1950 Swallow Gadabout Scooter


This scooter’s second owner, Annie Gahan, of Haddenham, Bucks, was a district nurse.

The overwhelming majority of cars and motorcycles manufactured after the end of WW2 were exported in order to help Great Britain’s foreign exchange deficit. Introduced in 1946 by Swallow Sidecars Ltd, whose company (as SS Cars Ltd) also made the Jaguar car, the Gadabout Scooter was available to purchase in the home market for essential services. Various police forces used them, as well as local authorities.

Another District Nurse, Agnes Walker-Love, seen below with her Gadabout, was a familiar sight on the streets of Coatbridge and Airdrie.




The Gadabout is easy to start and ride. What particularly surprised me is that it’s a heavyweight machine – much more like a motorcycle than a scooter. It’s also hopelessly ‘over-engineered’ – for example, the exhaust exits through the scooter’s chassis! (See the photo below).



Of course, this is a sensible idea; in the long-term it prevents rust in the frame tubing and also minimises parts required, a consideration immediately after the war when components were in short supply. The tubing was supplied by Tube Investments (Raleigh Cycle Co) who provided similar tubing for the Swallow sidecar chassis.

By 1951 though, the final year of Gadabout production, Vespa and Lambretta scooters, with lightweight bodyshells and other revolutionary design features – as well as clever marketing such as ‘Lambretta Scooter Clubs’ – were starting to seriously compete with British scooters and, within a few more years, would dominate the market.

Retrospectively, this is a scooter ‘dinosaur’ – like the French ‘Mors Speed’ also produced in the late 1940s, it was influenced by the American Cushman scooter which, during WW2, was seen as the ultimate in modern design. But with scooters evolving fast by the start of the fifties, this style became obsolete …as is often the case with pioneering models.


gadabout brochure


You can see my video of this Swallow gadabout below…




youtube video swallow gadabout scooter





1950 Swallow Gadabout Scooter Mark II

125cc Villiers Three-Speed

(Now sold)



Having spent time in my workshops being inspected and serviced, this scooter is in good running order, and its body and chassis is solid with no corrosion. The lights work, but there’s no rectifier fitted (it’s mentioned in the sales brochure), so I cannot guarantee that the bulbs will not blow if revved with the lights on; this is something the new owner will need to look into themselves if it’s to be ridden after dark.

The original logbook is provided with the machine; it is not registered on the DVLA computer.








 Being a top British manufacturer of sidecars, the company also produced a line of commercial scooters fitted with Swallow’s unique sidecar bodies.

It was called the Gadabout Delivery Van. Bear in mind that, at this time, cars were in short supply due to export priorities, so this model would have been useful for a shop’s local deliveries.

gadabout sidecar











The first model of Gadabout Scooter had overheating problems. These had been sorted out with the Mark 2 version: as you can see below, a fan is fitted to the engine.

Although I’ve not seen one illustrated in the sales brochure, we thought maybe a hinged shaped steel plate should be fitted between the seat and the engine to direct the air current more accurately around the top of the engine? I’ve not heard of owners modifying their scooters in this way, so presumably the fan was sufficient on its own.

However, the other consideration for a cover for the fan is health and safety – as you may need to adjust the choke after starting the scooter, please bear in mind before putting your hand into the engine bay that the spinning blades of the fan are unprotected! A good example of motoring in 1950 compared to the 21st century (i.e. we have more fingers).






gadabout advert

Introduced in 1946, the Swallow Gadabout was the first postwar British motor-scooter.

Around 2,000 scooters were built by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company between 1946 and 1951. Its production predated the Italian Lambretta and Vespa, which eventually dominated the scooter market. All the scooters were partly built at the Helliwells Group’s factory in South Wales and the Walsall Airport factory in Aldridge. The scooters exclusively used the Wolverhampton built Villiers two-stroke engines. There was no known overseas production or assembly.

The Swallow Coachbuilding Company began its life as the Swallow Sidecar Company and eventually evolved into Jaguar Cars Ltd.

The origins of the company date back to 1922 when William Lyons and William Walmsley established the Swallow Sidecar Company. From the initial manufacture of distinctive motorcycle sidecars at its works in Blackpool the company moved on to building bodies on Austin Seven chassis. Until 1931 production was of custom built bodies on a number of other manufacturer’s chassis in a variety of body styles from open tourers to four seater saloons, all built using aluminum over wood frame bodies. Some of the chassis used included Austin, Wolseley, Standard, Morris and Fiat.

By 1931 the Sidecar title had been dropped, although sidecars were still being turned out at a steady rate. As Swallow Coachbuilding continued to expand, so did the range of cars it worked on. Lyons branched out into bigger, more powerful chassis and a particular look started to predominate. At the London Motor Show in October 1931, the company unveiled its first efforts as a motor manufacturer with the rakish SS1. The SS might have stood for Standard Swallow or even Swallow Sports, the name of the original sidecar.

Another name change occurred in 1933 when the company became SS Cars Limited. The name change came about because Lyons firm was now less about building sidecars, far more about car construction. Swallow Coachbuilding manufactured the S.S. I and S.S. II models until 1936 when a new company, S.S. Cars Ltd. was formed to produce the automobiles. The old company name was kept for the firm that manufactured sidecars.

World War II placed motor cars production and designing on hold as factories were converted to weapon manufacturing and it also signaled the end of SS Cars Ltd, the name having acquired a dark and sinister connotation with Hitler’s regime.

Immediately after the war, in 1945, when car production resumed the decision was made to change the the name of SS Cars Ltd to Jaguar Cars Ltd. At the same time Lyons decided to divest himself of the sidecar business and concentrate his efforts on motor vehicle production. Negotiations about the disposal of the Swallow Coachbuilding Company with Eric Sanders resulted in the sale of the motor-cycle sidecar business to Helliwells, a manufacturer of aircraft components based at Walsall Airport. Production of Swallow sidecars continued at the Walsall Airport works along with the Swallow Gadabout, a motor-scooter designed by Frank Rainbow, which was made and sold by the Swallow Coachbuilding Company (1935) Ltd of Walsall, Staffordshire, from November 1946 until September 1951.


Frank Rainbow, keenly interested in two-wheelers, was given the brief to produce a Villiers powered machine which could be built using a minimum of tooling and equipment. The very strong ladder chassis was to be bent in Wales by Tube Investments, who produced the Swallow sidecar chassis. The prototype and the first series machines relied upon a rather modern-looking to our eyes “air dam” under the steel floor to duct air to the Villiers 9D 122cc engine. The bodywork was all steel, access to the tank, tap and tools being under the seat and Villiers direct lighting was used. The Gadabout was announced to the motor cycle press and featured in “The Motor Cycle” on November 28th 1946, billed as the “British Two-wheeler for Mr & Mrs Everyman”. The Gadabout was a successful machine, being adopted by public bodies including the Staffordshire Constabulary, as a lightweight runabout.

swallow scooter











You can see the name of District Nurse Annie Gahan registered as the second owner in the logbook.