The cars : Railton F28 Fairmile/F29 Claremont

The Railton marque, first seen in Britain in the 1930s, was revived in 1989 with a pair of Towns-designed tourers based on the XJ-S convertible.

However, it failed on the market with only two built and today remains one of several independent attempts at redesigning the XJ-S.


Railton F28/F29: beauty in the eye of the beholder

Railton Claremont

The new Railton Motor Company, based at Wixford in Warwickshire, was formed in 1989 with the aim of recapturing some of the glamour of the original Anglo-American coachbuilt Railtons, which had been absent from the market for almost 40 years.

The rebirth of Railton in 1989 was overseen by William Towns, who penned this pair of cars and showed them in prototype form at that year’s Earl’s Court Motorfair. The pairing was launched in 1991,  as products of the new Railton Motor Company in collaboration with businessman John Ranson. Based on the running gear of the V12-engined Jaguar XJ-S but completely reclothed with a sleek and minimalist body, it was priced from £105,000 and was aimed directly at Aston Martin and Bristol.

For fans of the work of the great William Towns, his work for Railton was an agreeable evolution of what he’d completed before. Since becoming freelance after leaving Aston Martin, he had become very adept at re-clothing existing manufacturers’ cars with more striking styling. And this was certainly the case with the Railton F28 Fairmile and F29 Claremont.

The car from Towns’ back catalogue that this was most similar to was also Jaguar-based. While not a million miles away in principle from the 1974 E-type-based Guyson E12, these latter-day Railtons were re-clothed in aluminium rather than fibreglass, in keeping with cars’ upmarket ambitions.

What was the difference between the F28 and F29?

Two models were offered: the F28 Fairmile (above) was the sportier of the two, with wider wheels and tyres, while the slightly more sedate F29 Claremont went with 1930s-style rear wheel spats.

Essentially, though, both cars shared the same bodywork, with newly-fashioned front and rear wings and bumpers complementing the re-skinned doors, bonnet and bootlid. The Claremont ended up with a high-profile owner, though – William Towns. He reportedly owned the car until his untimely death in 1993.

Incidentally, the names Fairmile and Claremont were revivals of names previously seen on the drophead coupés of the original Railton Cars company in the 1930s. Indeed, Fairmile is also the name of the country estate in Cobham, Surrey that was the home of the marque’s founder, Noel Macklin, and served as the company’s base from 1933 until 1940. Continuing this theme, Claremont is the name of another estate in nearby Esher.

What happened to them?

The obscure nature of the brand combined with the early-1990s global recession did for Railton, along with many other similar ventures. It is not known how many customers were found for these cars, although the most likely amount is one of each according to several accounts. Within five years, the company had folded, and plans for a barnstorming Lister-engined derivative were never realised.

The Fairmont has been offered on the market a couple of times, first by Brightwells in 2006, and then most recently by Silverstone Auctions in 2019, when it sold for a cool £67,500. The gallery below contains a full set of images of the car taken by Alan Kenny for Silverstone Auctions.

The sleek profile of the Railton F29 Claremont. This car was spotted being driven into the car park at the Motor Heritage Centre at Gaydon on the day of the auction in June 2003.
The sleek profile of the Railton F29 Claremont. This car was spotted being driven into the car park at the Motor Heritage Centre at Gaydon on the day of the auction in June 2003
The original press photo for the Railton F28 Fairmile, showing that it started out with colour-co-ordinated wheels similar to those seen on the F29 Claremont. The headlamp fairings give a smoother – if somehow less distinctive – look than the open cowlings seen in the other photos on this page. The black hood cover would also later be swapped for a colour which matched the car's upholstery.
The original press photo for the Railton F28 Fairmile, showing that it started out with colour-co-ordinated wheels similar to those seen on the F29 Claremont. The headlamp fairings give a smoother – if somehow less distinctive – look than the open cowlings seen in the other photos on this page. The black hood cover would also later be swapped for a colour which matched the car’s upholstery

Gallery: Railton F29 Claremont

 

Keith Adams

14 Comments

  1. Those were the only two cars made, I remember the maroon one as a friend of mine bought it along with the bodywork jigs plus the rights to build them. Was purchased from William Towns widow. Also I remember the car being accident damaged years ago and we found it was actualy a complete Jag underneath with the Aluminium panels tacked on top.
    Lovely car to drive although it felt massive when you sat inside.

  2. William Towns would not be the first name to spring to mind if you asked someone to name the stylist- much more curvy than his trademark angular designs, such as the Hustler and the Lagonda.

    The red one does look like an oversized MX5.

  3. Before reading Chris Baglin’s MX5 comment above, as soon as I saw the F-28, I thought: “It looks like a big MX5/Miata from the front!

    Personally I will take the XJS donor–unmolested–ANY TIME over these two exclusive, but to my eye, rather ugly/non-descript and very expensive white elephants! Even had there been no recession they might have–at best–doubled the sales mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of the article! Sorry to be so ruthless and arbitrary, but those expensive re-bodies are for the birds! Had I had 105 thousand quid for a car, in the early nineties, rather than buying an F-28 or 29, I would have invested in an original 1960s 4.7 litre Shelby AC Cobra, which by now would be worth around a million-and-a-half!

  4. The problem with the blue version is that if you look at it from the side, the front half and the rear half look as though they’ve come from different models.

  5. One only has to take a single look at anything designed by Towns to know that it would never sell . He really must have had something about him to persuade successive people to back his hideous ideas . Yet people criticise Issigonis for, in particular, the 1800

    • Didn’t he design the HIlman Hunter/Minx family? I like those but none of his other work. The Lagonda sort of looked like a Hunter in a fairground mirror.

      • The Lagonda truly was an eccentric car, with its overly square styling and electronic dashboard that was ahead of the time. It was a brave attempt to combine Aston Martin performance with Rolls Royce luxury, but an enormous price tag, colossal thirst for petrol and endless problems with the electronic dashboard saw sales in penny numbers. However, the Lagonda was popular with Arab oil sheikhs who liked to have something even more expensive and exclusive than a Rolls Royce.

    • Christopher Storey – so by that argument nobody bought the 1967+ Aston Martin DBS, 1972+ Jensen Healey, 1974+ Aston Martin Lagonda, 1978+ Hustler and 1988+ Reliant Scimitar SS1….

  6. The plain shape of the rear wheel fairings does clash with the eye, but could be made to work with some extra effort from the stylist . For a reason I cannot explain I look at the F28 and think of a 1960s T-bird Ford convertible

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