dreaded
M25, I had experienced most road conditions in the seven days of
the test. It showed no vices whatsoever other than the occasional
“Tramlining” associated with crossplys on badly repaired surfaces
or worn grooves on motorways. This only meant that a little more
concentration on straight line guidance was required as and when
these surfaces were encountered.
from lying about how fast she is, could this be a lady I would live
with every day of the week? …… YES!
Suffolk Sportscar Engineering,
PO Box 55, Bury St Edmunds,
Tel: 01359 270444
Fax: 01359 271226
See Second Article
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