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Vanguard - it was anything but standard

2014-06-10 09:01


BUILT LIKE A TANK: British car manufacturer Standard Motor Company built some great cars through the years. This Vanguard mode in South Africa isl a case in point. Image: DAVE FALL

Dave Fall was contacted by an avid Wheels24 reader about a British-built Standard Vanguard car that his late uncle had owned in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape in the mid-1950s. He felt sure it was diesel-powered: “Could that have been possible?” the reader wondered.

There isn’t a mainstream automaker today – the last almost certainly being well-known Japanese manufacturer Subaru which was slow to bring a diesel-fuelled car to market, but in the early 1950's they just didn’t feature.

Perhaps the only one you could readily buy back then at your friendly Main Street showroom was a Mercedes-Benz – and even then it was only available in Germany.


The Standard Motor Company launched one of its most famous and successful post-war models in 1947 - the Vanguard.

The Vanguard was a completely new design, its exterior styling that of many then contemporary US sedans. The bold four-door body featured a distinctive, sloping rear which looked a little stubby to some eyes and an attractive “wraparound” grille.

It was a four-door, body-on-frame design; the envelope body had fully integrated mudguards. The rear wheels were exposed but would soon be enclosed by removable “wheel spats” that gave the car more flowing lines.

Although the Vanguard still had a separate chassis the mechanical specifications were thoroughly modern and included all-synchromesh gears, front coil suspension and hydraulic brakes. Beneath the Vanguards bonnet sat a four-cylinder 2088cc petrol engine with overhead valves.

A bench front seat with folding centre armrest would carry three people comfortably. The relatively short 2.3m wheelbase necessitated a between-the-wheels rear seat that could, at a squeeze, accommodate three although two were more comfortable.


Britain’s first diesel car was born into this era, a ponderous, oil-burning version of the Standard Vanguard. The two-litre lump of an engine, also fitted to about 30 000 Ferguson* tractors,  needed a much stiffer chassis and the four-speed gearbox got electric overdrive on second and top gears to help punt the car along.

Apart from being horribly noisy, the diesel Vanguard was tortoise-like – the wind would have to be in the right direction for the adventurous driver to beat 105km/h – downhill!

The clattering, smelly promise of 18km/litre persuaded the Port Talbot Steel Works in Wales to run a large fleet of them in and around that country but the car only lasted for two years (1954/55) and was not replaced.

Overall the Vanguard was quite successful and sold well at home and abroad in the all important export markets. Production of the initial Phase I Vanguard ceased in 1952 after 184 799 had been sold.

Whether any of the nearly 2000 diesel versions made it to South Africa and the Eastern Cape is impossible to say but I know of one that made it down to New Zealand!

*Ferguson had arranged with Sir John Black, owner of Standard Motors, to produce a tractor to his design. As Standard owned a factory at Banner Lane in Coventry, located in the British Midlands, which had been a shadow factory during the war, it was turned over to tractor production in 1946, and the TE (Tractor England) was born.

Usually grey, they were affectionately known as the Vaaljapie in South Africa.

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