Standard’s Vanguard started life in 1947 as a patriotically titled, but firmly American-inspired fastback curio for the family man.
Classic Luxury Standard Vanguard
Sharing a basic engine with the Triumph TR2, performance was quite brisk and there was comfortable seating for six adults. The Phase II of 1952 was toned down a little – with a more, ahem, standard boot and rear wing set-up.
But it was the leap to unitary construction in 1955 that brought Standard up to date, reacting to the unitary machines of industry giants Ford, Morris and Austin. As it still used a basic TR engine, performance was still strong form the lusty 2088cc engine. The gearbox offered three ratios ‘on-the-tree’ with optional overdrive from 1957 on second and top. This operated by a flick-switch mounted atop a chunky steering column stalk.
In 1958, Vignale and Michelotti combined efforts for the Vignale Vanguard, which was a subtle but effective facelift, with deeper glass and a bit more class. In 1960, the Vanguard Luxury Six took over, now fitted with the 1998cc, six-cylinder engine that would go on to good effect in the Triumph 2000, which ultimately replaced this series of cars. Production of the Vanguard and Ensign ended in 1963.
What’s out there?
Survivors are rare but there is a very enthusiastic following for these cars, with a Standard Motor Club and then one specifically for the Phase 3 and later models covered here. For a long time, the Vanguard has been a bit of a forgotten classic, but thankfully, people are starting to wake up to their ample charms.
Rarest of the lot is the Sportsman. Only 901 were built – spot one by its Triumph-esque grille (it was originally meant to be a Triumph model) and twin SU carbs.
Ensigns are worth seeking out, if only for the curious model line up. Effectively a stripped-out Vanguard, with a floor gearchange, the later Deluxe actually had a 2138cc engine larger than that of any Vanguard!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
No surprise that corrosion is the enemy and while the Vanguard is built out of some pretty sturdy steel, you still need to check over a potential purchase very carefully. Sills are obviously a key area to check, and bodges can be skilfully hidden but also check the floors inside and out. Windscreen seals can leak, causing floor rot but also leading to corrosion starting in the scuttle area. This area can also suffer where it meets the front wings. The bulkhead can corrode around the heater unit, due to blocked drain holes.
Wings can rust and get a torch to check the hidden depths where road muck can get thrown. Inner wings can corrode too, so with the bonnet open, check around the bonnet hinges.
Underneath, watch out where the gearbox crossmember meets the sills and then turn your attention to the spring hangers at the rear. Valances can suffer, especially where the front one meets the front panel.
Keep an eye open for missing trim. Finding replacements will be nigh on impossible – something to bear in mind if buying a project. At least Ensigns didn’t have much of the shiny stuff. Conversely, the later Vignale and Six have a fair ol’ dose of the stuff, and Mazak parts can suffer pitting.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The 2088cc four-cylinder engine is most common, and it’s a hardy power unit. An engine that’s been standing can be a concern as the wet liners can rust through and cause the pistons to stick. However, as long as there are no knocks of grumbles, the engine is probably fine.
The six-cylinder engine went on to a long life under the bonnet of many a Triumph, and if anything, it’s an engine that was better in its early form. However, head bolts can over-stretch meaning new ones must be used if the head comes off. Check that this has happened and watch out for signs of oil and water mixing.
The biggest issue with gearboxes is worn column-change linkages, making gears very hard to find. All gearboxes should be fairly quiet, but worn bearings will make quite a noise to alert you to their unhappiness. Overdrives can fail due to broken wiring, or because the oil level is too low.
STEERING, SUSPENSION AND BRAKES
The steering isn’t the most accurate but a worn steering box will make things very loose on the road. Replacements are hard to find so if the play can’t be adjusted out, you could be in trouble. There’s not too much to worry about suspension wise, though knocks and thumps need investigating – probably worn bushes by now. Likewise with the brakes, though wheel cylinders and master cylinders can fail, resulting in either really poor braking, or pulling to one side. The Six had disc front brakes from 1961, the Ensign optional from 1962.
INTERIOR AND ELECTRICS
1951 Standard Vanguard Beetleback Interior
Finding trim for the inside is just as hard as finding exterior bits, so completeness is important. Seat material is hard wearing vinyl, but it can still get very shabby with age, and won’t be cheap to sort out. Some cars had optional leather, which pushes the retrim costs up further. Electrics are pretty simple, so make sure everything works. Failures are usually just dirty connections or poor earths.
If you’re after adrenalin, then the Vanguard won’t deliver, but if you’re after an alternative family classic, then this could be right up your street. The lusty engines offer surprising performance and easy motorway cruising, especially if you have one with overdrive. They’re hardy and easy to look after on a DIY basis, making them an unusual, but also inspired choice