Fragments on Forgotten Makes

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No 44: The Beardmore

Last summer I met Mr. George H. Allsworth who, although in his 94th year, was able to recall the early development of the motor car very clearly and who in vintage times was intimately connected with that renowned Scottish Make, the Beardmore.

Mr. Allsworth, born in April, 1876, went as a young man to assist Lord John Scott-Montagu, father of the present Lord Montagu, with his Conservative Party work in the New Forest area. During this time Lord Montagu was running the 1899 Daimler which was in the news earlier this year when it was again driven, by the present Lord Montagu, into the House of Commons Yard, as it had been by his father 70 years earlier. Acquaintance with this Daimler and other cars owned by his employer started Mr. Allsworth’s interest in motoring.

Around the turn of the century he left to open a garage in Pimlico, gaining experience of many very early makes. Later he joined his friend, Francis M. Luther, in forming an agency for Austro-Daimler cars. They sold all models, including the exciting Prince Henry Austro-Daimlers.

Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had designed a 90-h.p. six-cylinder aero-engine which Austro-Daimler adopted. This was made under licence by William Beardmore at the Arrol-Johnston factory, after the drawings had been brought out of Austria by the resourceful Mr. Luther. This connection linked up Allsworth and Luther with the great Scottish engineering company and when the post-war slump caused the directors to contemplate car manufacture, the two partners joined with William Beardmore & Co. in forming the Beardmore Motor Company Ltd. in 1919, the original capital being provided equally between the four directors. The Chairman was Lord Invernairn, Luther was Managing Director, the other director J. G. Girdwood, CA.

The scheme got off the ground with three models, all with four-cylinder engines, the 1.6-litre Eleven made at Anniesland, Glasgow, the 2.4-litre Fifteen made in the ex-Arrol-Johnston works at Paisley and the 4-litre Thirty built at Coatbridge. The design of these side-valve cars was conventional, except for forward-tilted filler caps on the shapely radiators to obviate water being poured over the bonnet. They were solidly made, rather expensive cars.

The Beardmore Fifteen was intended as a taxi chassis and these were very successful, the Coupé Company having about 2,000 on the London streets, with some 80 mechanics to look after them. These Beardmore cabs were supplied complete from Scotland, but after the closure of that Company the London firm of Beardmore built their own cabs at the Weymann factory in Addlestone. The last of the Beardmore cabs was the famous Mk. III Hyper, known to the trade as the “Farthing Cab”—why? When Beardmore built their own cabs from 1932, they used Commer power units for a time, assembly being done at their Hendon depot now occupied by Henlys. After the war a tie-up was arranged with Nuffield, Beardmore cabs being sold to the Wolseley Co. The well-known Oxford cab used a bored-out MG block (75 x 102 mm., 1,802 c.c.) push-rod o.h.v. and, believe it or not, had dry-sump lubrication. From early in 1955 Beardmore cabs used Ford Consul and later Zephyr 4 engines, unless they were Perkins diesel-powered. Some of these Consul engines ran nearly 100,000 miles without a rebore. The last Zephyr-engined Beardmore cab was made in January 1967. The Mk. I of 1919, on its 815 x 105 tyres, was withdrawn from London service in 1933, having been made until 1923. The Mk. II lasted until 1926 and could still be hired in London up to 1936 and Hypers went out of production in 1932, the last one going off the streets in 1946.

The Oxford, the first o.h.v. London taxi, arrived in 1947, production stopped in 1953, after three series had been made, but you could still ride in an “MG engined Beardmore” in 1963. An attempt was made to get Daimler interested in the Beardmore taxi but the Director approached died, so nothing came of this.

Long before this happened the first Beardmore commercial vehicle (and cab) chassis had been subjected to a long and gruelling test, being driven for a distance of 10,000 miles in six months, with a 20% overload for the last 60% of the distance. This test commenced in February, 1923, and for the first 1,000 miles, actually 11 runs totalling 1,094 miles, minor faults were rectified and the disc-wheeled chassis, with its test cab, tuned up. One route was from Paisley to Ballantrae via Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Ayr, Girvan, and back via Turnbury, Maidens, Dunoon to the outbound route. The 147 miles took in some severe gradients and bad roads, but the test driver reported to the Works Manager that he had no use for 2nd gear and had used 3rd speed only on three occasions. The return 74 miles were accomplished in three hours, an average of 24.6 m.p.h., and the overloaded Beardmore gave 18.37 m.p.g. Various gear ratios had been experimented with and it was decided to use the lowest for production vehicles, giving a slight decrease in m.p.g.

