A passion passed down

Story & Photo by Clive Branson

When you think of British sports cars, do you think of a Jaguar, an Aston Martin, an MG, a Lotus or a Morgan? How about a Singer? Before you raise the proverbial eyebrow, Singer was a very popular sports car during World War II, especially amongst pilots in the Royal Air Force.

Peter McKercher’s father was one of those pilots and avidly drawn to the small, nibble car. “One of our first family cars in the ‘50s was a Singer Le Mans. Dad had been an airman in England during the War and the MG TC and Singer Le Mans were popular amongst the young pilots. A couple of years after his return to Canada, the opportunity to purchase one arose. I have great memories of it as a young child. Dad purchased several more Singers over the years, so it was natural that I would have an affinity towards them.”

Encouraged by the success of the earlier Nine two-seater sports cars, Singer introduced the new four-seater Nine Sports in the fall of 1932. Although it represented an evolution of the Junior version, it was quite a distinctly different machine, even being built in a different factory. The Nine Sports was manufactured in Coventry, whereas the other models were built at the Birmingham site. Though not designed to torch tarmac, the Nine was dependable for endurance. Equipped with 31 b.h.p., producing 4600 R.P.M, it could comfortably reach a speed of over 66 m.p.h. 

Though tiny and fragile looking, the Nine proved its mettle by winning high praise and impressive racing results, at the 1933 Le Mans, noted for being the first unsupercharged British car under 1000 cc’s to qualify. When the Singer Team entered in the Coupe Internationale des Alpes (Alpine 6 Day’s Trial), held over some of the most precipitous mountain passes in Europe, the team, consisted of four Singers that finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in their category.

“I would love to own one of those four Singer Team cars, sometimes referred to as the Replicas,” Peter says emphatically. But he has nothing to quibble about since he has won first prize at least once in every venue in which his car has been entered. When driving around, the public reaction ranges from broad smiles to applause. “There are many pleasures in this car: part of it is owning a car that not everyone else has, as well as having a personal hand in preserving a bit of history. But perhaps the greatest joy for me is to transport myself back to a different era when driving it – probably the automotive equivalent of the Civil War re-enactment set.”

It started when Peter’s father purchased the Singer in England as a “parts car” in 1972 and gave it to Peter. “My father responded to an ad for a restored Singer Nine Sports and, as part of the deal, was offered a second car as a parts car,” recalls Peter. “While the car was in a sad state and entirely disassembled it was quite complete.”

To illustrate just how fastidious Peter’s father was, he made sure that no parts remained behind by raking the dirt floor of the shed where it had been stored. As a parts car, it needed a complete restoration.

One of the most evident changes in the ’34 model was the modification of the front fenders. The original 1933 models had a very abbreviated fender that provided inadequate protection from gravel and dirt kicked up by the front tires. To protect the paint on the side of the car, longer, more graceful front fenders, with small gutters concealed on the underside of the rear tip were introduced.

To Peter’s immense relief, the car had all the original parts with matching serial numbers (and the original log book that lists all the previous owners). This certainly reduced the financial burden. Regardless, the restoration took the best of five years and with the help of Peter’s father, particularly with the engine, it finally came to fruition. Though Peter had restored other Singers, an E-Type Jaguar, and a Sunbeam Tiger, the Singer’s coachwork was the most daunting.

“I had to un-tack all the aluminum skin and carefully bend it to remove it from the ash framework,” remembers Peter as though the whole experience just finished yesterday. “I then used the existing woodwork as a pattern to replicate new pieces. Some of the old woodwork was missing entirely so new patterns had to be created. Once completed, the old skin was again very carefully bent into place and re-tacked to the framework.” The finishing touch was the colour of original ivory over red, often referred to as Blood and Custard.

“The car is relatively simple to maintain. Since restoration, I have only had a couple of issues, mainly brake cylinders seizing due to storage over the winter. Nevertheless, the car is quite easy to drive with the exception of its non-synchromesh gearbox that necessitates double clutching.”

Peter remembers working alongside his father. “He wasn’t particularly fussy about aesthetics, nor was he very careful when working around a finished car. Accordingly, I made it a rule that once I had completed the restoration of a car not to ask him for any assistance unless I was really stuck. So it seems I was really stuck at the tail end of the restoration of my Singer and we trailered the car to an old British Mechanic who was familiar with the marque to help with a problem we hadn’t been able to resolve. On the way home, dad slammed on the brakes at one point and the car catapulted into the winch on the trailer. In addition to his aggressive driving, he had neglected to secure the car properly to the trailer. Fortunately, damage was negligible. He was quite sheepish. I was very mad.”

Although the restoration was a feat, it didn’t change Peter. “There is a great sense of accomplishment in completing such a restoration. I remember when the appraiser looked at the car, scratched his head and said “you don’t see many like this”. I assumed he meant Singers. What he meant was “finished.” To me, my Singer Nine Sport is a piece of art, not an inanimate object. “