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The first producer of safety bicycles in the world, George Singer, made his first powered vehicle in the 1800s. Singer’s Motor-wheel had three wheels and air-filled tires, and was essentially a motorized bicycle with the motor fitted into the wheel — only a car if you count powered tricycles (as Mercedes does). A more modern four-cylinder car produced under license succeeded in Britain’s One Thousand Miles Trial; shortly thereafter, he sold a full four model lineup, from an eight horsepower two-cylinder to a 25 horsepower four-cylinder.
Singer’s first really successful car was the Ten, unveiled in 1912, with a steel chassis, four cylinder engine, and two seats; the economical car achieved 40 mpg, and was more reliable than many competitors, thanks partly to a more modern rear transaxle. Its price was right at £185, and a racing version both won a stock car race and owned a variety of speed records in its class. The Singer Ten was lighter than most existing cars but heavier than motorcycle-based models.
Factory apprentice Billy Rootes bought fifty of the Singer Tens when they were first brought out, and used the profits from reselling them to start a motoring empire which would acquire and integrate many other British car companies before foundering (a fate shared with British Motor Holdings, later known as MG Rover).
During World War I, Singer was honored by being ordered to produce its cars for the military, while other car plants switched to different war materials. Civilian production resumed after the war, with a wider range of vehicles; by the 1920s, the range was fairly diverse (and more modern; for example, the gearbox was moved forward). Unlike some manufacturers, Singer even appears to have gotten paid.
In 1927, the Junior was produced, using an 848 cc chain-driven overhead cam engine that was to be the basis for many other engines in later decades. The Ten had grown and gotten heavier; the Junior was, like the Austin 7, a return to lighter, more nimble cars.
In 1934, the Airstream was produced, a four door sedan with integrated headlights and a pillar-free design. The advanced car was not popular but it was expensive to produce and essentially flopped.
Singer remained at the forefront of technology, with independent front suspensions, fluid-coupling transmissions, and other first-in-Britain achievements. The Nine qualified to compete in Le Mans - the first car with less than 1.1 liters and no supercharger to do so (this probably led to the creation of the Singer Le Mans, a two-seater with two spare tires.) However, a multiple-car crash - the result of last-minute steering box adjustments ordered by race judges - caused Singer to leave car racing, and the financial crash hurt Singer sales. Factories were closed and most cars and trucks were discontinued, and just when sales started to rise with the introduction of a new car (the Roadster), World War II broke out.
Singer plants produced arms and aero equipment during the war, but closed the period with poor finances and a limited product line. The first new car made after the war was not quite successful until it was restyled and renamed to Singer Hunter (a name that would come back on Hillmans), and sold as good, solid, reliable transportation. The Hunter was to be made quicker with a fiberglass body and a 75 horsepower twin-cam engine, but that never happened.
Singer never recovered, and in 1955 the banks refused to lend more money. Back against the wall, Singer agreed to join the Rootes empire. As in other Rootes acquisitions, existing models were discontinued, and the first new car, the Singer Gazelle, was merely a Hillman Minx with new styling and a Hunter engine (later replaced by a less sophisticated Hillman engine). The Vogue, a larger car designed for a solid, reliable feel, and the Imp-based Chamois, were both remodelled Hillmans. As with other Rootes brands, Singer was relegated to being one of many brands sharing essentially the same vehicles, and by 1970, only the name remained. In 1971, Rootes’ new owners, Chrysler, made the name follow reality, and Singer became a piece of history.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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