Hill-climbing tests followed, a stiff 1-in-9 gradient being ascended in 2nd gear, and bottom was not required until a hill of 1 in 6.5 was reached. Top gear sufficed for a steady climb of a 1-in-23 hill and 3rd was ample for 1 in 14. A deeply-rutted hill of 1 in 8, rising to 1 in 5, starting on a 1-in-15 incline, was conquered in bottom and from these tests it was computed that the Beardmore chassis would take hills of 1 in 23 to 1 in 30 at 22 to 30 m.p.h. in top speed and that if 3rd was engaged gradients of 1 in 14 to 1 in 23 could be climbed at up to 20 m.p.h.

Encouraged by these performances, the chassis was taken to the dreaded Amulree, which it climbed easily with an overload. It was then given an extra 6 cwt. to carry, a total load of 36 cwt. The driver failed to round the first hairpin but restarted successfully after reversing on the atrocious 1-in 5 surface, and continued, the gradometer carried oscillating between readings of 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 for two miles. The hill was safely descended on this 203-mile journey. On other tests the route to Aberdeen was done in top gear with the 20% overload, except when 3rd speed was needed at the Bridge of Allan and when 3rd and 2nd were called into play up Dunblane. In this 10,000-mile test petrol consumption averaged 19.3 m.p.g., oil thirst 2,000 m.p.g., and one set of pneumatic tyres lasted the entire distance.

So the 30 cwt. Beardmore went into production with a 12 months/20,000-mile guarantee. It had a 15.6-h.p. three-bearing engine giving 32 b.h.p. at 2,000 r.p.m., driving via a Ferodo-lined cone clutch to a four-speed gearbox having forward ratios of 28.8, 16.45, 11.52 and 7.2 to 1, charabanc chassis being supplied with ratios of 25.6, 14.63, 10.24 and 6.4 to 1. The back axle was fully-floating with worm final drive, there were 15 in. x 2¼ in. expanding brakes on the back wheels, the worm and wheel steering gave a turning circle of 23 ft., and the tyres could be either 820 x 120, twins on the back, or single 895 x 135 all round. The electrics were six volt.

This rugged chassis sold for £395 and charabanc and commercial bodies were available, the engine having at that date (1924) already powered 1,300 London cabs, the first of which was delivered in May, 1919. A “Dundee” van was priced at £495, a 16-seater “Paisley” coach at £675. Michelin tyres appear to have been popular, as they were for Beardmore cars. Incidentally, a contemporary catalogue shows a Rhode Occasional Four on Amulree, not a Beardmore!

The Chief Draughtman was E. Baird, A. McMurray was in charge of tests, and the commercial vehicle works had B. J. Angus Shaw, MIAE, as General Manager. These chassis had a conventional radiator filler, maybe because professionals were expected to be more careful when filling up than private motorists! Mr. Allsworth remarked on the strict Scotland Yard regulations which made taxis so out-dated in the post-war era. Oil lamps were specified well into the ‘twenties and it took much persuasion before electric lighting was permitted—even then, an oil rear lamp had to be carried as a standby. The required small turning circle, openable rear quarters and the annual Police inspection made cabs expensive, but the Beardmore’s high quality helped in this exacting market, where it was called “Rolls-Royce of cabs”, and proudly featured in a contemporary Sexton Blake story.

The cab was obviously well known in the South, but the private car chassis were mainly confined to Scotland. The great Beardmore concern, which had such significant engineering accomplishments to its credit as the Anchor Line’s RMS Cameronia, the R34 airship, the battleship HMS Ramillies, East Indian railway locomotives and things like enormous components for ships and mill engines., etc., sought to put this right.

After unmerciful testing for three years in the Highlands a new overhead camshaft Beardmore Eleven was introduced for 1923. It had a 68 x 114 mm. (1,656 c.c.) engine with the o.h. camshaft driven by a vertical shaft and spiral bevels at the front. 30 b.h.p. being claimed at 3,000 r.p.m. The gearbox gave forward ratios of 17.5, 11.6, 7.5 and 4.5 to 1, there was a spiral-bevel back aide, and the tyres were Michelin 760 x 90. A two-seater was priced at £475, a tourer at £495. A two-seater sports model with aluminium pistons, gear ratios of 16.5, 10.5, 7.0 and 4.15 to 1, and a wheelbase reduced by 7 in., was offered for £550.

However, it was the 12.8-h.p. Super Sports Beardmore which was relied on to make an impression. This had a 74 x 114 mm. (1,960 c.c.) engine with its o.h. camshaft driven by a Renold silent chain. The specification included a racing carburetter and fuel tanks mounted low down on either side of the chassis. The chassis weighed about 13 cwt., the complete 2/3-seater approximately 16½ cwt., and it was normally supplied with 30 x 31 Budge Whitworth centre-lock wire wheels. The forward gear ratios were 10.5, 8.0, 6.5 and 4.15 to 1. The chassis was priced at £525 and the aluminium sports model cost £650. A Brooklands certificate guaranteeing a minimum speed of 70 m.p.h. with a passenger was offered and the new model gained class wins at the 1923 Dalgain Brae speed hill-climbs, using, apparently, a 1,988-c.c. engine, followed by others at Catash, Porthcawl, Caerphilly, Holme Moss, Saltburn, Garrowby, Inchinnan, Blackpool and Shelsley Walsh.

