The Forgotten Pilgrim

Image (c) Vauxford

In the aftermath of world war 2, the British economy was in a state of turmoil. The financial cost of standing up to the axis powers had all but exhausted the country’s fiscal reserves, Lend Lease (on which Britain had relied from 1941 onwards) had come to an abrupt halt, and the National Debt was running at more than twice the country’s Gross Domestic Product. This, as any economist will tell you, was more than a little cause for concern.

But that wasn’t even the half of it. Britain relied heavily on imports of key products and materials, such as food, steel and timber, all of which had to be paid for. Exports were a significant source of national revenue, but by 1945 Britain’s merchant fleet had been decimated by six years of war and two-thirds of her pre-war export market had been lost. Indeed, so bad was the situation that the noted economist John Maynard Keynes said that Britain faced a financial Dunkirk unless it could obtain a loan of $5 billion.

As it turned out, Britain managed to borrow almost that amount ($3.75 billion from the USA and $1.19 billion from Canada) but was still desperately hard up. And with a government eager to press ahead with a radical programme of social reform, it was imperative to maximise earnings from exports.

Image (c) UK National Archives

In this time of need it was the motor industry that came to the rescue, with British manufacturers taking full advantage of the demand for new cars in the USA and Australia, in particular, exceeding the ability of local manufacturers to meet it. Indeed, Britain soon established itself as the leading exporter of cars in the world, a position it would hold for several years.

It was against this background that the Triumph Mayflower was launched at the 1949 British International Motor Show at Earls Court. But although it bore the Triumph name, the Mayflower had practically nothing in common with its pre-war namesakes. The original Triumph Motor Company, already shorn of its bicycle and motorcycle arms, had gone into receivership in 1939. But although saved from extinction by a Yorkshire-based engineering concern, the war took a further toll of the company’s assets. And by the time that Triumph was acquired by the Standard Motor Company in 1944, pretty much all that remained was one bombed out factory, the Triumph name and the goodwill.

Mayflower brochure
Image originally (c) Standard Motor Company. Present copyright holder unknown.

When car production resumed after the war, none of the pre-war Triumphs were reintroduced. Instead, a new range of Triumphs emerged from Standard’s factory at Canley. Little time was wasted in getting these models into production, and when the Mayflower broke cover in 1949 it was the third new post-war Triumph. More compact than its siblings, it was intended to cater for what Standard presumably felt was pent-up demand in both the USA and elsewhere for an upmarket small car. As such, comfort rather than performance lay at the very top of its creator’s list of priorities.

Some might say that the Mayflower’s styling lay at the opposite end of its manufacturer’s considerations, but the reality is that the Mayflower’s upright, ‘razor edge’ styling was intended to convey an impression of quality and comfort; avant-garde it was not. The Mayflower was, however, modern in one respect: it was the first model built by either Standard or Triumph to be of unitary construction.

Image (c) Thomas’s pics

Power was supplied by a modified version of the 1247cc sidevalve engine used in the pre-war Standard Ten. But with a kerb weight of nearly a ton and only 38bhp to propel it, the Mayflower’s performance (62.9 mph flat out and 0-50 mph in 26.6 seconds, as measured by Motor magazine in 1950) was on the leisurely side of unhurried. On the plus side, the engine was flexible and the gear ratios (the Mayflower had three forward gears, all with synchromesh) were perfectly suited to the engine’s characteristics.

It’s probably kindest to describe the Mayflower’s handling as being in keeping with its performance, an obvious consequence of its ill-matched proportions (it being too tall relative to its height and width), short (84 inch) wheelbase, and a suspension set up emphatically biased towards comfort. Still, its independent front suspension was of a sound enough design to later see service, albeit with some modifications, in the Triumph TR2.

Image (c) Charles01

But whilst it was slow and tended to be a bit stodgy whenever the road turned, there was no denying that the Mayflower cosseted its occupants. And in spite of its slight proportions and lack of rear doors, it could accommodate four adult passengers. Mind you, the average person tended to be of lesser girth back in the 1950s, and persons of more, shall we say, contemporary proportions are likely to find the rear seat to be a little on the narrow side for two people.

Sadly for its manufacturer, fewer people than anticipated were sufficiently won over by the Mayflower to spend their hard-earned cash on one. Standard had perhaps hoped that the Mayflower name might evoke latent memories in the USA of the first English Puritans (now better known as ‘the Pilgrims’) who had made the perilous voyage from England to America in a ship of that name in 1620. If so, it was a forlorn hope, with only 510 Mayflowers out of a total production run of over 34,000 finding homes Stateside. No doubt the Mayflower’s anachronistic styling and underwhelming dynamics played a large part in this, but the marque’s lack of provenance in the USA must also have contributed to the model’s poor performance on the forecourt.

Image (c) dave_7

The Mayflower did at least fare a little better in other overseas markets, with around 19,000 being exported. Even so, sales failed to meet Standard-Triumph’s expectations and production of the Mayflower ended in 1953. It was replaced by the Standard Eight, a cheaper and more basic small car which sold in appreciably higher numbers.

Today, the Mayflower has largely been confined to a smudged footnote in the history of the British motor industry. So much so that it doesn’t even merit a listing in the DVLA’s vehicle licensing database. And its absence makes it very difficult to assess just how many – or, more accurately, how few – of the 16,400 or so Mayflowers sold in the UK have survived the ravages of time and scrappage schemes.

Image (c) Riley, Christchurch, New Zealand

One thing is for sure, though, if you’re on the lookout for a Mayflower then you needn’t worry too much about specifications, as the only changes made during its short production life were the addition of a rebound cable to the lower suspension wishbone, the fitment of push-button door handles and the inclusion of a more powerful heater. Moreover, apart from ten convertibles built by Mulliners in 1950, the Mayflower was only ever offered in two-door saloon form. Unless you lived in Australia, that is, in which case you may have been ‘lucky’ enough to acquire one of the 150 Mayflowers that were imported in CKD (complete knock-down) form and locally converted into that most Antipodean of vehicles, the ‘ute’.

And if you might be tempted to, ahem, pick up a Mayflower then you’ll be interested to learn that asking prices (in the UK, at any rate) have steadfastly refused to reflect its rarity, with very good examples typically being available for under £5000.

Image (c) Mr.choppers