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Standard 8, 10 and Pennant (1953 - 1961)

Last updated 25 March 2013

 
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Model Timeline

August 1948
First thoughts for Standard's new small car

Standard-Triumph’s earliest ideas for the small car project were radically different from the Minor. It was recorded, for example, that the Renault 4CV, a rear-engined four door saloon with a tiny 767cc ohv engine was being considered as a possible pattern for the new car. The company was no stranger to French inspiration – the detachable-liner Vanguard engine drew heavily on the example of Maurice Sainturat’s Citroën Traction Avant unit. Dreary realism soon took as the designers realised that such a departure from the familiar would slow the development process.

The original intention to use existing components where feasible, for cost and time benefit, rather than out of any principle of engineering conservatism, resulted in the first prototypes being built on the Mayflower platform, but with a new three speed constant mesh gearbox – the Mayflower used the Vanguard’s three-speed synchromesh transmission. Even in early 1952, a reduced capacity version of the Mayflower’s 1247cc side valve engine was still being proposed for its replacement. As the design evolved, it became, in effect, a clean-sheet exercise, with the significant exception of the requirement to continue use of the Mayflower engine tooling.

By the standards of the time the new car’s specification was progressive, rather than conventional. An all-new 803cc four cylinder ohv engine was mated to a four speed gearbox, also completely new, with synchromesh on the top three ratios. The open propshaft drove a hypoid bevel rear axle.

The unitary body, whose styling was credited to Vic Hammond, was produced by Fisher and Ludlow at Tile Hill. The engineering of the monocoque bodyshell was the work of Albert Coaley. To alleviate concerns at the time about crash repairability of unitary bodies, it featured detachable, bolt-on front and rear wings, but otherwise was rigorously designed to stressed-skin principles to keep down costs and weight. An unusual feature was a front subframe, supporting the engine, transmission, and front suspension. The front bumper mountings were incorporated into the subframe, rather than the bodyshell itself.

With Sir John Black’s diktat that the car had to be sold profitably at a lower price than the Morris and Austin rivals, the body specification was ruthlessly pared down, with horizontally sliding windows in the front and rear doors, and infamously, the omission of an external boot lid. This latter feature was promoted as an advantage, as it allowed the luggage space to be extended into the rear passenger compartment, and was “dust and rain sealed”.

The interior was equally basic, with tubular hammock-type seats covered in Tygan, a synthetic fabric. The deep door bins and open dashboard with a single instrument anticipated Issigonis’s Mini design by over six years, although the Standard’s speedometer was placed in front of the driver, rather than centrally.

The engineering underpinning the car was far more impressive than the rudimentary equipment levels might suggest. Front suspension was by double wishbones, with coil springs and telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers, while, at the rear the live axle was suspended on a pair of longitudinal four-leaf springs. Steering was by a Burman worm and nut system. Brakes were fully hydraulic, with seven inch drums on all wheels, generously sized for the car’s modest performance and weight. Controls were completely conventional, with pendant pedals, a long direct-acting gearlever centrally located, and a handbrake lever between the front seats.

April 1950
New engines for Standard

Like the Austin A and B series engines, the SC engine was developed from a clean sheet to production readiness in an extraordinarily short period of time, and had a long production life, in which it increased in size and power output far beyond its original designers’ most extreme expectations.

Comparisons with the Austin A series engine are inevitable, as the first two iterations of both engines not only had the same cylinder capacity, but also the same bore and stroke dimensions. Both Austin and Standard engines were water-cooled overhead-valve four cylinders, with iron blocks and cylinder heads, and three bearing crankshafts. Siamesed ports were used on both engines.

Despite widespread rumours, the Standard Triumph engine was not in any sense a copy of the Austin engine, although between the Austin ‘Seven’s launch in October 1951 and the arrival of the Standard Eight in September 1953, there would have been plenty time to study the minutiae of the miniature Longbridge four.

Many differences are plainly evident. Viewed from the front, the SC engine has its camshaft and pushrods on its right hand side, and the inlet and exhaust ports on the left. The Austin engine has exactly the opposite arrangement. The base of the A series block casting coincides with the centre of the crankshaft main bearings, whereas the SC block extends much further down, making the unit considerably heavier than the Austin engine. From the earliest days the SC engine had separate ports for each exhaust valve – all production A series engines had siamesed exhaust ports for the two inner cylinders.

The stipulation that the Mayflower cylinder boring tooling was to be used played to Standard-Triumph’s advantage. Sufficient extra space between the bores was available, by comparison with the A series, to allow the larger 948cc capacity to be ‘designed in’ from the outset, with the Standard Ten going on sale in March 1954, six months after the 803cc Eight.

