ENGINES: LEA-FRANCIS

Name: Lea-Francis

This company was formed in 1895 to build bicycles and in 1903 produced its first car at its factory in Coventry. It was not until the 1920s that the company really became established as a sporting car company with its Hyper and the Ace of Models which were raced at Le Mans. These used Meadows engines and it was not until the late 1930s that the company began building its own engines designed by Hugh Rose, who had joined the firm after stints at Humber, Riley and with Louis Coatalen at Hillman. The company boomed in the post-war years with annual production reaching nearly 600 with the 14/40 model. These featured a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. This attracted the attention of a variety of British racers at the time and was used in a number of specials which were built for the two-liter Formula 2 which began in 1948. In 1950 Kenneth McAlpine funded the construction of a Connaught chassis and Rodney Clarke and Mike Oliver began experimenting with the engines, which were modified to 2-liter specification. When Formula 2 regulations were adopted for the World Championship in 1952 Connaught Engineering became a more serious operation, running a factory team and supplying cars to customers. There were minor victories for Mike Hawthorn at Turnberry and Dennis Poore at Charterhall but the results attracted interest from Belgian racer Johnny Claes and he raced one in Europe in 1953. The factory team entered Roy Salvadori and John Coombs and the customers increased in Britain with Rob Walker buying a car for Eric Thompson and later Tony Rolt. That summer Rolt won a string of victories at Crystal Palace, Snetterton, Oulton Park and Thruxton.

The engines were never quite powerful enough to be successful and when the new 2.5-liter Formula 1 regulations were introduced in 1954 Connaught switched to Alta engines. By then Lea Francis production had ceased because of the intense competition from Jaguar. A new roadster was launched but this was overshadowed by the Triumph TR3. The company was reformed in 1960 and produced some prototypes but they never went into production and the parts business was put into receivership in 1963, leaving Lea Francis to concentrate on other engineering business.

In 1999 the company built a new sportscar, hoping to revive the success of the late 1940s.

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