Estimate: £23,000 upwards
Number plate alone valued at £4,500 (Please see picture provided by seller)
When it comes to pre-war cars, there are many names that we think of. Bentley, Rolls Royce, Alvis, Riley and MG would be prime examples of brands that were in full swing in the early 1900s. But these names are also the ones that have weathered time and are either still in production, or lasted for such a long time after the war that they became familiar as car makers, not just pre-war car makers. The reality, however, is that for every pre-war name we remember, there are probably ten that we don’t. In fact, we’d go further and say that rather than not remember them, we’ve simply never heard of them. And that’s a shame, and it’s also why cars like this beautiful Sigma are so important.
Sigma was a French automobile manufacturer that existed from 1913 to 1928, which is but a blink in the lifetime of the automobile. While it may be easy to assume that America, the UK and - given they technically invented the car - Germany were the hotbeds of automotive development, the truth is that France was a huge player in the motoring game. In the 1900s the country was enjoying the advances and the wealth that industrialisation brought it, and as such, there were many ambitious ‘startup’ car companies trying to cash in on said wealth. Sigma was one of them. Over its short life, Sigma offered a small selection of cars, some with four-cylinders, some post-war cars with two. However, the mass post-war amalgamation of the country’s car brands wasn’t favourable for Sigma, and instead of being consumed by another brand, it instead faded into obscurity.
Little is known in terms of the car’s early history, as such, we have to go a bit Time Team on it instead. The very fact it still exists today tells us that the car has indeed been cared for, and certainly, the condition (which we’ll go into in a bit) is excellent given the car’s vintage. The registration of 76JTA is the car’s original plate, as we understand it, and while the car now resides in Wales, that plate actually harks from Devon. Maybe someone down there wanted a car a little different from the norm? Maybe it was brought over by someone from France moving to the UK?
The ‘recent’ history starts in the 1980s. The current owner has had the car since 2016, and has enjoyed it as part of a private collection. Prior to this, it was owned for ten years by one enthusiast, and eighteen years by the one before. The current owner believes the Sigma may have been part of a museum collection, but has yet to verify this.
Another interesting point, which the eagle-eyes amongst you may have spotted, is the faded number 7 painted onto the front grille. A cursory search reveals little, but perhaps this historic machine, which was noted for being sporty, has a past in competition?
As you can see, the condition is wonderful. Is it mint? No, not at all. But is it battered and beaten? Again, no. Instead, it carries a beautiful patina that can only be earned over the space of a century. The wooden body, presumably ash, appears to be free from any rot and any obvious repairs. The varnished door and body capping is in excellent condition with a well-earned, worn down smoothness to it. The doors all open, each brass mechanism working perfectly. The interior is basic, but delightful. It’s doubtful the black leather/vinyl is original, but even so, we’d err more in it having been in situ for decades rather than anything new. There is a nice level or wear to it, it’s been secured by period-correct tacks, which offer a nice look and most importantly, it’s fine in wet weather. This is useful to know because while this Sigma does indeed have a functional roof in excellent condition, there are no side windows.
Further elements of the interior, such as the brass switchgear and brass dials are all in good order with the expected wear. All seem to function, too. The steering wheel is in excellent condition, too. The metal pedals show wear, of course, but are still perfectly usable.
Externally, the Sigma’s body has been painted to a presentable standard in a simple, but period correct gloss brown shade, while the wheel arches and chassis are all painted black - gloss in the case of the arches. The body is in wonderful, straight, condition as can be seen in the images, as too are the largely flawless wheel arches/fenders. The running boards are also in excellent order and are still sturdy and fit for purpose.
The Sigma’s brightwork is unusual in that there isn’t a spot of chrome to be found. Instead, the large headlight units, the grille shell, the mirrors and the windscreen surround are all brass. The owner was keen to say that if you’re passionate about using some Brasso, this is the car for you! The brass-work is all in good order, with the odd expected mark here and there. There is no significant damage though. The adjusters and screw fittings all work, too. This means the screen can be adjusted to rake back, the fuel gauge (simply unscrew the cap, and you’ll see it - pictured) is functional and so too, as mentioned, are all the door catches.
Underneath the Sigma, the chassis, which would have been manufactured under contract by Malicet & Blin, appears to be in good order and has most definitely been well cared for. The spring shackles are greased, there is no evidence of poor repair, nor is there any sign of corrosion or damage. The metalwork has been painted and treated for the most part, which is what has no doubt ensured the longevity of this car. The leaf springs are in good order, the bolts and fixings don’t seem to be heavily corroded, and even the wood underneath looks to be in good condition. While the later may well have been replaced at some point, the condition of the former is truly exceptional for a car of such vintage.
The solid disc wheels, which are also painted in gloss brown, all wear brass center caps, which have of course taken the odd knock over the years. And each wheel is furnished with a period replica Michelin tyre - the same goes for the side-mounted spare wheel.
As was the way with many of these smaller car companies, larger elements such as the engine were sourced from third parties. That’s the case here, which is why you will find a charming, blue painted 1,592cc four-cylinder Ballot petrol engine underneath the winged bonnet. Ballot, also from France, started out as an engine manufacturer, offering engines for both land and marine use. It was also the company that would go on to offer the first series production DOHC engine. Not only that, one of Ballot’s founders would go on to design engines for Bugatti. Given such glowing credentials, you can see why this one has survived so well.
Rated at 10HP, the engine can be started by the traditional crank, or via the more conventional electric starter. The engine barks into life with a pleasing urgency, and revs freely and without fault. Drive it handled by a four-speed manual transmission. However, you should remember that dogleg layout and lack of synchro across the ‘box make for an exciting drive. A drive that will take further getting used to care of the clutch/accelerator/brake pedal arrangement! Try not to fret though, the current owner was more than keen to demonstrate how easy the Sigma is to master after some practice. We’re confident there will be a lesson or two included in the final bid, should you require it.
Watching this car as it drives around is quite a remarkable thing. The current owner has no bother navigating the now highly unusual layout, the car bobs along without a creak or complaint, and the engine chatters away with a happy note. Of course, the rudimentary brakes and thin rubber mean this car is no apex-hunter. This is more of a Darling Buds car for outings at 30mph - which was a giddy speed in 1918, remember!
Uniqueness. That’s the key motivator for your bidding finger with a car like this. You simply won’t find another one. We’re not even sure if there is another one to be had. Certainly, the DVLA holds no information on any others. If you want rarity, if you want to leave people intrigued as you plod through the show field of your favourite rally or event, this is the car for you.
Of course, there are other reasons too. For us, there is a pleasing approachability to this car. It’s old, very old, vintage in fact. But it doesn’t present itself as a car that is delicate or frail. Instead, it has the personality, the - dare we say - soul of a much younger machine. It fired up with no complaint, it drives without resisting it. It’s not fast, the turning circle is about the same as an oil tanker, and if it rains, you’re getting wet, but it doesn’t matter. You forgive it those things because it’s still here, still doing its job. This is a pre-war car that doesn’t want you to nanny it or tiptoe around it. It wants to be driven. Dare we say it, it needs to be driven. It's what it’s used to. It’s been doing it for over a hundred years.