1950 Standard Vanguard
Thanks to Phil Homer and the Standard Motor Car Club for the image of this Canadian Vanguard. Click image to enlarge

Story by Bill Vance

The Standard Vanguard was one of the earliest and most modern of the British imports to land on North American shores following the Second World War. It arrived in 1949 and seemed ideally suited to our market.

The Vanguard would seat five passengers, six in a pinch, which was more than most imports such as Austins, Morrises and Hillmans. It had a three-speed, column-shift transmission, enough power to easily keep up with our traffic, and a more than adequate top speed. Styling was reminiscent of immediate pre- and post-war American fastback designs, most notably Ford.

It came from the Standard Motor Company, of Coventry, England, an old name in automobile manufacturing. Its first car in 1903 had a one-cylinder engine which was unusual for the time in that it had a very oversquare bore and stroke of 127 by 76 mm (5.0 by 3.0 in.).

The company soon moved up to four and six cylinders, and even a V-8 for a short time during the 1930s. It offered a wide variety of models, and in a display of technical advancement, its 1939 Eight was the first small British sedan with independent front suspension. Standard, along with the other members of the “Big Six,” Morris, Austin, Ford, Vauxhall (GM) and Rootes, survived the Depression.

Beginning in 1930, William Lyons, father of the Jaguar, used Standard engines and chassis as the basis for his special custom models. These became Lyons’s S.S. marque, and later evolved into the Jaguar. Jaguar used Standard engines through the thirties, and for a period after the war.

Following the war, Standard, led by the mercurial John Black, returned to civilian production. It also acquired the Triumph Motor Company, hoping to develop a sports car to challenge Jaguar. The result was the Triumph Roadster which came in 1800 and 2000 versions, but Black’s hopes of competing with Jaguar were quickly dashed when the fabulous Jaguar XK120 arrived in 1948. Black also diversified the company by making a profitable agreement with Irish millionaire Harry Ferguson to build Ferguson tractors in England.

Standard’s post-war sedan offerings were comprised of three pre-war models: the Eight, Twelve and Fourteen (named for their taxable horsepower ratings) until it could develop a new, modern design. This was the Vanguard, introduced in 1947. With its arrival Standard phased out its other sedans in favour of the Vanguard.

The Vanguard was a four-door, body-on-frame design, which was soon joined by a station wagon. Styling was contemporary and pleasant, although the car’s quick fastback treatment did appear a little stubby to some eyes. It had a horizontal bar grille, and an envelope body with fully integrated fenders. The rear wheels were exposed, but would soon be enclosed by removable fender skirts which gave the car more flowing lines.

A bench-type front seat with folding centre armrest would carry three people comfortably. The relatively short 2,388 mm (94 in.) wheelbase necessitated a between-the-wheels rear seat that could, in a squeeze, accommodate three passengers, although two were more comfortable. At 4,166 mm (164 in.) long, the Vanguard was quite compact.

The Vanguard was powered by a 68 horsepower overhead valve, inline four cylinder engine displacing 2,088 cc (127 cu in.). With a bore and stroke of 85 X 92 mm (3.35 X 3.62 in.) it was a sturdy and modern design. It had wet cylinder sleeves which could be replaced to facilitate engine overhaul.

1950 Standard Vanguard
Thanks to Phil Homer and the Standard Motor Car Club for the image of this Canadian Vanguard. Click image to enlarge

This engine would prove to be a real workhorse. In addition to powering the Vanguard, it was fitted to Ferguson tractors, Triumph sedans and roadsters, and Morgan sports cars. When Standard introduced the Triumph TR2 sports car in 1954, it used the Vanguard engine with its bore slightly reduced to bring displacement to 1,991 cc (121.5 cu in.), within the 2.0-litre racing class.

By beefing up the Vanguard engine internally, and using such tuning touches as higher compression and twin S.U. carburetors, it was brought up to 90 horsepower for the TR2.

The Vanguard’s performance was adequate, if not outstanding. Contemporary British testers recorded a zero to 80 km/h (50 mph) time of 16.1 seconds. Top speed was close to 129 km/h (80 mph), and it could cruise happily at 96 km/h (60) and provide 30 mpg economy. A Laycock de Normanville overdrive soon became optional, which made highway travel quieter and easier on the engine.

In 1953 the fastback style was replaced by a notchback sedan with four side windows rather than the previous six. It was little changed mechanically, although it did get a hydraulic clutch. A diesel engine was a briefly available option.

The third series Vanguard for 1956 was still a notchback sedan, with sculpted body sides for added character. The wheelbase was stretched to 2,591 mm (102 in.), and unit construction was now used. A 90 horsepower Sportsman version was also available.

In 1961, the year in which Standard was taken over by the Leyland organization, the Vanguard’s four was replaced by an 80 horsepower, 2.0-litre six. It would be Vanguard’s final phase, and would last only until 1963.

Although the Vanguard was obviously designed for export, it enjoyed little success in the U.S. market, although it did do better in Canada. This was probably because it was just too close in price and size to American cars.

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