A. Francis had designed the new 12/30 Beardmore, and the works racer, driven by Cyril Paul, broke the Shelsley Walsh record in 1925, in 50.5 sec. beating Mays’ Bugatti and Cook’s TT Vauxhall.

Mr. Allsworth, speaking 44 years later, had no criticism of these Beardmores except that they were a bit too heavy for their size. He continued to sell them from Great Portland Street, with a service depot at Grove Park, Edgware Road. Some of the cars were sent by road but the majority were railed. The touring bodies were made by Beardmore’s with some done by Windovers, as this coachbuilder had premises next door to the service depot. During this time Mr. Allsworth ran a Beardmore tourer and Mr. Luther also had a Beardmore, but later Mr. Allsworth reverted to an Austro-Daimler, when the tubular-backbone six-cylinder saloon became available.

Beardmore’s made much of the care taken over their bodywork. For instance, they used body sides a continuous slight curve front end to end combined with it good turnunder, to avoid a boxy appearance, and steel angle-brackets were riveted to the outside of the chassis to give support to the body, the main fixing bolts passing through the body stiffening plates and the chassis brackets, to obviate sagging sides and rattling doors. Wide doors were used for easy access and departure and in addition to the usual rubber buffers each door had a small rubber-covered roller to ensure that it would not stick. By 1923 concealed door hinges had been abandoned in favour of the outrigger type, so that lighter but stronger pillars, wider opening doors, and easy hinge adjustment were ensured. Two thumbscrews provided for sliding the front seat and also altering the rake of the back of cushion. Beardmore surely being the first manufacturer to make the point that such alteration in driving position while the car was in motion was a factor in obviating fatigue?

The back-seat cushions were 9 in. deep, in two layers, with lighter gauge springs on top, and a concealed footrest was fitted in the back compartment. Best quality cowhide was used for the upholstery, diamond pleated and buttoned, and care was taken to provide very large air holes in the bottom of the cushions registering with similar holes in the seat board, as otherwise the seat leather was found to split through air being unable to escape on rough roads! Aluminium tool and accumulator boxes were fitted, the accumulator being held in place by a felt-lined bar bolted in three places. The detachable luggage grid was said to “Provide for a very low centre of gravity”.

Of the wide variety of cars he remembers, he cites the earlier 3-litre Austro-Daimler, and an early Mors with 1.t. ignition, as amongst the best. He recalls Sir Henry Birkin, Bt. bringing a lady friend to the Beardmore showrooms to inspect the 12/30 Super Sports model. She liked it and ordered a pale violet paint job, which seemed to scandalise Sir Henry. He thinks that Dr. Porsche’s VW engine may have stemmed indirectly from an air-cooled two-cylinder power plant designed for a quarry loco. at the Austro-Daimler factory. The Austro-Daimler link was maintained after the war because Mr. Luther used to import twin o.h.c. racing cars of this make, which came via the Beardmore Hendon depot. It may be remembered that Malcolm Campbell drove a 1½-litre Sasha model which arrived too late for the 1922 200-Mile Race at Brooklands, but where C. J. Turner raced an orange 2-litre and Clive Dunfee a very beautiful red 3-litre Austro-Daimler, while the Hon. David Tennant, who had a liking for Leyland Eights, ran an 1,100-c.c. Sasha model in Northern speed events. Mr. Luther himself scored successes in sprints with one of these cars.

Beardmore’s competition successes, and the slogan “A better car is outside the range of practical engineering” seemed to pay off, for satisfied customers were soon secured in Letchworth, Shoreditch and Bolton, as well as in Scotland. By the time of the 1923 Show prices had been reduced substantially, the 12/30 chassis being down to £295 and the Super Sports model listed at £550. A range of axle ratios gave a top gear of 4.5 for open cars, 4.9 for the closed models and 4.15 for the sports cars. Side-valve 14/40 and Sixteen models, the latter for Colonial markets, joined the o.h.c. 12.8 in 1926, but non-sporting Beardmores were apparently not “on”, for although the 16/40 was carried on for a time as the sole model, the Beardmore, as a private car, had faded away by 1929. The taxi business at St. John’s Wood, in later times concerned only with service and spares, was finally discontinued just a few weeks ago. Mr. Roy Perkins, of that Company, was extremely helpful with this article and is a great enthusiast, attending as many Continental Grand Prix races as possible.

—W. B.