The Invicta Car Company was the creation
of Captain Albert Noel (later Sir Noel) Campbell Macklin, a highly
respected English motoring enthusiast and former racing driver. Learning
from earlier attempts at manufacturing motor cars (the Eric-Campbell and
the Silver Hawk) he became inspired by the desire to offer motorists
Backed by his neighbours, Oliver and
Philip Lyle (of Tate & Lyle sugar fame) Macklin intended to build a
robustly engineered car with enormous torque (pulling power) that demanded
little or no gear-changing – as requested by Mrs Eileen Lyle. He was also
determined that it should offer European standards of roadholding and
handling, while matching the best of American cars for strength of
construction and engine power.
In 1925, working in the three-car garage
of his country house, Macklin converted the original 2-litre
Coventry-Climax engined Invicta prototype to house a 2.5-litre
six-cylinder, long-stroke, high-torque Meadows engine. In this form, the
Invicta began to fulfil many of its founder’s dreams and the 2.5-litre
model went on sale priced at £595 – body extra, as was the custom at that
Although supplied with a four-speed
gearbox, most Invicta owners were expected to use just first and top –
such was the flexibility of the engine.
The Motor, March 3, 1931
Later models were fitted with 3-litre
and 4.5-litre engines. This 4.5 engine had such enormous reserves of
torque that drivers could select top gear (4th) at just 6 mph and
accelerate cleanly and rapidly all the way to its 90 mph plus, top speed.
Disregarding vehicle cost, Macklin
insisted that the quality of Invicta cars should match Rolls-Royce and
their performance should challenge Bentley.
Early in the marque’s life, Macklin was
confident that those two goals had been met, so the Invicta became the
only other British car to have a three-year chassis guarantee – just like
Rolls-Royce – and to highlight the car’s remarkable combination of
performance and durability, a series of endurance runs was undertaken.
Miss Violet Cordery (Macklin’s
sister-in-law) was a talented and tenacious driver. Piloting an Invicta
she set record-breaking performances in Britain, France, Italy and around
the world. In Paris, her 3-litre Invicta averaged 70.7 mph during an RAC-observed
5,000 mile endurance run. In Italy, she broke four world and 33 Italian
records at Monza. In 1927 she made a round-the-world trip at an average
speed of 25 mph. With her sister Evelyn, she covered 30,000 miles in
30,000 minutes (averaging 61.57 mph for almost 21 days) driving a standard
4.5-litre Invicta tourer at Brooklands in 1928.
The public began to lose interest in
endurance runs and Macklin knew that Invicta had to compete on the race
track and in rallying. It did both with considerable success. Standing in
for the scheduled driver at the last minute, motoring writer Tommy Wisdom
completed 30 laps of the 13.75 miles road-racing circuit at Ards in
Northern Ireland to win his class in the 1931 running of the famous
Tourist Trophy race at an average speed of 70.04 mph.
"At the 1930 Olympia Show a
considerable sensation was caused by the latest low-chassis 4.5 sports
model, one of the most striking cars exhibited and something to make the
sportsman’s mouth water."
Motor Sport, March 1931
That same year, Raymond Mays tuned his
Invicta S-type to generate 158 bhp and went on to notch up a string of
class wins on circuits and hillclimbs during the following seasons.
In rallying, Donald Healey ‘borrowed’
Violet’s 3-litre record breaker for the 1930 Alpine Trial and won his
class. Next year, despite crashing in Norway shortly after the start,
Healey and his Invicta survived to win the Monte Carlo Rally outright –
the first time a British car had won the event.
The Invicta was always sold only in
chassis form, and it is thought that Macklin, advised by his designers
Reid Railton and William Watson (and one of his employees, Donald Healey),
took care that every component – from the radiator mascot, chrome
headlamps, gearchange and handbrake levers, to the quick-action fuel
filler and winged mascot – should project a masculine message. The origins
of the beautiful enamelled badge are not clear, but the Invicta name
relates to the White Knight of Edmund Spenser’s 16th Century allegorical
epic romance ‘The Faerie Queen’.
However, by the mid-1930s, the Invicta’s
days were numbered, despite the undoubted excellence of the product. Faced
with the effects of the world-wide Depression and shrinking demand for his
cars, Macklin cut prices dramatically but refused to compromise the
Invicta’s much-admired engineering standards, build quality or
workmanship. Commercially this was unwise and the company produced its
last car on Friday 13 October 1933.
"The Invicta’s most directly
comparable rivals, the Bentleys, looked vertiginously high by comparison
with William Watson’s creations, the relationship being somewhere in the
proportions of a giraffe to a dachshund."
Raymond Mays, Old Motor 1972