10 August 2015

The Raleigh Safety Seven

According to owner Martin Strange, his Raleigh Safety Seven could be the most ironically named car of all time. “It’s a real death-trap. I’ve lifted a rear wheel just going gently round a corner, and the steering column is 1/2” of solid steel. If you have any kind of crash, you are going to have a lance straight through your chest.”

Safety was obviously less of a concern to his grandfather Charles, who bought the car new in 1935 for 99 guineas. Launched two years previously by Raleigh, this three-wheeler car was aimed at the family market and had a v-twin 742cc engine that drove the rear wheels by means of a driveshaft.  Although sales were not bad, Raleigh soon decided that their future lay in bicycles, leaving their chief designer Tom Williams to depart and set up on his own. His company- Reliant- went on to become world leaders in three-wheel car production.

Over the next few years Charles managed to put nearly 36,000 miles on the clock, mostly driving on short journeys near his home in Cirencester, but sometimes venturing further afield. “We have one picture of him and the car on the beach at Weston-super-Mare in about 1937, and there are stories of him going up Birdlip Hill in Gloucestershire in reverse gear, as it wouldn’t make it in first.”

“In 1958, my grandfather had a big row with my grandmother about his driving capability, so he put it away in a garage made from old packing crates. We rescued it out of there in 1990, disturbed the fox that was living under its front wheels, and took it on a trailer to my home in Leicestershire, where I took it apart. Under all the dirt was pretty good metal- both the steel chassis and aluminium body were in quite good condition.”

Despite not having restored a car before, Martin did much of the work himself, including repainting the shell. For more specialised tasks, he looked to local experts. “I took all the engine parts to a local firm to be re-machined, and another company did the upholstery and canvas roof.”

Finally in January 1998 it was ready to be driven to a local garage for its first ever MOT. Since then, it has been used sparingly. “I use it about once a year now- although you can’t really drive it in any meaningful sense. The longest I have driven it is about 25 miles to a car show- and it didn’t make it back. Otherwise it just sits tucked away on a trailer in the garage. There’s no way I can sell it- it’s now a family heirloom.”

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