A survey of the products of some of Britain’s smallest motor manufacturers.
We have always been on the side of the really small motor manufacturers partly because of the fact that they have to stand up against the might of the Big Five but mainly because they try to produce cars which are vastly different from the necessarily standardised products of the larger manufacturers. They concentrate almost exclusively on the sports and G.T. field and virtually without exception the cars are sold as kits of parts. For a very small manufacturer to attempt to sell complete cars almost always results in financial suicide although a few like Lotus and Ogle have made the transition to selling fully assembled cars. Accessory suppliers are loath to supply small quantities of parts to the smaller car makers unless the car is successful in competition, then they are very pleased to be associated with the name. Similarly their prices are usually well above those quoted to the bigger manufacturers who deal in thousands rather than dozens, with the result that kit cars are usually comparatively expensive as well as often lacking in the refinements of trim and detail finish of the mass-produced article.
Since Purchase Tax was reduced to 25% the burden has fallen even harder on the kit car manufacturers and since we last reported on kit cars in January 1962 Ashley, G.S.M. and T.V.R. have gone out of business, indicating the precarious position in which even quite well known firms can find themselves.
Looking on the brighter side however, the specialised builders have the advantage of being able to design and develop a car quickly, while technically speaking some of the designs coming from these firms are often way ahead of those from the big factories. With this in mind we have visited several of the kit car builders to see what they are producing and to find out what are their future plans.
M. L. T.
The name of Diva is probably not very well known even to enthusiasts. It was originally conceived as a competition car pure and simple and in fact competed regularly in Club races last season. The car is the brainchild of Don Sim who used to race a Yimkin. He designed the Diva in his spare time and when he became a director of Tunex Conversions along with well-known rally driver Leo Bertorelli the ideas were gradually transferred into metal and the prototype Diva was soon completed quickly and gained eight wins in its first seven weeks of competition. It was intended to sell the car for competition use only but a number of enquiries were received from people who were sufficiently impecunious to require a dual purpose road and competition car, so it was decided to build a batch of cars to a standardised specification suitable for road use. These are being assembled in a separate factory at Camberwell while the competition cars are being developed at the Tunex garage in Penge.
The frame of the Diva is a multi-tubular structure in round and square section tubing with joints welded or nickel-bronzed. As it was intended to fit it with a G.T. body with conventionally opening doors it was necessary to have relatively low chassis side rails which sacrifices some stiffness but the engine is designed to be an integral part of the chassis.
Much of the design of the Diva is based on the size of the body which has a wheelbase of 6 ft. 9 in. In fact the glass fibre body is the proprietary one made by Heron plastics for pre-war Austin Seven Specials which has had a hard-top mated to it. This short wheelbase has rather restricted some aspects of the design and because the engine is placed fairly well back in the frame for better weight distribution it does encroach on the amount of room for pedals. The short wheelbase also restricts the amount of leg room available for the driver, but as everyone who has driven the Diva so far is fairly short the problem has not been acute.
The front suspension of the Diva consists of nickel bronze welded wishbones which are well gussetted. A quickly removable anti-roll bar is fitted and Armstrong adjustable coil/spring damper units form the suspension medium. The original prototype car was fitted with a rigid rear axle and it was raced and hillclimbed in that form during last season but an independent rear suspension system has been developed and will be fitted on all future production cars. This has a welded steel hub carrier with an upper wishbone and single lower link. The first prototype uses a Watt’s linkage for fore and aft location as shown in our diagram but production models will now have a long radius arm running parallel with the lower arm of the Watt’s linkage. An easily detachable anti-roll bar which is itself readily adjustable is located on the top arm of the hub carrier and suspension is by telescopic adjustable Armstrong coil spring/damper units. The differential is that used on the Lotus Elite and the drive shafts are the splined type taken from a Mini-Minor although these will probably be replaced by a specially designed type for production models.
The engine of the car is the Ford 105E, angled 11° to the left. Originally there was an idea to have a Mini engine mounted in the tail but Don Sim felt that weight distribution would be a problem and anyway he preferred the Ford engine. This is mounted in the chassis with a front engine bearer plate and is located very rigidly in the frame by means of small diameter tubes which run from the chassis frame to cylinder head studs at front and rear. This allows a good deal of vibration which is acceptable in a competition car but road cars will have enough rubber introduced to minimise this problem.