The 948cc A series engines did not go on sale until September 1956, in the Austin A35. Like the Standard-Triumph engine, the stroke remained at 76.2mm while bore increased from 58mm to 63mm. However the Austin unit required extensive re-engineering to provide the additional capacity, whereas the Standard-Triumph unit’s only major change was the omission of the water passages between the outer pairs of cylinders.

The design team led by David Eley, under the eye of Harry Webster, paid particular attention to accessibility of ancillaries, with electrical components grouped on the opposite side from the manifolds, and as high as possible.

The performance figures for the SC family leave no question that they were tuned for driveability and low fuel consumption, rather than performance. The same is true of their contemporaries. The success of the Standard Ten in rallying in and circuit racing demonstrated the potential of the power units, and a number of third-party tuners were working their magic on them from an early stage. A twin carburettor conversion kit was offered by the factory as an accessory from the mid ‘50s, but was never offered as a production line option. At least one tuner, Alexander Engineering, had factory approval for a comprehensive conversion which raised the Ten’s output to 45bhp, compared with the pre-modification 35bhp. Standard-Triumph honoured warranties on the converted cars, suggesting they were well aware of their engine’s robustness and potential for increased performance, even though they were not yet prepared to exploit it themselves.

That Standard did not capitalise on motor sport success with a home-grown performance version seems remiss to the contemporary observer, but none of their competitors did either. The “GT” mindset largely originated in the 1960s, and even the Ford Anglia 105E was never offered in a version with sporting pretensions. 

The SC engine was the Eight and Ten’s enduring legacy, and by the time the saloons bowed out in 1959 the surface of its development potential had barely been scratched.

September 1953
Standard 8 launched

In September 1953 the Standard Eight went on sale, at an after-tax price of £481, undercutting the smaller Austin A30 by £23, and the four door Minor by a full £80. To achieve this cost advantage, equipment levels were at an absolute minimum, with the passenger side wiper and sunvisor listed as optional extras, as were hubcaps. None of this deterred the customers, and sales looked set to exceed the ambitious 50,000 target. Press reports praised the car’s spaciousness, good handling, and light controls and, most of all, the new ohv engine’s fuel efficiency, with over 45mpg easily achievable.

March 1954
Standard 10 launched

The 948 cc Ten arrived in March 1954, with another 7bhp, and a rather heavily styled chrome radiator in place of the Eight’s gaping unadorned maw to provide visual distinction. The package addressed the equipment deficit, with the introduction of better upholstered Vynide trimmed seats, wind-up windows on all four doors and those passenger wipers and sunvisors and even hubcaps added to the inventory of standard equipment. In May 1954 an Eight De-Luxe was first offered, combining the Ten’s trim and equipment with the 803cc engine.

In October 1954 an estate car, the Standard Ten Good Companion was introduced. The “Good” part of the title was dropped after a short time. Whether good, bad, or indifferent it offered something none of its competitors did – a full set of four passenger doors. Like the van and pick-up which appeared around the same time the Companion bodies were delivered from Fisher and Ludlow part-completed, and fitted with their rear bodywork by Mulliner of Birmingham at their Bordesley Green factory.

Any account of Standard-Triumph history in the 1940s and 50s will bear the long shadow of Sir John Black’s autocratic rule over the company, and the swelling undercurrent of fear and loathing which prevailed. Black’s extravagance and fondness for grand schemes were instrumental in the funding and rapid development process of the SC project, but as the first Eights went on sale, an extraordinary drama unfolded.

In October 1954, Sir John Black was injured in a collision while a passenger in a Swallow Doretti two-seater driven by test driver Ken Richardson.

The following is a quotation from a personal letter from Black to styling chief Walter Belgrove written on 11 November 1953, during his convalescence. “It won’t be long before I come in and have a look at you, you old devil, and see what you are up to and see if you have got rid of the Belsen line, and the Otto line, and as far as I am concerned anyone can have the Doretti line.”

The ‘Otto line’ was the Vanguard, but the preceding piece of off-colour officers’ mess humour indicates Black’s misgivings about the bare-bones specification of the SC. It is not known whether the “Belsen” nickname was used more widely, or was a private joke between Black and Belgrove.

The letter is a mere aside, but on Black’s return to the boardroom, a dispute regarding the contract with major customer Massey Ferguson led to the retirement of the long-serving chairman, Charles Band, and Black assuming his duties as well as those of Managing Director. At the management team pre-Christmas dinner, Black peremptorily sacked deputy managing director Ted Grinham. This was the tipping point in a litany of instability and irrational behaviour, which was now imperilling the direction of the company and its relationships with its suppliers and customers. In early January the remaining board members mounted a coup, and demanded Black’s resignation, on somewhat specious grounds of ill-health. Given the Managing Director’s notoriously combative reputation, it was surprisingly bloodless, probably eased by a generous severance package.

