The only Swallow Doretti the dealership managed to sell – and a story of survival
Already obsolete when bought new, this rare Doretti toured Europe, crashed twice, caught fire and was repeatedly left to rot before a dedicated duo stepped in to save it
Roy Stimpson buys it new in 1955 This Swallow Doretti’s story commences in 1955 when a young man in his mid-twenties named Roy Stimpson paid a visit to car dealer Browetts of Leicester with the intention of placing an order for a new TR2. As his brother Frank recalls, ‘he was told by the salesman that he would have to wait several months for delivery of a new Triumph because they were so popular. But what they did have on the showroom floor was a Swallow Doretti and the salesman talked him into buying that.’
Browetts was a Standard, Triumph and Ferguson dealer, also selling Reliants and operating as a Jaguar agent. According to former Browetts sales manager Gerry Hayes, ‘In the late Fifties our sales mainly derived from Vanguards and other Standards so the Doretti certainly stood out on the showroom floor.’
Only 276 cars were made at the Walsall company between 1954 and 1955 before production ceased. NBC 742 was destined to be a rare vehicle from the moment Roy took delivery.
Chassis 1200 was a considerably more expensive machine than the TR – the list price being £1102 as opposed to £902 – but its current owner Peter Lockley believes that there was probably a certain amount of discount, ‘The dealer probably split the difference.’ One major sales factor in Roy’s favour was that when he encountered the Swallow, production had already ceased and his car had been unsold for quite a time, occupying valuable showroom space. In Peter’s own words, ‘I spoke with Robert Browett, the son of the dealer principal of Browetts, and he confirmed it was the only one they ever sold.’
At that time, Roy Stimpson worked for the family firm of builders and civil engineers in Leicester. In addition to being regularly driven around the East Midlands, the Swallow was also used for Continental touring. Says his younger brother Frank, ‘In 1956 we took it on a grand tour of Europe. The AA helped plan the route to the South of France and one of my favourite memories of the Doretti is of us driving it through Austria and Switzerland. It proved as reliable when travelling over the Gotthard Pass and although there was a heater mounted under the dashboard, that didn’t make much of a difference because we always travelled with the roof lowered. When we reached Italy the Swallow caused a minor sensation – I will always remember people in the street pointing at the Doretti and shouting “Bella, Bella!” In fact from then onwards that became the car’s uno£cial name.’ Frank becomes temporary custodian in 1956 ‘At the time I was a student at Loughborough College; my own car was a Singer Roadster and we regularly swapped cars. The Swallow was a lovely car to drive and as to the way it looked – it still seems modern today. When Roy had to go to Germany on military service, he didn’t want to take it with him so I gave him the Singer and I got to use the Doretti. It was great – I vividly recall driving it at 100mph!’ To put that figure into context, 90mph was at the time seen as a reasonable top speed for a six-cylinder saloon.
Frank also points out that despite the exotic appearance, the Doretti was an eminently practical car. ‘The cabin was smaller than a TR2’S but we would regularly travel with three people in it – myself, a friend and Roy. My brother was a big man but we all seemed to fit without any problems, although I don’t think we could get away with driving like that today!’
The shenanigans were curtailed after an accident in the Leicestershire town of Oadby damaged the body. ‘We took it back to Browetts but they had only one craftsman who could work on aluminium bodywork
Frank and the Doretti in Switzerland in 1956