Production cars, which sell for £860 will have the engine and gearbox in standard form with the addition of a pair of Weber 40 DCOE carburetters. As the car has a dry weight of just under 8 cwt., this will give enough performance for most people’s satisfaction on the road, but Tunex are in the tuning business and carry out their own modifications on 105E engines, and estimate that an 80 b.h.p. engine and close ratio gearbox can be supplied for a further £170 which will bring the car up to the specification of last season’s engine. Apart from a Jeffrey camshaft the work is all carried out by Tunex. As yet they do not have a dynamometer but one is being installed in the near future.
The prototype car had proprietary drum brakes, from the Standard Atlas van actually, but they proved inadequate and the car, is now fitted with discs all round, 9.5 in. at the front and 9 in. at the rear with twin master cylinders for safety.
Steering is by Sprite rack and pinion with a universally jointed column. A wood rimmed steering wheel is supplied as standard equipment.
A five gallon aluminium fuel tank is mounted behind the differential and twin S.U. electric pumps draw through twin filters to ensure that no swarf passes to the engine. The lightweight 12-volt battery is rear mounted as is the dynamo which is driven from the propeller shaft and is quite accessibly mounted in front of the differential. This saves a good deal of strain on fan belt and water pump bearings.
An unusual feature of production cars will be the use of transistorised ignition. Experiments have been going on for some time with a proprietary kit and now that various snags have been eliminated it is considered fit for production models. Apart from the advantages of more reliable ignition at high r.p.m. Don Sim has found that in competition work he could run on hard plugs at all times without encountering fouling troubles.
Doug Mockford has taken delivery of the first production car and will be racing it extensively both here and abroad while two or three cars will be shipped to the U.S. shortly. The car will be homologated with the 80 b.h.p. engine and it is hoped that this will be confirmed at the April meeting of the C.S.I. so that the car can compete internationally for most of the 1963 season.
We haven’t driven the Diva so we cannot tell you anything about that side of the car but perhaps we can rectify that before long. In the meantime competition minded enthusiasts can get further information from Tunex Conversions at Oak Grove Road, Penge, S.E.20.
Falcon Cars have been supplying glass fibre body shells for some years and have reached a high standard of finish with such bodies as the Competition and the Caribbean, the Competition being an open 2-seater which was also available as a complete car with multi-tubular space frame while the Caribbean was normally supplied for fitting to the Ford 10 chassis. Although these two shells are still available Falcon are now concentrating on the new 515 model which was introduced at the Racing Car Show. However, discussions have been going on for a long time with Auto Union with a view to marketing a D.K.W. Junior chassis mated to a Caribbean body shell. So far no decision has been reached but a Mantzel tuned prototype has been timed at 106 m.p.h. The main problem lies in the need to give the D.K.W. chassis more torsional stiffness, the lack of it causing the doors to pop open at inconvenient times.
Falcon have built up a good reputation for glass fibre work and now the bulk of their output is in the industrial category ranging from boat hulls to window boxes. The latest and most successful enterprise in this field is the manufacture of glassfibre hoppers for farmers, these being much more durable than the metal ones used for so long. Work on these projects is growing so fast that a new 9,000 sq. ft. factory in Hatfield is being taken over shortley.
The 515 is very much a hobby with managing director M. A. E. Mosely and is in many ways a development of the Competition model although a large number of changes have been made. The accent is on comfortable transport for two rather than the competition angle although a lightweight version fitted with a Coventry-Climax 1,100-c.c. engine is being built for the firm’s development engineer to race this season. Three cars were also entered for Le Mans with several French drivers but even this did not sway the Automobile Club de L’Ouest and all three entries were rejected. Homologation has not yet been applied for but when it is, the engine will be the 1.5-litre Ford unit and not the Climax as the twin-cam Lotus version would enable a good deal of power to be found without a great deal of expense.
The chassis of the 515 is a multi-tubular type made up from round and square section tubing, nickel-bronze welded. The chassis is very wide so that two large bucket seats can be dropped between the side rails without restricting the passengers at all. When the chassis is received from the Progress Chassis Company it is bonded into the body which has plated sections at critical points. This results in a very rigid structure and after painting the body/chassis unit is ready for the customer. We have examined the surface finish of the prototype Falcon carefully and it reaches a very high standard indeed.
The front suspension of the 515 is by tubular steel unequal length double wishbones with coil spring/damper units. An anti-roll bar is not in the specification as yet but development testing has suggested a need for one and it will be incorporated in production models. The rigid rear axle is located by trailing arms and is sprung on vertically mounted telescopic coil spring/damper units. A criticism which has been levelled against the present axle is that it has insufficient track and spoils the look of the rear of the car. This is being rectified by the use of the Ford Cortina axle which will give a 2-in. wider track.
