Standard, although not among the largest of British car makers, did reasonably well in the the post war period, and even took over Triumph Automobiles in 1945. Eventually it was taken over by the expansive Leyland in 1960. So seeing a Standard car anywhere is now an event. Spotting what looks like a restorable Standard Vanguard should make a Curbivore stop.
The Vanguard was Standard’s mid-range offering, competing with the likes of the Hillman Minx, Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford and early Vauxhall Victors – not the upmarket ‘executive’ market that Triumph invented with the its nominal successor the 2000 in 1963.
The first Vanguard (later known as Phase I) came in 1947, with a very distinctive swept tail design – not unlike a pre-war Chrysler, perhaps. The name was the same as the Royal Navy’s last battleship, HMS Vanguard , of 1944 – the Navy’s permission had to be obtained to use it, allegedly. It was deliberately chosen to give an image of strength and robustness, at home and in historically British territories overseas.
Wheelbase was 94 inches, in line with the contemporary Hillman Minx and a couple of inches shorter than an Austin A40 or a Vauxhall Velox.
Underneath, the Vanguard was, not surprisingly, more traditional than its looks suggested. The separate chassis had a live rear axle and leaf springs, with coil springs at the front. The engine was essentially that of the Ferguson tractor, the real money maker in the Standard catalogue, with all that that implies for smoothness and quietness.
Internally, the Vanguard offered a good package by contemporary standards, and the car was strong and well built. This was a key point for Standard – Australia, New Zealand and India, where durability in harsh conditions was key, were important markets. Remember this was the time of ‘export or die’, with as much production as possible exported to boost post war economic recovery.
From 1952, the Phase IA had a lower bonnet, wider rear window and other detail changes. Estate bodies and, outside the UK, pick-ups were now available as well.
In 1953, Standard showed the Phase 2 Vanguard. Mechanically unchanged and on the same chassis, it sported a new more conventional body in what we now call a ‘three box’ style, although changes in front of the rear doors were few. Boot capacity and passenger space were increased. From the side, it looked like a smaller version of the Rover P4; from the rear, it could have been a Rootes product, but from the front it was still clearly the same Vanguard.
The Phase III Vanguard of 1955 was a step-change from this now tired old configuration. The body was now a monocoque, with a sharp modern body that would not have disgraced Ford or Vauxhall, and the same 2 litre four now produced 68hp, with the option of a floor mounted four speed gearbox at last. Wheelbase was up by 8 inches, to 102.5 inch, matching the contemporary Vauxhall Velox and Ford Consul rather than the Hillman Minx. With the standard bench seats front and rear, this was, by British standards, a six seater, capable of over 80 mph – on paper, a very competitive product in the British market.
The Phase III lasted to 1958, and the range expanded to include a base model Standard Ensign – same body, less trim, 1670cc – and a performance focused Vanguard Sportsman (in relative terms – 90 hp, 90 mph and 19 seconds 0-60), which featured a grille that looked very like Rover’s.
The low spec Ensign variant was an attempt to bridge the gap in the range to the much smaller Standard Ten and Pennant, with an engine of just 1670cc.
From 1958, a facelifted Vanguard Phase III became the Standard Vanguard Vignale, with larger front and rear windscreens and revised grille and trim. The four on the floor became the standard, with the three on the tree an option; overdrive and automatic were options. This was a visually successful update, and the Vignale looked a good deal more modern than the Phase III.
Finally, there was the Standard Vanguard 6, using the 6 cylinder 2000cc engine destined for the upcoming Triumph 2000.
But time had run out for the Vanguard – modern competition from Ford, Vauxhall and Rootes showed up its dated underpinnings, and the money for a replacement was not available. Standard-Triumph sold the tractor business, invested the proceeds in the delightful but compromised Herald, and then sold itself to Leyland to fund the Triumph 2000 to replace the Vanguard with a very different product; by 1963, the Vanguard had faded away, and the Standard name went with it. It was never a big seller: over 16 years, including production in Australia and New Zealand, approximately 350,000 were built, fewer than half what Rootes did with the Minx alone.
This Phase III Vanguard was spotted in Polis, a small town on the west coast of Cyprus in May this year, parked up outside a family run taverna. It has clearly been here for sometime, but the dry hot climate appears to have treated it well. I was surprised by the all-over salmon pink colour, which is not the sort of colour I would have associated with a 1950s Vanguard, but its uniformity and matching interior suggest it probably is original.
Cyprus was a typical Standard market – part of the British Empire from 1878 to 1960, and needing sturdy no nonsense vehicles.
A country doesn’t enjoy / endure 80 years of British rule without picking up some of our habits – English is very widely spoken, and is the default language of the large and vibrant tourist industry, Cypriots drive on the left, and as well as many British visitors looking for sunshine, there is a large ex-pat community. And to this day, the RAF has two bases there, on British Sovereign territory – the Red Arrows train there, with the guaranteed 300 sunshine days per year being a bit more than the British average.
But the cars are no longer British – Japanese pick-ups have displaced most of the Land Rovers, and the rest is the usual European blend of German, French, Japanese and Korean, although I did spot a Massey Ferguson tractor, using the same engine as the Vanguard. And on the other end of the spectrum, the whole range of Triumph sports cars, from the TR2 through the TR4, also used the same engine, to considerable success.
In 1956, Standard introduced the Vanguard Sportsman, which used a twin-SU carb version making 90 hp; this engine was very similar to the TR3 engine, and made the Vanguard a very good performer for the times.
So finding a Standard Vanguard resting outside a taverna, slowing joining the undergrowth, was a pleasant surprise. It looks like a battery, a can of oil, a splash of four star petrol and a few cranks on the starting handle could have it going again. Who knows?