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Invicta history
Invicta 4.5 litre

Invicta history
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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 ‘effortless performance’.

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 time.

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