The man and his car: The story of Leslie Hounsfield's Trojan



At Easter spectators who watch the M.C.C. 50th Anniversary Trial will see Group Captain Scroggs’ famous Trojan once again in action and another Trojan competing in the Vintage Section of this historic trial. Some of them may wonder, what is this remarkable light car which refuses to be its age when it comes to climbing “impossible” hills? Therefore, with the aid of the Trojan Owners’ Club we present this article, which puts into proper perspective the car of which its sponsors used to maintain that to run one was cheaper than to walk.— ED.

“For sale—Trojan Tourer just extracted from vicarage stables after twenty years’ storage… Towable and might start on the way home.– £10.”

Many readers of Motor Sport must have seen this advertisement in the December 1955 issue—and fifty-two of them answered it within four days. To some it conjured up pictures of hill-climbs in the M.C.C. “Exeter” and the “Land’s End” trials, with two or three very upright and unstreamlined Trojans calmly and as a matter of course earning First Class Awards year after year. To others it probably brought to mind many thousands of miles successfully completed at an absurdly low cost. There were those also who looked back to their early mastery of skidding technique, learnt as a matter of course, whilst negotiating a Trojan on wet cobbles and on (sometimes in) wet tramlines. Ex-members of the R.A.F. no doubt remembered the Trojan tenders which were used on aerodromes all over the world.

Here, then, is the story behind the Trojan and its designer, the late Mr. Leslie Hounsfield, who dreamed of producing a “poor man’s car” and lived to see his products vindicate all that was claimed for them.

Leslie Hayward Houndsfield, A.R.C.S., A.M.I.C.E., Wh.EX., M.I.Mech.E., was born at Watford in 1877. He showed early signs of brilliance in engineering subjects and, after apprenticeship and service with Simpsons Pumps, the Crompton Electrical Co., Ransoms, Sims and Jeffries Ltd., and at Woolwich Arsenal, he won a Whitworth examination to the Royal College of Science. He served with the Electrical Reserve Volunteers during the South African war, and, in 1904, started his own business at Clapham. It was this company which became Trojan Ltd. in 1914 and operated from the factory in Vicarage Road, Croydon.

During this period the design of a “poor man’s car” was constantly in his thoughts and, in 1913, the first Trojan was built, to be followed closely by two other experimental cars, all with many revolutionary ideas in engine and chassis design. The No. 1 car is still preserved at the Croydon factory and, except for the vertical position of the engine and the absence of a reduction gearbox, is very similar in design and layout to later Trojans.

The Trojan factory was turned over to war productions early in 1915 and it was not until 1921 that a further six cars were built there. These were known as “model T” (all were registered in Devon under the registration letter “T “) and were very like the later production “utility” model. A model “T” car was entered by Mr. Hounsfield in War Office trials in 1921 and, though it apparently acquitted itself triumphantly in all the tests, it was considered by the authorities to be too unorthodox.

Soon after these trials Leyland Motors became interested in building the Trojan. They were, however, sceptical about the claims made for the suspension and chassis durability when using solid tyres, and submitted a number of the cars to extremely severe tests. The main test consisted of driving the Trojans over a course laid out with railway sleepers bolted at approximately six foot intervals. The cars survived this course at high and low speeds for several days. Leylands were satisfied and their works at Ham Common was turned over to production of Trojans in 1923, when Mr. Hounsfield was appointed Chief Engineer for the project,

Details of the models produced are given later in this story, but roughly speaking, it may be said here that, during the period 1923 to 1933, there were three main models of the car and two of the van. These were:

The “Utility” car (1923-1926)

The “Three-door” car (1926-1929)

The “Rear-engined” car (1930-1933) and

The “7 cwt.” van (1924-1930)

The “10-12 cwt.” van (1928-1940)

The “Utility,” “Three-door” and “7 cwt.” van were all mounted on the same chassis. The “10-12 cwt.” van was also identical, except for the substitution of 1/2-elliptic springs at the rear and a “friction” differential.

