At first glance, this unusual old sports car has the appearance of a one-off special. Its lines and especially radiator are unhappy. Vestigial side-screens make a protective gesture for the crew, doubtless very necessary in view of the deeply cut-away body sides. The ‘radiator’ in fact was merely a dummy grille. But this car was indeed an example of a production model, of which one or two did find their way to the UK. The French firm, Societé des Automobiles à Refroidissement par Air, modestly opted not to use their full name for the cars they made – they were marketed as SARAs. 4-cylinder cars of 1100cc and with push-rod ohv were sold between 1923 and 1927, when a six-cylinder model of 1806cc capacity was introduced. The fours were left-hand drive, but – oddly – the few photographs known of the ‘sixes’ show RHD.
Generally conventional for their day apart from well-thought-out air cooling to the cylinders, which featured a turbo blower and elaborate ducting, SARAs were consistent performers, demonstrating their reliability in the Le Mans 24-hour race throughout their production span. The make’s best result there was a fifth place in 1927 (Mirandet & Lecureul).
Our photograph shows a late six-cylinder SARA, registered (Northampton CBC) in 1930 – the year that production of SARA cars ceased. It was posed outside what perhaps were the modest premises of the British agents, below a billiard hall – a poster (cropped off here) advertised the third place won by an MG in the JCC 1000 Miles Race.