1949 Triumph Mayflower: Your Thanksgiving Turkey

(first posted 11/24/2011)    In 1620, the Mayflower carried 102 Puritans from England to America to escape religious persecution. A year later they celebrated their survival and a good harvest with the first Thanksgiving feast. We celebrate its anniversary today.

In 1949 another Mayflower landed in America, sent to bring home Yankee dollars to an impoverished postwar Britain. Sadly, the Triumph Mayflower did not find the same success.

In 1946, Standard-Triumph introduced the large Triumph Renown sedan, an expensive coachbuilt luxury car. The Renown was meant as a smaller 108 inch wheelbase version of the 120-inch Bentley Mark VI. Managing director Sir John Black was certain its “razor edge” faux-Rolls Royce look would work on an upscale small car, that would be especially appealing to Americans. (And you thought this sort of thing started with the Cimarron.) Thus the Triumph Mayflower was born in 1949, on an 84 inch wheelbase. Compare this Mayflower with that yellow Spitfire next to it. Spitfire’s wheelbase is only 1 inch less.

It’s hard to get a sense of the tiny scale of this car in photos, so I’ve created a visual aid. This 1950s VW is shown at the same scale as the Mayflower. Compare its 84 inch wheelbase with the VW’s 94.5: the Triumph’s wheelbase is a full ten inches shorter. All that luxurious overhang does make it nearly as long as the Bug.  Just imagine its ride and handling. This is the rare drophead version, only ten made. With top up, it offers complete privacy to whoever can fit between those rear wheel wells.

Square-on side views of the Mayflower are rare. Maybe because neither side is its best side. Spend some time taking in these classic lines. Compare the car above the beltline with the car below. See how the rear wheels fall between the B and C pillars. How each window’s frame looks different. How the drip rail compares with the line of the top.

James May wrote in his Telegraph column, “I’m pretty confident in saying that the ugliest car ever to sneak off a sketch pad when no one with taste or discretion was looking was the 1949 Triumph Mayflower. The Ford Edsel had an unfortunate nose, and the AMC Pacer had an unfortunate backside. But the Mayflower was ugly to its roots. Look at it, if you can bear to. Its details are ugly, its overall proportions are ugly, its very concept – as a car to appeal to Americans who believed they were directly descended from the Pilgrim Fathers – makes one shudder.”

It was said to be a roomy package for its size, thanks to its boxy shape. Just the thing for a country squire’s picnic luncheon out on the estate.

Looks to have a nicely upholstered interior. Lots of glass in those tall frames. I couldn’t find any shots of the rear seat. Maybe it’s too narrow and cramped for photography. Those Brits, always going on picnics!

“The body is built integral with a rigid pressed steel frame of unusual design, cleverly buttressed to give great strength without undue weight.” In other words, a unit body. “Rust-proofed by the “Bonderizing” process.”

They took their pre-war Standard 10 flathead four, gave it an aluminum head and installed a Solex carb. 1247 cc developed 38 hp at 4200 rpm. Three on the tree. Top speed 63 mph, 0 to 50 in 26.6 seconds. 24 US mpg.

Mayflower historian’s website is chock full of facts and photos. He reports: “If you want rapid acceleration, speed and sure-footed road holding then the Mayflower is not for you!” “The body roll can be quite dramatic if you approach a corner at speed. This can catch out the novice Mayflower driver. However, once experienced this is never forgotten or repeated!”

Standard-Triumph of Australia built a Mayflower coupe utility. Why would you take a miniature Rolls and turn it into a pickup? They used UK knockdown kits, modified the bodywork with a timber bed, and built 150 of them. Looks like the hood is longer than the bed. How many sheep can you carry back there?

Triumph Mayflower sold for $1,695 in the US. For comparison, the top-of-the-line 1950 Ford V8 Crestliner sedan sold for $1,711. Which would you choose? Right. Out of 35,000 Mayflowers built from 1950-53, only 1,000 came across to the States. Definitely not the hit Sir John predicted.

Standard-Triumph followed the Mayflower with the much more conventional Standard Eight and Standard Ten in 1953. Through 1960 they sold 308,000 of these. So much for “razor edge” styling.

Mayflower’s unique size and shape did lend itself to custom builders. This mysterious car, named “Ruby”, is said to be somewhere in western North America.

Leftovers? Definitely. Every turkey has a wishbone. Triumph made a wish and used the Mayflower’s coil spring independent front suspension in their other new offering for 1953, a little number called the TR2. Quite a few more Yankee dollars came back to Olde England on that series. For that, surely they were and we are very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!