Rare Commer TS3 Three-Car Transporter on Auction

Rare Commer TS3 Three-Car Transporter on Auction

Today at Bonhams auctions this Ex-Ecurie Ecosse team transporter (Auction 20934) is up for grabs.

1960 Commer TS3 Three-Car Transporter

Coachwork by Walter Alexander of Falkirk, Scotland

Registration no. VSG 7

Chassis no. T99A2181


  • Perhaps the motor racing World's best known and most instantly recognized team transporter, the Ecurie Ecosse team's celebrated Commer is offered here in fully-restored, running and fully 'road-prepared' order – direct from its long-time owner, Mr Dick Skipworth and his magnificentEcurie Ecosse CollectionThe team had relied upon a pair of venerable converted coach transporters through the 1950s but once David Murray's D-Type Jaguars had not only won their second consecutive Le Mans 24-Hour race in 1957, but had also come home first and second in that latter year's Grand Prix d'Endurance, membership of their Ecurie EcosseAssociation supporters club absolutely boomed. Collectively, Association members were keen to help the team's racing efforts. The weakest link in the Merchiston Mews chain was plainly transportation, as identified by Alastair Cormack, managing director of James Ross & Sons Motors, Rootes Group agents. He had been a prominent racing driver with Alta cars pre-war when he competed most notably at Brooklands and Donington Park. Another Association member was Ronnie Alexander, managing director of Walter Alexander and Company of Falkirk, specialist truck and bus coachbuilders, and he offered to have a one-off transporter designed and built by his company. Further support for the project was offered by British Aluminium (paneling), Dunlop, Joseph Lucas and Wilmot Breeden. Machining and other services were also donated by companies such as John Gibson & Sons, and so work began on the team's brand-new transporter in 1959 with substantial funding provided by the Ecurie Ecosse Association.Walter Alexander's Design Manager, Selby Howgate, was himself a colourful character within the Scottish motoring world. He had trained as an aerodynamicist within the British aviation industry and was a tremendous Bentley enthusiast who drove his particularly quick 4½-Litre model "with vigour". A genial, good-humoured gentleman, Selby Howgate wore a luxuriant toothbrush moustache and usually drove his thunderous Bentley swathed in heavy tweeds.

    Howgate's contemporary assistant at Walter Alexander's, Ian Johnston, would later recall that had this Commer transporter for Ecurie Ecosse been an actual commercial project it would have cost an absolute fortune. This was because the ever-ebullient Design Manager kept changing his mind but in the end what he created has been described as being "...nothing short of stunning in concept and execution". Many people have commented on the upward sweep at the rear of the bodywork which Ian Johnston explains was the answer to Selby's rhetorical question, "What is the most streamlined thing in nature....a fish."

    The transporter emerged with a spacious cab for the Commer's crew, plus a six-foot by six-foot square workshop area behind, providing a work bench and vice, and which also gave car-underside access on the upper deck. One car could be accommodated on the 'bottom deck' and two 'up top'. A single hydraulic ram located under the floor raised and lowered the upper ramp via cables, absolutely as original.

    This uniquely well-specified Commer transporter was finished in time for the 1960 motor racing season and it made its public debut at the Scottish Charterhall aerodrome circuit on May 29 1960. Wherever it travelled the Ecurie Ecosse transporter was admired and when the team was wound down early in 1971 the ageing Commer was sold to the prominent historic racing driver Neil Corner who actually owned – and still campaigned – one of the ex-Ecurie Ecosse D-Type Jaguars. The Commer's flanks were re-signwritten to bear the legend 'Corner Racing' but retained the distinctive original Ecurie Ecosse style. Mr Corner still waxes quite lyrical about the vehicle even today, over thirty years later. It subsequently passed through many hands including those of Historic racing specialist Tony Merrick and Roger Ludgate but as the years passed so it had deteriorated in the way that well-used, obsolescent commercial vehicles so frequently do. Various tales are attached to the old vehicle, including one that it failed to find a buyer when offered for just £15, and another that since it was still a runner it was used occasionally to transport beer barrels and animal feed...

    Meanwhile, Dick Skipworth had just acquired the Ecurie Ecosse C-Type Jaguar 'KSF 182' from Campbell MacLaren. The car was being prepared for him by Chris Keith-Lucas, then of the Jaguar specialist Lynx company, and "over a coffee mentioned to him that carting the C-Type around on an open trailer isn't quite the thing, is it? What I'd really like is something a little more in keeping...". Mr Keith-Lucas instantly exclaimed: "I think I know where there's just the thing. But it needs a bit of work!".

