A.F. Cars and Lion Omnibuses

Back in 1969 an injured ankle resulted in the birth of a very unusual car. It allowed Alexander (Sandy) Fraser enough time off work to design a car that had been forming in his mind for some time. This car was to have all the character of an old three wheeled Morgan, yet be practical for every day use. Twenty thousand miles a year having proved a little much for the genuine article.

The car was to be based around a B.M.C. Mini front subframe, engine unit, and running gear. During a previous job with the people that put the Cooper into Mini Cooper Sandy had the idea that the Mini unit could be ideal for use in a three wheeler and had also provided the knowledge of how to make Mini engines go very well.

The bodywork was to be mainly wood, with no metal chassis apart from the front Mini subframe and a small fabricated mounting for one Mini trailing arm at the rear. The concept was simple, a hardwood frame, skinned with (mahogany faced !) marine ply forming a simple box structure with a hole in the top for the driver and one passenger. Full length wings were added to provide mudguarding and a tail tapering to a point to cover the rear wheel.

The prototype was constructed in the kitchen ! On seeing all the nice wood going in the neighbours thought that a splendid new kitchen was under construction. Little did they know...

The prototype supercharged AF Spider in 'as found' condition together with another AF Spider

The prototype was fitted with a 1275 cc engine and a Shorrocks supercharger ! The bodywork was finished using shaped aluminium panels over the bonnet and tail areas. The cockpit was exstensively equipped with many instruments and controls. These included the usual items such as speedo, revcounter, oil pressure guage, together with other items such as a clock, dash mounted engine oil level check, and a cruise control ! To allow it to travel long distances between refuelling a 22 gallon alloy petrol tank was fitted ,and a tow bar was added to take a trailer. The engine was left exposed in the traditional Morgan style.

The car turned out to be fast, flexible, safe and was endowed with excellent handling. Unfortunatly it turned out to be a little over the eight hundredweight limit that applied to the U.K. tricycle taxation class at the time. (This limit has since been metrified which has added about a quarter of a hundredweight to this class)

Rear view of an AF Spider showing pointed tail

Back at work at Antique Automobiles/The complete Automobilist people were impressed and a second car was commisioned for one of them. After it was built it was road tested by both Motor and Autocar. They both published very favourable road tests and including the makers comment "yes it does go very well, I suppose we should build a few..."

Initially the car was to be called the A.F. AB1 but this was quickly changed to A.F. Spider. It was originally intended to sell the car as a complete body unit ready to bolt on the oily bits from a Mini. The production model differed in a number of ways from the prototype. The instrumentation was a lot sparser, a nine gallon tank replced the twenty- two gallon item which in turn left space for a small luggage compartment behind the seats. The aluminium panels became glass-fibre and the lower wings/running boards shrank. It now just scraped into the tricycle taxation class weight limit.

The 1974 Spider (yellow) and the Spider that was originally LHD (red)

Sandy Fraser then split from Antique Automobiles and formed his own company A.F. Cars. The body units that had previously been constructed at Antique Autos were built up into complete cars, none having been sold as kits, and further cars were built. Two dealers were appointed to sell the cars, one of which was B & R Motors of Hounslow. A left hand drive prototype was made, this was later converted to right hand drive before being sold. this car is distinguishable from the others by its mirror image construction (the tank, wiring, trailing arm, and ancillary components all mounted on the opposite side to its sister cars. Another car was "flocked" giving it a furry animal appearance making the car look even odder when dry and like a drowned rat when wet.

At some time production was moved from Lincolnshire to Wiltshire.

The looks of the spider tended to come in for some criticism, and tended to give the car an aquatic or amphibious appearance, so a new model was designed. This new model was called the Grand Prix and used similar construction to the Spider and in fact the prototype was constructed by converting a spare Spider.

AF Spider and AF Grand Prix together.

The obvious differences between the Grand Prix and the Spider were the wings and the tail. The wings disappeared and were replaced by cycle type mudguards for the front wheels. The tail was rounded off, losing the agressive looking point at the rear and making the car slightly shorter. Further changes included a slightly shorter bonnet, further exposing the engine, and a V shaped windscreen or aeroscreens to replace the previously flat screen. A spare wheel was added and mounted either vertically on the side of the car, or horizontally in a recess in the top of the tail. The already very strong wooden structure was further strengthened by adding an inner skin to the hardwood frame an injecting foam into the cavities.

This Grand Prix was built to a very high specification and was fitted with a highly tuned Cooper 'S' engine - geared for a top speed of over 140 mph !

A prototype was commisioned for a four wheeled version. This used a similar wooden structure to the three wheelers and had similar styling. The unfortunate death of its sponser, who was intending to build them under licence, stopped further developement of this car.

No two cars produced were the same, details such as engine specification and instrumentation varied from car to car. Engines used covered most of the available sizes from 850 cc to 1275 cc and some were highly tuned giving cars top speeds well in excess of 100 mph. One Grand Prix was fitted with an automatic gearbox.

AF Spider and Grand Prix fitted with an automatic gearbox

The total production of A.F. cars appears to be 7 Spiders 5 Grand Prixs and 1 four wheeler. These figures are probably right, however production records have been lost. Spiders were produced between 1969 and 1972 except for one which was constructed from left over parts in 1974. Grand Prixs were produced between 1973 and 1980 and the Four Wheeler in 1980.

The cars seem to have lasted very well, 6 Spiders, 4 Grand Prixs, and the Four wheeler are believed to have survived. One Spider was shipped to Australia, and has recently been discovered after it's whereabouts were unknown for a number of years. Most of the known survivors are in good condition and some are still used on the road.

Sandy Fraser subsequently went on to form Lion Omnibuses. Lion produced accurate, functioning, and often road usable, scale (two thirds) replicas of vintage trucks and buses. These have included the A.E.C. Matadors that were used to transport visitors at Duxford Aerodrome (they have now been retired from service) and a Scammal based on a Reliant 3 wheeler chassis. Lion produced more than 40 vehicles.

Some of the vehicles produced by Lion Omnibuses. (The B&W picture shows Sandy Fraser leaning against the bus giving an idea of scale)

One of the AEC Matador replicas previously used at Duxford Aerodrome. These vehicles use a Mini engine turned through 90 degrees with the driveshafts connected to two differentials giving 4 wheel drive.

 

The Scammel replica based on a Reliant 3 wheeler chassis

NEW LIMITED EDITION VIDEO

If you are interested in learning more about the wonderful vehicles built and owned by Sandy Fraser there is now a video available. Sandy has combined his own 'home' videos with some professional film, and used some still photographs where no video recordings exist. All this has a running commentry recorded by Sandy himself giving a wonderful insight into the man and the machines. There will only be a limited number of these videos produced. The first few are available at an introductory price of only £7.50 including postage to a UK address. If you would like a copy please send an email to me (peterfrost@clara.net) and I will send you the details.