The Mayflower that ran aground

The 1949 Mayflower was Standard Triumph’s (ST) attempt to appeal to American cars buyers.

How wrong they were.

First unveiled in 1949, it was positioned and styled as a smallish luxury car, sort of a mini-Rolls-Royce, with upright razor edge lines and tall upright grille.

Its power came from a 1.3-litre side valve, four-cylinder petrol engine that could only manage 38bhp (about 28kW).

That minimal power output went through a three-speed all-synchro manual transmission.

In the land where cars were becoming longer, lower, wider and more powerful, almost on a month-by-month basis, the Mayflower stood no chance.

Its top speed was only just over 100km/h, barely enough to keep out of the way of big Buicks and Cadillacs on newly built freeways.

It was a mobile speed hump.

To compound the performance and styling deficiencies, ST priced it more than a base model Chevrolet, which only exacerbated its inability to attract US buyers.

Naming the car after the ship that brought the pilgrims to the USA — the folks who began the tradition of Thanksgiving— was the final afront to American culture.

It failed dismally. 

Only 510 US citizens bought one, out of the 34,000 that were built.

Mind you, in the UK and Australia, where it was also built, some people did see value in the car.

Indeed, 150 were converted into utes in Melbourne.

No doubt these were for those wanting to bash about the farm in style.

Thankfully, Mayflowers slinked off the market in 1953.

I’d argue that the Mayflower’s most illustrious moment came in 1955 when it was the subject of one of Australia’s great art works, John Brack’s The Car.

Meanwhile, Sir John Black, chairman of ST was a quick learner.

He re-calibrated his views of the US market and in 1953 unveiled the Triumph TR2 sports car, with American sports car enthusiasts firmly in his sights.

It used components from the Mayflower and it was a great success.

While it is easy to laugh at the Mayflower, the basic concept of offering a small luxury car was sound.

Fast forward to 2023 and you can buy a luxury car approximately the same size as a Mayflower from Lexus, BMW, Audi and Mercedes.

Seems the Mayflower was just seven decades ahead of its time?

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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  1. Some young socialite exclaimed when she saw the Mayflower at Earls Court Motor Show, exclaimed in a loud voice “How perfectly bloody”.

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