    Didn't it just. But Mr Skipworth's acquisition of 'VSG 7' now offered here and its subsequent virtually single-handed restoration at Lynx by the late John Hay is one of the great Historic motor racing rescue sagas of all time. During restoration the opportunity was taken to provide sleeping accommodation for the crew behind the cab, while great care was taken to retain virtually all the original superstructure's aluminium skinning. Indeed, as has often been pointed out, the Skipworth/Keith-Lucas intervention probably came just in time to save this iconic vehicle.

    Alexander's original brief in 1959-60 had been to provide for Ecurie Ecosse a transporter vehicle no more than 30 feet long, yet capable of carrying three contemporary-sized sports-racing cars while also incorporating a workshop space. Selby Howgate selected a Commer TS3-powered bus chassis from the Rootes Group as his starting point, and indeed the vehicle's supremely sophisticated contemporary design provided something of a coachbuilder's dream. Since Commer's revolutionary three-cylinder, opposed-piston compressor-scavenged diesel engine is so compact, it could be housed completely between the chassis side members, thus providing a totally flat platform upon which the transporter bodywork and fittings could be erected.

    The renowned TS3 engine was the first diesel unit to be adopted by the Rootes Group and had been created largely by Tilling-Stevens engineers before that company's acquisition by Rootes. The 'TS' initials are those of Tilling-Stevens, who manufactured the unorthodox power unit in their factory in Maidstone, Kent. The unit was unusual not only in being a two-stroke, compression-ignition diesel unit comprising only three uniflow-ported horizontal cylinders, each housing two pistons moving in opposition to one another. Even more unusually, since most opposed-piston engines feature a separate crankshaft at each end of the cylinder, in the TS3 both sets of pistons drove the same single crankshaft housed beneath the cylinders, each piston driving it via a connecting rod, rocker lever and a second connecting rod.

    Burned-charge scavenging was performed by Roots-type 'supercharger' that was mounted on the front of the engine, driven by a long quill-shaft from chain drive at the rear of the unit. Cylinder displacement was 3.2-litres and power output was a quoted 105bhp at 2,400rpm, allied to 270lbs/ft torque at just 1,200rpm.

    It has been written that: "The new Ecurie Ecosse vehicle was without doubt the most memorable of all the transporters from that era, eye-catching in the extreme with its long, rakish lines and forward-sloping windscreen to allow the upper ramps to run the full length of the vehicle. Finished in the usual Ault & Wiborg 'Flag Metallic Blue' with smart gold signwriting either side, it turned heads wherever it went, its unique exhaust note giving advanced warning of its approach...".

    Into 2013 the Ecurie Ecosse transporter is just as resplendent as it ever was thanks to Mr Skipworth having commissioned its extensive restoration. He has used it for many years now to carry as many as three of his ex-Ecurie Ecosse cars. At the 2007 Scottish Classic race meeting at Knockhill Mr Skipworth arrived with the ex-Ecosse Austin-Healey Sprite, D-Type Jaguar and the Tojeiro-Jaguar on 'VSG 7'. On the Saturday there, Ian Johnston – the Walter Alexander veteran - came to see the transporter and the following day brought with him Adam Burrell, then in his eighties, who had built the vehicle's aluminium body back in 1959-60. Hugh McCaig, the present patron of Ecurie Ecosse, was thrilled that Mr Burrell had been able to attend, while he in turn was emotional about seeing his creation for the first time in fifty years.

    The vehicle operates on an historic licence (incurring zero UK tax). It is rated at 11.5 tons and annnually passes the stringent UK VOSA test for commercial vehicles. It will cruise all day long at a comfortable 55mph, returning average fuel consumption of 18 miles per gallon.

    In considering this unique racing car transporter's many attributes, its distinctive design has been celebrated over many decades now before a far wider audience since it served as the full-size prototype for a scale-model depiction produced by the Lines Brothers Corgi Toy brand. As recently as this past autumn a Corgi Ecurie Ecosse No 16 transporter and gift set, described as boxed and mint, featuring 'VSG 7' as its centerpiece was offered on eBay for a 'Buy it Now' price of £760...

    Today, 54 years since it was first commissioned, the real 1:1-scale Ecurie Ecosse Commer transporter 'VSG 7' offered here survives as an immensely practicable and highly-useable Historic racing car transporter, and as a much-in-demand and utterly unmistakable adornment for any promoter's Historic event paddock. This is a supremely important 1950s/60s racing car transporter. Unlike the almost-as-distinctive Fiat-Bartolettis made famous by Ferrari, Maserati and Reventlow Scarab/Shelby Cobra – 'VSG 7' presented here has no siblings – it really is unique.... And simply gorgeous.

Sold for £1,793,500 (€2,160,843) inc. premium

Tags: auction, Transporter, commer

Published in: News

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