The engines were basically all the same – 1,527-c.c. two-stroke, two-pair, water-cooled units with an R.A.C. rating of 10-h.p. From 1923 to 1925 the engines of all models were known as type “PB” and had plain bearings. In 1926 the “XL” engine was brought out, chiefly because of the large number of bearing failures in the previous models, and in order to bring the Trojan within the then light car class. These engines had roller big-end bearings, and the capacity was reduced to 1,488 c.c. The next change was made in 1930, for the rear-engined car only. The “XL” type was modified for upright mounting and known as type “RE.” It had ball main bearings and oil pump, all the other versions having “petroil” lubrication and a side-entry carburetter. In 1933 a new (though again similar) engine was put into use on all the main models. This was known as type “PH,” which differed from the “XL” mainly through having a side-entry carburetter.

Having dealt with the different models, here is a general description of what must surely be one of the simplest and the most effective “utility” vehicles ever marketed. It was the proud boast of the Trojan Company that the engine had only seven moving parts, and that no engine had ever had to be rebored through normal cylinder wear. The engine consists of a “square four” block with non-detachable cylinder-head, and two pairs of pistons on forked connecting rods—making the engine, in effect, two “split-singles” set side by side. Indeed in the original prototype cars (1913) it was intended that, in case of trouble, or to save fuel, the car should be driven on one or other “side” of the engine alone.

Induction, from crankcase compression, goes into the top cylinders (with the engine mounted horizontally), passes through ports in the wall separating each cylinder from its twin, and exhausts from the bottom cylinders. Each pair of cylinders has, in effect, a common combustion chamber, because of the “port” connecting them, and therefore only two plugs are required. At T.D.C. both pistons are level, but, as they travel up the bore, the piston at the bottom lags slightly behind that at the top.

The engine has quite fantastic pulling power at really low revs. This is materially assisted by the extremely heavy flywheel which is used. The normal practice is to change into top gear at a speed of or below 10 m.p.h., most normal and traffic driving being done in this gear. A Trojan with normal transmission gear ratios will climb any hill up to 1 in 9 in top gear (4 to 1), and bottom gear (12 to 1) will take it up anything on which the wheels can get a grip.

A description of the engine does not by any means exhaust the novel features of the Trojan. The chassis consists of two channel sections with steel sheeting riveted across the bottom and ends to form a “punt.” Traverse sections and tubes span this and the car floor goes on top. Into the “punt” fit the engine, gearbox, dynamo, pedal linkage, gear-change and starting mechanisms. The conventional bonnet contains only radiator, petrol tank and remote-controlled petrol tap, steering box, horn and carburetter (this last was removed to closer proximity with the engine, inside the “punt,” with the introduction of the “PB” engine).

Springing is by long cantilever leaf springs meeting at the centre of the vehicle, where they are held between rollers. Halfway along each spring clips are fitted to attach it to torsion tubes which run across the punt and are also used as engine bearers. The hand-controls, placed on the right of the driver, consist of gear lever, “walking stick”-type handbrake (working on the transmission), and the starting handle.

The front axle is tubular and, by slackening off the two clamps fixing it to the front end of the front springs, it can be easily rotated to set the king-pin inclination for the degree of castor-action required. One revolution of the steering wheel gives lock-to-lock, of the epicyclic steering gear.

The Trojan was designed to run on solid tyres and is quite reasonably comfortable when doing so. An advertisement in Motor Cycling in 1925 reads: “Can I have my Trojan on pneumatics? is a question our agents are sometimes asked. The answer is ‘why not.’ We don’t think it necessary, but if you think the sheer luxury of the combination of pneumatic tyres with the wonder springs worth the risk of a puncture, then, why not? ” Indeed, on pneumatics the car is extremely comfortable.

The rear tubular axle has no differential. It is driven from the engine through a two-speed epicyclic gearbox, a transfer box, and a duplex chain which drives the sprocket on the right-hand side of the rear axle. This chain is partially lubricated by oil spillage from the gearbox. On the left-hand wheel is an 11 in. (later 16 in.) brake drum, inside which are two internal-expanding shoes, operated from the footbrake pedal via rods.