Black’s departure may have secured the future of the SC series. Fisher and Ludlow had entered into a contract to produce the SC bodies at their Tile Hill factory, but unexpectedly, had been taken over by BMC in September 1953. For some time there was trepidation that BMC chief Leonard Lord, would use their position to stifle a competitor, particularly given a reputation for vindictiveness and belligerence to match Black’s own. With the new, more democratic management under the direction of Alick Dick in place at Standard-Triumph, commercial realpolitik prevailed, and the Fisher and Ludlow contract was honoured for the production life of the SC series.

The evolution of the Eight and Ten through its production life tells a story of rising consumer expectations, and a Ford-inspired strategy to maintain buyer interest by adding new trim variations and engine options regularly. Standard-Triumph’s ability to improve and add variety, with minimal capital outlay, endured into the British Leyland years, in marked contrast to the BMC companies, whose product lines often stagnated for years on end.

March 1956
Super models launched

Deluxe versions replaced by “Super Eight” and “Super Ten”, the latter featuring an opening bootlid. “Family Ten” introduced with the 948cc engine and base level trim.

October 1956
Automatic transmissions added

‘Standrive’ semi-automatic transmission became available as an optional extra. This was a Newton and Bennett ‘Newtondrive’ system also offered briefly by Ford on their 100E range.

March 1957
Phase 2 models launched

‘Phase 2′ versions go into production with a new front grille, improved seat trim and carpeting, and an opening bootlid for all but the cheapest Eight. Taking advantage of improved fuel quality, the SC engines were upgraded to “Gold Star” versions, with their gold painted rocker covers signalling a higher compression ratio, giving more power and improved fuel efficiency. Remarkably, a Laycock overdrive was offered as an option on both the Eight and Ten as a £63 option. This operated on second, third and top gears, and raised gearing in top to 17.5mph per 1000rpm for the 803cc cars, and 20mph per 1000rpm for the 948cc Ten. At a modest cost, this addressed the matter of the small Standards’ low gearing although in this they were no worse than their competitors.

October 1957
Standard Pennant launched

In October 1957, just over four years after the arrival of the Eight and Ten, Standard-Triumph made a courageous bid to shake off their small cars’ utilitarian image with the launch of the Standard Pennant. Expectations had risen, and the buyers now expected more than basic transport. Rival manufacturers had responded appropriately, with BMC offering the Minor-based Wolseley 1500 in the spring of 1957, and its higher performance Riley One Point Five twin at the end of the same year. In 1957 Ford also upgraded the Anglia and Prefect, with more chrome and improved trim.

The £729 Pennant (£244 of this sum was Purchase Tax!) featured a full width grille and an enlarged rear window, new front and rear wings, the former with fashionably peaked headlight surrounds, the latter with tail fins and upright tail lamps, following the vogue of the day, though not to the extremes of some later BMC products. Interior upgrading was extensive, with a new two-dial instrument panel, and two tone interior colour schemes in ICI’s synthetic “Vynair” material. The engineering upgrading continued. All of the range gained a higher lift camshaft, and the Pennant also used a larger carburettor. The Pennant’s gearbox was operated by a remote shift, described in advertisements as “sports car style”, in place of the long direct lever which continued on the Eight and Ten. The rear leaf springs were upgraded to a variable rate type across the whole range.

History, backed up by sales figures, has recorded that the work which went into the Pennant was a classic case of “too little, too late”. Development was moving forward rapidly on a new small car codenamed “Zobo”, originally planned as an ultra-basic 60mph / 60mpg car to sit beneath the small Standards. The company realised that the original targets were impossible to achieve, and the result would yield little or no profit. The project thus evolved into a stylish range which would replace the Eight, Ten and Pennant, and move Standard Triumph’s small car offering considerably upmarket.

November 1959
Standard SC saloon production ended

Apparently without ceremony, production of the SC saloons ended in November 1959 to make way for the new Triumph Herald, launched in April of that year. The Companion and the van and pick-up continued in production, now fitted with the Pennant’s front wings and hooded headlights. The Companion bowed out in 1961 with the arrival of the Herald 1200 estate. The light commercial SC derivatives continued in small-scale production until 1964, later versions being fitted with the Herald’s 1147cc engine. Standard’s Indian factory built the Pennant until 1961, although it was badged as a ‘Standard Ten’.

Production figures for the passenger versions from 1953-1959 totalled approximately 370,000, comfortably exceeding the 50,000 car per year target set at the start of development. Numbers for the variants are broken down as follows:

Eight – 136,000
Ten – 172,500
Pennant – 43,000
Triumph Ten (USA export) – 18,000

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