The rack and pinion steering is from the Triumph Herald giving a turning circle almost as good as that of the parent car.
The brakes, 9-in. discs at the front are matched with 8-in. drums at the rear.
The engine of the production car is the Ford 5-bearing 1,500-c.c. unit which is given a mild tune by the addition of twin S.U. HS4 carburetters, putting maximum power up to 70 b.h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m. The gearbox is the all synchromesh Ford box with standard ratios.
The interior is trimmed to a high standard and instrumentation is quite lavish including speedometer, rev.-counter oil pressure gauge, water temperature gauge, fuel gauge and ammeter while the various switches are placed on a central console. The seats are most comfortable to sit in and details like the quick-action lever window-winder are commendable as are the B.M.W. door handles which have not yet been perfected on the Falcon installation.
A brief drive in the prototype showed little more than the brisk acceleration endowed by the Ford engine, the noise of which will be deadened by Interior Silent Travel on production cars, while comments on handling will have to wait until a disconcerting wander is eliminated. It is hoped that the anti-roll bar will help in this respect. The body appears to be quite rigid with no rattles intruding and the ride is comfortable.
Plans for the 515 are to produce a small number each week to meet orders as they come in, but it is not intended to expand into large scale manufacturer even if the opportunity occurred, as the 515 project is intended mainly as publicity for Falcon’s other work which in future months will cover everything from car polish to wire wheel conversions and even more serious competition work in another sphere. We look forward to further acquaintance with the Falcon. Details can be obtained from Falcon Cars, 23, Highbridge Street, Waltham Abbey, Essex.
Like so many of the other small-car manufacturers Heron started life as glass-fibre moulders, making the shell for Austin Sevens which is now used by Diva and also the shell for the Rejo 1172 Formula car, but last year they introduced their own kit car based very much on Triumph Herald parts.
The chassis is a combination of steel backbone and glass-fibre. The steel chassis is of a similar form to that of the Herald being made from large diameter square section tubing. It has a central backbone with outriggers for suspension and body mounting, while a massive upright encloses the gearbox and supports the body at scuttle height.
The body, which bears a strong resemblance to the sports body, is moulded in one piece complete with the coupé top while the undertray, gearbox tunnel and other interior flooring is moulded separately into one piece. The steel chassis and undertray are then all bonded to the body while it is still in the mould, so that when the mould is split the body and chassis are removed in one piece, which results in a very rigid unit. A steel bar runs through the front window upright and over the roof to ensure the safety of occupants in a roll-over accident. Doors are hinged on steel plates and are fitted with push-button locks.
The front suspension of the Europa is Triumph Herald pure and simple as is the rack and pinion steering with all the advantages of this layout, with the additional advantage that suspension and steering parts are all obtainable from Standard/Triumph dealers. Heron are not able to purchase direct from the factory and have to get their supplies from a local distributor.
The rear suspension utilises the Triumph Herald differential, drive shafts and hubs but the Herald leaf spring is abandoned in favour of very wide based wishbones in conjunction with coil spring/damper units. The disadvantages of swing axle suspension are negated to a large degree by the use of considerable negative camber, which prevents rear wheel “tuck-in.”
Brakes on production cars will be 9-in, discs at the front with 8-in. outboard mounted drums at the rear. A fly-off handbrake is standard equipment. Lucas electrical equipment is standard throughout while Smiths supply the electronic rev.-counter and fuel gauge, the remainder of the instruments being by MotoMeter. All instruments are fitted at the factory, the owners’ job being just to connect up the wiring.
The engine fitted as standard is the Ford 105E in standard trim, but the 1.5-litre unit can be specified for an extra £25. As the gearbox comes with the engine the buyer of the 1500 engine has the advantage of the all-synchromesh gearbox although it can also be supplied with the 105E unit for an extra £10. It is planned to have the car homologated in April with the 105E engine, and Heron plan to run a team of two cars this season, starting with Club competition with designer Deric Bishop driving one car and a works supported car driven by two private owners.
Heron have no grandiose plans for large-scale production and like many other glass-fibre moulders they rely very much on industrial work, ranging from flower bowls to dinghies. They even make suits of armour from glass-fibre! The works can cope with a steady production of one or two cars a week which will largely be sold as kits on the home market. There is a Swiss agent and the car was shown at the last Geneva Show while various other European dealers showed interest at the Racing Car Show.
A kit of parts sells for £730 and details are available from Heron Plastics, 123, Calvert Road, Greenwich, S.E.1O.
(To be continued next month)