This rare, striking thoroughbred coupé offers pre-war style with post-war ease of use – and a lot of charm, says Nigel Boothman
Never seen one? Very few Lea-Francis Westland coupés were made – either 12 or 32, depending on the source – and this is apparently the only survivor on the road. It enjoyed an exhaustive photo-documented restoration around 20 years ago and still presents very well indeed.
Lea-Francis is one of the great old Coventry names alongside Armstrong-Siddeley, Alvis and others who ceased car production many years ago. The company remained intact in the care of Barrie Price, who recently passed on the parts supply business to a new owner, meaning that the marque is surprisingly well supported. This car uses a 1767cc version of the clever twin-cam four-cylinder, hemi-headed engine introduced in the late Thirties, with the ‘14hp’ rating referring to the car’s taxation class rather than output. The all-aluminium body was constructed by Westland of Hereford, which also built the first Healey roadsters around the same time.
The paint finish is Bentley Peacock Blue Mica. It’s holding up well bar a few scratches on the top of the nearside front wing and a few tiny bubbles here and there. As with lots of coachbuilt cars, you can find slight cracks in the paint on body joints such as the top of the A-pillars where the ash frame has flexed, but they’re very minor. The chrome is excellent.
The car’s huge rear-hinged doors have scuffed the sills, though the hinges and B-pillars seem rock-solid. The interior trim is in excellent condition with no real wear to the rather soft blue leather or lighter blue carpets. The woodwork on the dash and door tops is equally smart, with a lot to look at – it’s a very well-equipped dashboard. The indicators now work off a separate switch rather than that on the steering wheel boss and there are two temperature gauges, one of which works, and settles to a healthy point between 80 and 90 degrees. There’s not much room between gearstick and wheel for long-legged drivers but it’s otherwise very comfy, and a full four-seater. The boot is large enough to swallow luggage, especially with the spare wheel stashed in the slot beneath.
The car starts first time and idles rather fast but has good oil pressure – nearly 40psi at around 1500rpm, rising to 60psi at speed. You discover a Thirties driving experience but with a forgiving, easy gearchange that only prefers a double-declutch for changing down into second. The ‘LeaF’ gets to 60mph quite smartly with the feeling it would do more. The brakes are mechanical but strong enough, as long as you respect its age and allow a bit of room. The turning circle is very good but there’s a fair bit of steering play in the straight-ahead position. It rides on fresh-looking Avon 5.25-5.5 17in crossplies. The HMV valve radio picks up Medium Wave very well and cricket fans will be pleased to find Long Wave in there too.
There’s a significant history file going back many decades and including a photo record of the restoration. The price seems fair for what is now a unique car – and a very good-looking one – that needs no special skill to drive and can be enjoyed safely in modern traffic.
Price £35,000 Engine 1767cc ohv inline-four Power 65bhp @ 4700rpm Torque n/a Performance 0-60mph: 19sec (est); Top speed: 75mph (est) Fuel consumption 23mpg (est) Length 4546mm (from 1948 14hp saloon) Width n/a