“Gasoline powered Mayflowers were built by Triumph from 1950-1953 to compete with Volkswagen’s Beetle. The Beetle won.”
This article appeared in the April/May 1996 issue of British Car magazine text reprinted from Current Events magazine, courtesy of Clare Bell, Editor.
“Triumph’s cheeky little razor-edged saloon gets a new lease on life through one enthusiast’s obsession with keeping it on the road. With electric vehicles finally catching on with the public, this postwar classic could be a harbinger of things to come…”
British car buffs gathered in Palo Alto on September 10 to celebrate ‘wind in the hair and oil in the driveway’ during the 18th Annual Brittish Car Meet. This year’s winner, however, had zip without drips and class without gas. An electrified 1953 Triumph Mayflower owned by EAA (Electric Auto Association) member Peter Panagotacos M.D. of San Francisco, whizzed away with the People’s Choice Award for the niftiest car in the show.
The car might have won because Panagotacos’ 8-year-old son kept polishing the car throughout the 6 hour show, but whatever the reason,the little Mayflower sailed away with the prize before the owners of 600 pampered and polished English classics.
The win startled Panagotacos, who owns seven 1953 Mayflowers. He expected one of his other cars, a little jewel once owned by Eleanor Funk (of Funk and Wagnall’s Dictionary) and a one-time resident of the Ford Museum in Detroit, to take top honors.
Panagotacos thinks that the British car afficionados could see beyond the Mayflower’s paste-wax shine and not-one-dust-speck elegance. The electric drivetrain obviously upped the car’s niftiness factor in the minds of many show-goers enough to put it over the top. Brit car buffs care about driving clean? This says they do.
To use Triumph’s 1953 ad slogan, a qote from a British peeress upon her first sight of the original Mayflower (which was deliberately styled after the Rolls-Royce), “Oh, how bloody marvelous!”
Perhaps they could also appreciate how the electric drivetrain enhanced the Mayflower’s performance and reliability. Triumph made no secret about copying the Rolls body, but the engine was another matter. Since the stock engine could barely scuttle the car along at 55 mph, driving on California freeways endangered major panic reactions. The aluminum flathead design led to frequent blown head gaskets and warped heads.
The car was a wedding present in 1961 and driven on extensive round trips to Oregon and Washington D.C., but the upkeep involved was too much for the young medical student. “I rebuilt the motor twice, changed head gaskets four times, and the head once before finally giving up” he said during an interview.
After the car sat for 25 years in his mother’s San Francisco garage, Panagotacos decided to resurrect it with a later-vintage Triumph motor. When that engine proved too large, and a growing interest in electric vehicles made him aware of the conversion option, he solved the problems by transforming the car into an electric.
Mike Slominski, of Mike’s Auto Care in San Mateo, consulted on the conversion and Bill Eck of Auto Cellular in Half Moon Bay did most of the hands-on wrench work. After restoring four cars in five years, Dr. Panagotacos needed a rest from Mayflower mechanicking.
Now cranky motors and blown head gaskets are all in the past and Panagotacos can easily keep up with freeway traffic, cruising the lanes at 70. Now he has a classic that is a practical vehicle and he doesn’t even need the smog exemption!
Unlikely though it seems when one studies the aristocratic lines of themini-Rolls-Royce, Triumph built the original Mayflower in the early 1950s tocompete with the proletarian VW Beetle. Envisioning a flood of aristocraticbut fuel-efficient cars overseas to the US, the British manufacturer dubbedtheir creation “Mayflower”. Alas, the invasion foundered, sunk by the overstressed motor and the utilitarian preferences of American small-carbuyers. Triumph built 37,000 Mayflowers from 1950 to 1953, then gave up in disgust at the colonial’s obvious lack of taste. VWs swarmed into the US, but only a thousand Triumph Mayflowers ever landed.
Spurned by the States, Mayflowers ended up in Australia, New Zealand, Brittain, and other Commonwealth countries. An estimated 600 remainon the road worldwide. It is interesting to note that one of the popular aftermarket modifications for VWs is the addition of a Rolls-Royce snoot.Could that, perhaps, be an unconscious tribute to the Mayflower?
As shown by his choice of electric vehicles (EV), Dr. Panagotacos is a man of unusual interests. Known as a world-wide authority on hairtransplantation, he is an individual whose dedication and concern for others has taken him to the top in his chosen field of dermatology(Pun intended? –Ed). He collects African art and is involved in “Save the Pygmies”, anorganization dedicated to preserving the oldest living human culture.
The Annual British Car Meet in Palo Alto is the foremost British motorcar event in California. To have an electric vehicle take the topprize must have caused some interesting and perhaps radical attitude alterations in the crowd of car connoisseurs. Certainly an original way to spread the word (on electric vehicles).
This article appeared in the April/May 1996 issue of British Car magazinetext reprinted from Current Events magazine, courtesy of Clare Bell, Editor.