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REPLICA NEED NOT BE A DIRTY WORD

AMONG CLASSIC car enthusiasts, the term “replica” could be a pejorative: something less than authentic, a fake. On the other hand, for Frazer Nash, the name Replica is high praise indeed and well deserved.

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Frazer Nash High Speed model, 1949, driven to 3rd place at that year’s Le Mans. Thereafter, it was called the Le Mans Replica. This and other images from “The Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash,” by Denis Jenkinson, Classic Car Profiles 1-24.

This, however, is getting ahead of my tale.

Archie Frazer-Nash, 1889 – 1965, made his name early with the G.N. and Frazer Nash. (Archie officially added the hyphen to his surname in 1938; the cars never had it.) He left the car business in 1929, but his talents were reapplied. Frazer-Nash’s engineering firm designed the hydraulic gun turret used on just about all British bombers during World War II, the Lancaster and Wellington among them. Frazer Nash Group eventually split into Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Frazer-Nash (Midhurst) and Frazer-Nash Research, each firm still active.

By the 1930s, Frazer Nash cars were the business of H.J. “Aldy” Aldington, 1902 – 1976, and his brothers, Bill and Don. Aldy was a hands-on Managing Director, driving Frazer Nashes in the likes of Le Mans and the Alpine Rally. He was much impressed by performance of the BMW 328, which had profound influence on the post-World War II fortunes of Frazer Nash (and, related, Bristol).

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Frazer Nash was already the prewar British importer of BMWs, and after hostilities, then-Colonel H.J. Aldington was part of a British commission assigned with dissolution of the German war industry. In adroit moves, he returned to Britain with BMW plans as well as its company director Fritz Fiedler.

Fruit of this poaching appeared at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show, where Frazer Nash displayed its postwar model. The High Speed was a wonderfully minimalist cycle-fendered two-seater, powered by the Brit version of the BMW 328 2.0-liter inline-six, the engine renowned for its cross-head pushrods.

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A family affair. Bill Aldington drove a customer car to Switzerland for its display at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show.

This new Frazer Nash was not inexpensive, £2250 plus a heavy purchase tax levied in those days bringing the total to more than £3500 ($14,105 in 1948, around $140,000 in today’s dollar). It was quick, maneuverable and soon earned a reputation for robustness. For the 1949 Geneva Motor Show, H.J.’s brother Bill borrowed a car from its British owner, drove it to Switzerland, spiffed it up and put it on display.

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Not your average Managing Director, Aldy co-drove the High Speed model at Le Mans 1949, thus earning the Le Mans Replica name.

Another British owner thought it would be fun to run the 1949 Le Mans 24-hours race, so he invited Aldy as co-driver and other Frazer Nash folks to be the pit crew. Their High Speed Frazer Nash finished 3rd overall, thus earning its name change: Subsequent examples were rightfully called Le Man Replicas.

The cars became favorites in their 2-liter class, beaten only by exotic Ferraris of the era. And, often enough, Frazer Nash robustness put them ahead of the exotics as well. A young up-and-comer named Stirling Moss drove a Le Mans Replica to victory in the 1951 British Empire Trophy race on the Isle of Man.

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Stirling Moss, age 21, wins the 1951 British Empire Trophy.

At the same time, Italian auto engineer/sportsman/journalist Count “Johnny” Lurani arranged another Le Mans Replica to be driven in both the Mille Miglia and ultra-rugged Sicilian Targa Florio. Driven by Franco Cortese and L. Tagni, the Frazer Nash finished 9th overall, 2nd in class to a works Ferrari, in the Mille Miglia. After more than 7 1/2 hours and 360 miles, Cortese and the car took an overall win in the 1951 Targa.

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Franco Cortese wins overall at the 1951 Targa Florio.

That same year, Frazer Nash enthusiasts performed a rare feat with their car: Brits Eric Winterbottom and John Marshall finished 14th at the 24 hours of Le Mans and then, its Le Mans numbers still affixed, entered the car in the Alpine Rally, won the 2-liter class and earned an Alpine Cup.

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Equally at home in the mountains as on the Sarthe circuit: the Winterbottom/Marshall Frazer Nash.

In 1952, American enthusiast Stuart Donaldson brought a Le Mans Replica to the first running of the Sebring 12-hour race in Florida. Harry Grey and Larry Kulok drove the virtually new car to another overall victory. This, by the way, was the second Sebring endurance race; the 1950 event was a 6-hour, won on handicap by a Crosley Hotshot.

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The winner of Sebring’s first 12-hour endurance race, 1952: a Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash. Image from motorsportretro.com.

In its Sebring win, the Grey/Kulok Frazer Nash beat the 2nd-place Jaguar XK-120 by five laps, a Ferrari 166 MM by seven laps. Not bad for a replica. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

2 comments on “REPLICA NEED NOT BE A DIRTY WORD

  1. carmacarcounselor
    August 18, 2015

    A friend had a “Frazer-Nash BMW” with a cabriolet body by Drause. I followed him to a Rick Cole auction (in case of a breakdown) at Universal City where it sold, as do most cars in which a lot of love and cash has been invested, well below what it cost to restore.

  2. lureofspeed
    August 20, 2015

    Fine cars! I also think the old snobberies towards replicas are falling away, which is good, because most interesting cars are increasingly out of reach for almost everyone, which is not good.

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