1951 Triumph Mayflower
1951 Triumph Mayflower. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

British Triumph originally gained its North American reputation principally through sports cars, cars, starting with the popular TR series which extended from the TR2 in 1953 to the V8 powered TR8 in the early 1980s. There were also Spitfires and GTs, and even a few Stag sports sedans.

Although Triumph sedans were imported, it was the sports cars that made the more lasting impression. Of the non-sporty Triumphs, the most distinctive was the little Mayflower two-door, four-passenger sedan introduced in 1949. It will not be remembered for its mechanicals or performance, both of which were rather prosaic, but for its styling.

It was an attempt to apply classic British “razor edge” styling to a really small sedan. Razor edge styling had made its world debut in 1935 on a 3.5-litre English Bentley produced by coachbuilder Freestone & Webb.

Other body builders such as Mulliner and Hooper soon followed, and before and after the Second World War such marques as Rolls-Royce, Daimler and Bentley had razor edge themes. In North America it would make a brief reappearance in the early 1980s on the rear end of the Chrysler Imperial and second generation Cadillac Seville.

Triumph’s first postwar sedan, the 1800, introduced in 1946, also had razor edge lines, but very few of them reached North America. It was the Mayflower, designed and named for the North American market, that brought razer edge styling to the economy class.

The idea emerged as early as 1944 at about the time the Standard Motor Co. was buying the Triumph Motor Co. It was ready for public introduction by October, 1949.

Even with this long gestation period, much of it because Standard was preoccupied building tractors for Harry Ferguson, and designing its new Vanguard sedan, the preview was premature. Production didn’t get under way until the summer of 1950.

With its sharply creased lines, traditional Triumph vertical bar grille, and squared-off trunk, the Mayflower was not an unpleasant design. It looked like a condensed version of the mid-sized Triumph 1800 sedan.

But, like other shrunken models, it couldn’t entirely escape looking a little like a caricature of the real thing, those big Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. The Mayflower’s body was styled by Mulliner and built by Fisher and Ludlow, both of Birmingham.

Although it had unit construction, advanced for that time, and Triumph’s first, the rest of the Mayflower was pretty straightforward. Power came from a 38 horsepower, side-valve, in-line four-cylinder engine of 1,247 cc (76 cu in.), a prewar design from the Standard Flying Ten. The Vanguard donated the three-speed manual column-shift transmission.

The Mayflower did, however, get its own independent coil spring front suspension, which would later find its way into the TR2 sports car.

The Mayflower had a 2,134 mm (84 in.) wheelbase and was only 3,912 mm (154 in.) long overall. Its height and width were the same at 1,575 mm (62 in.), and it tipped the scales at about 907 kg (2,000 lb).

In spite of having only a three-speed transmission, the Mayflower, according to Mechanix Illustrated car tester Tom McCahill, turned in reasonable performance for an economy car of that era.

In his December, 1952 road test, McCahill, noted for his outrageous similes and soaring hyperbole, said the Mayflower had “… more acute angles than you can find in the uplift (bra) ads…” He also called it “no bolt of lightening,” but did record a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 26.3 seconds, and a top speed of 105 to 113 km/h (65 to 70 mph).

The Mayflower’s competitors, according to Road & Track magazine, were even slower. The Hillman Minx took an interminable 40 seconds to reach 96 (60) and the Austin A40, 29.4 seconds. But both were faster than the Mayflower in top speed at 117 (73).

McCahill was quite impressed with the “exceptionally fine handling” and the “light and sure” steering. The cornering, although not in the MG class, was “as solid as a 16-pound shot landing on your head.”

Despite its unusual styling, or perhaps because of it, the Mayflower sold modestly. It was produced only from 1950 to 1953, during which time some 35,000 were built.

Standard Motor Co. abandoned the Mayflower’s razor edge theme and went back to styling that was more rounded and chunky, but far less distinctive.

The Triumph Mayflower had been a brief, brave attempt to apply styling that was associated with large, exclusive cars to a small economy sedan. Although probably not a money-maker for Standard, it has a far better chance of being remembered than the nondescript little Standard econoboxes that followed it.

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