Veteran to classic -- Forgotten Makes

Forgotten Makes No 99: The CAR

Last month in this series the subject was a British five-cylinder radial-engined light car, so it seems appropriate to follow it with an account of another car with a radial engine, in this case one with three cylinders. Both were virtually still-born but have their niche in history, especially as the latter was the design accomplishment of Roy Fedden, later to become Sir AHR Fedden, MBE, DSC. He was responsible for the long line of highly successful Bristol radial aircooled aero-engines used in military and civil aeroplanes, which might well have had even more impact on the aviation industry had not the Government’s wartime policy favoured inline and vee-formation water-cooled engines from Rolls-Royce.

In 1919, however, when the CAR was mooted, Fedden was trying, with many others, to provide a small car for the masses, in the difficult post-Armistice times following a bloody war. It has to be said that he got a very good response from at least one motor journal and, reading its appraisal of the CAR it seems cruel that it was to have a very limited future. “For the potential purchaser of the new CAR it is necessary to realise that it is intended, as regards price, to become the vehicle for the many. The fixed figure of 200gns is a very low one for a properly equipped, three-seated, four-wheeled 11.9 hp vehicle. The eager buyer of a car to bridge the gap between motorcycle and sidecar and the full-size light-car has seen with disquiet how labour and other troubles have caused prices of light-cars on standard lines to rise steadily until the possibility of economical motoring seems remote. It is the definite aim of the producers of the CAR to offer a completely equipped car that will meet the motoring needs of the man in the street; a vehicle that thousands can afford to buy and maintain and for which accurately-fitting spare parts will be available at reasonable prices.” Thus the confident announcement of the CAR made in the leading motor journal in the autumn of 1919.

It was stressed that British quality would characterise the workmanship, that the carefully matured project would, by mass production methods “devised by specially-engaged experts of International reputation”, ensure an output of 200 CARs a week, and that the aforesaid experts had been given a free hand in the arrangement and selection of a large factory and plant, and that the design of the CAR would not only give reliable service but enable these experts to exercise their production talents. “There would be close co-operation between designer and producer”, it was said. With such a fine tribute, how could the project fail to flourish?

In fact, the CAR was to be made at the Cosmos Engineering Co Ltd at Lodge Causeway, Fishponds, Bristol. Indeed, the name of the vehicle was soon changed to Cosmos, perhaps because, if an owner was asked what he ran and replied a CAR car, there could be doubts about his sanity! Presumably the justification for the good write-up enjoyed by the Cosmos before it went into production was based on the knowledge that Roy Fedden had designed the acceptable Straker-Squire car before the war and that his 14-cylinder radial Cosmos Mercury aero-engine gave a smooth 300 bhp by the summer of 1917 and was followed by his 9-cylinder 36-valve Jupiter aero-engine in 1918. He was also responsible for the origin, but not the development, of the ohc Straker-Squire Six, ironically based on the wartime R-R Eagle aero-engine.

Good write-ups the Cosmos may have had but production was not scheduled to commence until September 1920. But when the car made an appearance at the 1919 Olympia Show the price had been held to the promised £210, for this cloverleaf three-seater. So how had Fedden (who was to become one of our greatest aero-engine designers, with the incredibly successful Bristol Jupiter developments — it was used in 262 different aeroplane types and made under 17 foreign licences — the Pegasus, the sleeve-valve Perseus, the Taurus, and by 1942 the supercharged 1520bhp Centaurus, etc) laid-out his 1919 economy car?

What he had done was to use a three-cylinder air-cooled radial engine of 80 x 80mm bore and stroke, (1206cc) the now accepted ‘square’ dimensions with one cylinder vertical. The ribbed cylinders were of cast-iron, fanned out, equally spaced, round the crankcase. The valves, two per pot, in the ribbed aluminium heads, were push-rod actuated. They were of stainless-steel in bronze guides, seating on cast-in stainless steel rings. The three inlet pipes were coupled to a distributor box fed by the Ware carburettor. The short balanced crankshaft ran on ball-bearings and the pistons were of aluminium. The three roller-bearing big-ends were side-by-side on the crankpin. A cam ring operated the valve gear. Ignition was by battery and coil, not then commonplace, and a dynamo was set below the distributor and contact-breaker.

