This is the third car owned by Adrian Stokes – after the Raleigh Safety Seven we featured in Snapshot 145 and the Singer Le Mans in Snapshot 149.
Adrian was a student at New College, Oxford, probably just after the Second World War – and had a series of them during his student days and soon after. We don’t know why Adrian replaced his Singer with the Hyper, but perhaps we can guess – because he bought the Singer for its sportiness, and a Lea-Francis Hyper is arguably another step up. Adrian named his cars, and the Hyper had the name ‘Phyllis’, which means leafy foliage in Greek. Do you get it? The nickname for all Lea-Francis cars is Leaf. Just as the Singer survives, we are told that the Hyper does as well – although we sadly have no registration with which to track it down.
Richard Henry Lea and Graham Inglesby Francis started their business in Coventry in 1895 to manufacture bicycles. In 1903 the company engaged consulting engineer Alex Craig to design its first car that was sadly unconventional and unsuccessful. From then on Lea-Francis focused on bicycle – and additionally from 1911 motorcycle – production until they started once again after the Armistice to make cars, this time of conventional design. After a number of unsuccessful attempts between 1920 and 1923, the appointment of C M Van Eugen marked a turning point in the fortunes of the company. His improvements to the existing design resulted in the highly successful ‘C’ Type of 1923. Many models followed, with both Meadows and Anzani power.
Success in reliability trials boosted Lea-Francis sales during 1925 and 1926, and the company started to experiment with supercharging for several forays, not always successful, into track racing. Late in 1926 a Meadows-engined prototype was fitted with a Cozette supercharger, with highly promising results, and in 1927 the ‘Hyper’ model was introduced for sale to the general public. The Hyper (also called the S-type) was the first British supercharged production car.
The standard 1.5-litre plain-bearing 4-cylinder Meadows 4ED engines were stripped down on arrival from the Wolverhampton factory and carefully reassembled in the Lea-Francis competition department with particular attention to tolerances of bearings and pistons. Larger valves with duplex valve springs were fitted, and the Cozette no. 8 supercharger was added. Initially, the car was offered only in open four-seater form. The first car was delivered in July 1927 and created a sensation. Even today, a Lea-Francis Hyper is the essence of a vintage sports car. A genuine 85mph was easily reached, and in top tune 90mph was possible. Competition success followed, crowned by victory in August 1928 in the Ulster TT, a 30-lap race on the 13.5-mile (21.7 km) Ards circuit on the roads of Northern Ireland in the hands of legendary driver Kaye Don. The race was watched by record 250,000 spectators, and the victory placed Lea-Francis firmly on the map.
Barry Price’s standard work on Lea-Francis records that 188 Hypers were produced – all from 1927 to 1930 except for one in 1932. ‘Phyllis’ was one of these exceptional sports cars.
We have a record of one more of Adrian Stokes’s cars – one that he used on his honeymoon. We’ll return to this final car in another Snapshot.
Photograph published with the permission of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford.