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1954 Swallow Doretti

Engine Number: TS5666

Chassis Number:    1292

Body Number:        5292

The Swallow Doretti

by Albert Escalente

The Swallow Doretti as an aluminum-bodied two-seater sports car that was produced in England in limited quantity between 1953 and 1956. These cars were literally hand-built by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company working in conjunction with its parent company, Tube Investments. Fundamentally involved in this project were two Californians, Dorothy Anderson Deen and her father Arthur Anderson. Arthur owned a business called Cal-Sales, which marketed sports car, accessories and apparel.

Dorothy and her father had been negotiating with both Swallow and Tube Investments to develop a sports car based on the then-new Triumph TR2 drivetrain. She had envisioned a car for enthusiasts who wanted something a little more substantial than just a stock TR2, yet with all of the TR2’s inherent dependability and toughness.

Since the car would be using TR2 parts, they would be easy to service and maintain. In those days, having a custom car built usually meant having to suffer long waits for replacement parts or repairs even to the extent of having the parts handmade.

Dorothy’s plan was to build a car that was strong, dependable, and fast, with classic lines and plush interior of a beautiful, custom-bodied sports car. In tribute, the car derived its name from her. Although “Doretti” sounds exotic, it was really just a play on her name: “Dor-etti” actually meant “Dor-othy”!

By 1953, Frank Rainbow, a designer from Swallow, had built a prototype based on an earlier (1952) concept by Eric Saunders of Tube Investments. The car had a gracefully proportioned aluminum body draped over an inner structure of steel and a very strong ladder-type chrome-moly tubed frame. Power was supplied by a Triumph TR2 drivetrain, the engine being stock 90hp-4-cylinder overhead valve model with twin SU side-draft carburetors.

A Triumph four-speed transmission and rear end were standard and an overdrive transmission was available as an option. With a top speed of just over 100mph, the Doretti wasn’t quite as fast as a TR2, but nobody seemed to mind. (The Doretti incidentally was heavier than the TR2, which might account for the lower speed and top end). However, whatever the Doretti lacked in speed, it more than made up for with its nicely appointed, comfortable interior and the expensive-looking custom design. Overall, the car handled very much like the TR2 due to so many components, including the running gear, coming from the Standard Triumph group.

Consequently, it was only a matter of time before Dorothy and her father were introduced to Sir John Black, the president of Triumph Car Company. Sir John was obviously taken by their enterprising flair for promotion and salesmanship. Before very long, he had made a commitment for them to handle not just the American distribution of Swallow Doretti, but set them up for distribution for the entire Standard Triumph group.

As soon as Dorothy and her father returned to the United States, they began setting up a sales and distribution network out of Cal-Sales with offices in Gardena, California. By early 1953, a Doretti prototype had been shipped from England and was available to be shown to potential dealers.

In January of 1954, Dorothy and her father arranged for the grand debut of the Doretti at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. On display were two complete Doretti’s, a Doretti chassis, and four early model TR2’s. Dorothy was convinced that a single dealership for both marques made sense, both in terms of convenience and variety, she would later also say, “It gave dealers another item to sell”. At the same time, a new Doretti sold for $3,200, while the TR2 went for $2,600.

Initial sales response was good, and by all indications the car had considerable appeal and sales potential, and with its good looks it practically sold itself. However, for some reason, production of the Doretti ceased after less than two years. Swallow cited poor sales and limited demand as the prime factors in this closure, and they quickly shut down production after just 273 roadsters had been manufactured. Three special coupes known as the Doretti Sabre were developed, but never entered production, making a total of only 276 Doretti’s ever made by the Standard Triumph factory. Later, an additional cars were built outside the factory in kit form, and these were sold from Monk’s Garage in Solihull, England, making a grand total of 288 Doretti’s in all.

(These are the photos used for Pebble Beach submission and for the Bonham’s Quail Auction catalog August 2018)

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