A three-speed-and-reverse gearbox was in unit with this unusual power-pack, which was mounted in the chassis by steel bearer arms at the front and the gearbox resting on a tubular cross-member. Cooling was achieved by a large six-bladed fan ahead of the engine. The single-plate clutch was Ferodo-lined. Final drive was by a torque-tube-enclosed propeller shaft having a simplified universal joint at the front, to a differential-less spiral-bevel back-axle. This enabled an economy in brakes to be effected, one drum for the pedal, the other for the central brake lever. The simple frame had only three cross-members, the tubular one in the centre, forming ‘A kind of keystone for the whole car’, apart from the weight-saving achieved.

Fedden was content to use the patented Adams (AFS) system of springing, found otherwise only on the Douglas light-car, a remarkable layout in which central transverse coil springs were coupled to the axles by long arms and bell-cranks, further arms being needed to locate both axles. Steering was by a simple plain-bearing worm-and-wheel mechanism, with transverse tie-rod. The disc wheels on the first prototype had pressed out imitation spokes, as on an Angus-Sanderson, and with electric lighting the CAR weighed about 10-3/4 cwt. There was a dummy radiator, the wheelbase was 8ft 0in, and tyre size 700 x 85. Power output was claimed to be 16 bhp at 2000 rpm.

At Olympia a good attempt was made to sell CARs by showing a light blue three-seater with pigskin upholstery and polished mahogany cabinets each side of the lone back seat. The “cloverleaf” seating, as used later for the 7.5hp Citroën, etc, kept all the occupants beneath the hood in wet weather. Before the end of 1919 a well-known motoring writer had been allowed to try a prototype CAR which had already covered some 8000 hard miles and to which modifications were apparently intended. The name had already been changed to Cosmos. The test consisted of half-an-hour’s driving in hilly Bristol, followed by a 120 mile run to London, done at a high average speed (at better than 30 mph, including a meal break, good for a light-car on 1920’s roads). The car was complete, but lacked a hood.

The air-cooling was tested by a hold-up in Piccadilly, occasioned by the visit of President Poincaré to London, when “most radiators were steaming” in the half-hour hold-up. The Cosmos was unruffled. Indeed, on this cold November journey so little heat came up through the floorboards that the driver’s toes were nearly frostbitten. The ohv gear was noisy, due to the use of plain bushes and screw-down greasers of the exposed push-rod mechanism, but this was due for improvement, as Fedden “still had a pound or two in hand per chassis on his original costing”. The odd springing was judged excellent, over the awful road to Marshfield, taken at over 30 mph. The steering was criticised as too high-geared and affected by the high-pivotting of the suspension. which had been overlooked in laying it out. Top speed of this Cosmos prototype was put at 45 mph, fuel thirst at better than 35 mpg, oil consumption at over 3000 mpg. Although the lower cylinders hung down by the chassis side-members, it was said that even when the engine was hot a plug in one of them could be changed in one minute — and in those days plugs were changed frequently. Incidentally, the annual tax was 3 gns. A 75 x 75mm version of the engine was apparently built at one stage.

Among the many odd and optimistic ventures to attract car customers in those now far-away days, the CAR seemed to have much going for it. Yet there was no sign of it at the 1920 Olympia Show. Its life was of the shortest! In the summer of 1920 the Cosmos Engineering Co had been taken over by the Bristol Aeroplane Company (they got the brilliant Fedden, 31 engineers and an assortment of engines and parts for £15,000), after it had crashed trying to sell household goods to Russia. Roy Fedden went on to lasting fame in the aero-engine field; of the radial-engined CAR, nothing more was heard. — WB