Railton F29 Claremont

It’s difficult to revive a carmaker.

I was thinking last night that I’d do a series of the cars used to revive various automakers, because they’re often wide of the mark, and they often fail. Is it such a bad thing, though? Did we really need, say, certain British cars to live on a few decades past their prime, into the late 90s or early 2000s?

The market said no, which is why I’m now writing about the Railton F29 Claremont—which I’ll refer to as the F29 from now on.

Railton was a marque that borrowed its name from Reid Railton, a designer of world speed record cars. After helping Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird cars achieve records pre-Second World War, he designed the Railton Mobil Special in 1947, netting him the Land Speed Record at 635 km/h (394.7 mph).

Pre-war, however, serial entrepreneur Noel Macklin was looking to start another carmaker after selling Invicta in 1933. He settled on Railton, with royalties for the name netting Reid Railton some money on each car sold. They were designed to be grand touring cars with high performance; a Hudson Eight engine and chassis and sporting body earned them a stunning 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time of 8.8 seconds…in 1935.

It is that car, the Railton 8, that Sir William Towns had in mind when shaking off his angular era and designing two of his last vehicles, the more sedate F29 and the performance oriented F28 Fairmile. First shown at Motorfair in 1989, the reborn Railton was updated and officially launched in 1991. When trying to figure out which is which, the F29 is blue with rear wheel spats and the F28 is red with no spats. As for mechanical differences…there were few of note.

Underneath, both cars were based on the Jaguar XJ-S, with a 5.3-litre V12 engine and 280 horsepower. Jaguar’s standard luxury equipment was included.

Most interestingly, the Railtons had all-aluminum bodies that allowed Towns to put away his rulers and design something more rounded; I think he wanted to make the cars look like streamlined record-setting cars from the 1930s but nobody these days has much love for the look.

In period, there wasn’t much love, either. Jack Baruth writing for the Truth About Cars mentioned a road test, where, “Performance Car, which became EVO later on in life, tested the blue Railton Claremont in company with three “tuner” XJ-S variants and were utterly scathing about its eight-plus-second 0-60 time and ocean-liner handling. They much preferred the big-bore Lister XJ-S with its 911-Turbo-rivaling performance, of course. The Railton made no sense to them.”

If you’ve been adding all of this up in your head, you see the problem: these rebodied (by hand!) Railtons were going to be expensive, and they were—more than £100,000 each. 

With only two built, Towns retained the F29 until his death, and after being sold at auction in 2002 is now…somewhere. Same for its sister car. Sadly, the Railton was one of Towns’ last projects. Park Street Metal, the company who built the bodies for the Railton project went on to build the Jaguar XJ220.

At least the Railton twins had V12s, right? Right?!

Lastly: red pill or blue pill?