The electrical equipment, though of the simplest, is extremely well made. As no self-starter was fitted until 1930 cars made before then only required a 6-volt battery of small capacity. The dynamo, combined side and head lamps and the cut-out are of Miller manufacture, Delco-Remy coil ignition being used, with its distributor driven by a long shaft and protruding through the side of the “punt.” The switchboard, made by Trojans themselves, is a masterpiece of simplicity. This controls the normal lights, an under-the-dash lamp which illuminates the floor (and the engine underneath it when necessary) and also the glove pocket (which is big enough to carry a wholesale stock of gloves). Ignition, horn and petrol tap are controlled by a removable key built into the switchbox. This key also provides for a reserve petrol supply. An ammeter and a speedometer are provided, and the dashboard controls are completed by a “petrol/air ratio” lever which controls the main carburetter-jet and enables fine mixture adjustments to be made whilst running. In the early “Utility” cars there was a small hole in the rear seat squab, so that the driver could see that his rear lamp was alight without leaving his seat. The rear lamp shines through a translucent number plate, in which is inserted a red glass.

The foregoing description applies in general to all cars and vans until the production of the rear-engined model, with pre-selector, three-speed epicyclic gearbox. This model was an attempt to bring the appearance of the vehicle up to date, and to make it faster. It certainly looked good in its day, and was faster than its predecessors, but inevitably there was trouble, with the added complication of remote controls and because of the concentration of weight at the rear end. This model was the last passenger car put into production by the company, though the van remained almost unchanged from the original design until 1940.

In commercial form Trojans were available in some variety. Besides the vans a 10 cwt. lorry, 10 cwt. milk float and three-door four-seater dual-purpose four-seater with drop tail-board were listed. (The normal three-door tourer could be converted to the last-named form for the modest sum of £7 10s). Various special bodies such as traveller’s brougham, R.A.F. lorry, wire-mesh-sided van and travelling dispensary were fitted to 7 cwt. and 10 cwt. chassis, as well as unusual bodies in the form of Cow and Gate milk tin, Absolom’s Golden Tips teapot and Duckham’s Adcol oil can enlivened the roads of the ‘twenties. Trojan commercial vehicles had 2-1/2 in. N.A.P. front and 2-1/2 in. solid rear tyres. Chassis prices were £115 (7 cwt.) and £125 (10 cwt.). Users included the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Co., Ltd., United Dairies, Shell, the G.P.O., C.C. Wakefield, C. Waterman Ltd., Phillips Rubber Co., Lipton’s, the Salvation Army, the L.G.O.C., David Greig and other famous firms too numerous to list. Brooke Bonds ordered 41 Trojans in 1924 and by 1929 had bought 1,865 Trojan vans.

One last open tourer was made in 1937 and the story behind it goes to show the amazing amount of trouble the Trojan Company will go to to help owners of their vehicles. Seven years after general production on the model had ceased an order was received for a three-door tourer for a lady in Gloucester. One can only imagine that she had perhaps had one before and decided on a repeat order, as by this time the 1926 style of bodywork was hardly fashionable.

The van chassis was still basically the same, so the extra length necessary for 1/2-elliptic springs was cut off and the original-style cantilever springs fitted. The latest “PH” engine was retained, a complete body (one of several kept as spares) completed the car, and when acquired by a new owner in 1954 the speedometer only showed 28,000 miles.

The 1939-45 war caused the inevitable break in output and, today, almost the whole Trojan production is centred on the very successful and well-known two-stroke petrol and diesel vans.

In 1928, because of the increase in production of their heavy commercial vehicles, Leylands ceased to make the Trojan at Ham, and production was returned to Trojan Ltd., by then at Purley Way, Croydon. Hounsfield continued his directorship of the company until 1930, when he turned his inventive genius to the manufacture of a tensometer and the Hounsfield “Safari” camp-bed. For 40 years he was a member of the Council of the Institute of Automobile Engineers, and was its President for the year 1928-29. He died in Croydon in September 1957 at the age of 80—still alert and full of ideas, and many of his cars have outlived him and are now the prize possessions of their owners. In 1955 some of these owners got together to form the Trojan Owners’ Club. It then became apparent how many Trojans there still were in use (the club knows of over forty) and a grand display was made at the works (amidst gentle snow) with 12 cars on show. The 1913 prototype was entered by the works, and also the post-war shooting brake used by the Chief Engineer of Trojan Ltd., John Perrett. Another rare model was one of the 1934 pre-selector-gearbox, rear-engined cars, but in the snow-covered trial following the meeting, it proved unsuitable for this type of country driving.

Various rallies were held during the year, one on Nigel Arnold-Forster’s home ground in the Chilterns. Here 22 miles were covered cross-country, ending up at his farm, where a barn had been set aside to house the stock of spares which now belonged to the Club. By this time there were about 25 members with cars, but they are scattered all over the Midlands and Southern England (plus one in Uganda), so that the Club can only count on a small number of Trojans turning up to its rallies and hill-climbs held in different parts of the country. During 1955 one Trojan was taken on a 3,000-mile trip through Spain and in 1956 another did a 2,520-mile journey to Venice and back, all without trouble.

The Club has a large quantity of spares and, through Mr. Hounsfield, its first President, and the Trojan Company, has obtained a great deal of technical and historical information. The Trojan Company is most helpful to the Club. It can, incidentally, give full works service on all cars right back to 1924 models. As one of the aims of the Trojan O.C. is to recover disused or delapidated Trojans and to pass them on to the members for restoration, word was passed round, and soon reports of cars began to come in. One, which was towed from Cambridge to London over icebound roads, had stood unused under a cedar tree since 1944 after the Nobleman who owned it had literally “put it out to grass.” Apparently he used it for following the hunt, standing in the back in full hunting kit whilst his chauffeur took the solid-tyred car across country in company with the riders and hounds. It took just 45 minutes to get that car running after 11 years’ exposure to the weather.

Another car recovered had had the back chopped off and a baker’s van made out of cardboard and strips of timber nailed in place. This car was restored and was later seen on a T.V. broadcast from the Radio Show at Earls Court.

The Club averages about half-a-dozen “discoveries” a year and generally has a Trojan available to pass on to an enthusiast. A description of the Trojan would not be complete without reference to the very excellent “Maintenance Manual” which was issued with each vehicle. This book really tells you all you need to know for every part of a complete overhaul. But it also admits to the defects which occurred and suggests how to overcome these. It is essentially and refreshingly honest. Perhaps its nicest contribution is to be found at the end of a long fault-finding chart under “Consistent missing on one cylinder”: The conclusion is: “This may be due to almost anything!”

Coupé top £28 extra.

Between 1934 and 1940 the main production was centred on the 10/12/15-cwt. van, which remained almost unaltered except for minor innovations such a a shorter bonnet, giving greater carrying space, a forward-drive model with the drives over the front axle, and the “Lightweight.” which had worm-and-shaft instead of chain drive. The “Wayfarer ” 3-door tourer was a car fitted with a “BH” engine (roller big-ends, ball main bearings), shaft-and-worm drive and a pre-selector gearbox. The last new model in cars was the MASTRA (about 1937) which was exhibited at the Motor Show but never went into production. This was offered as a saloon (£395) or a coupé (£380). The engine was a Trojan six-cylinder water-cooled two-stroke of 2,232 c.c. (Treasury rating 15 h.p.), with four plain hearings, roller big-ends, and the engine at the rear, with pump cooling and controllable “central heating.” It had a 12-volt circuit, electric starter, four-wheel Girling brakes and cam-type steering, with 5.25 by 17 Magna-type wire wheels. The body was a saloon five-seater with a sun roof. Other than engines mentioned above, all vans were fitted with the “PH” engine (which had roller big-ends and three plain main bearings) up to 1940.