Jowett Jupiter R1: sole survivor of Yorkshire ambition
Horses for courses. An old saying, but relevant to cars as well. Take Jowett, pride of Yorkshire until its demise in the rationed Fifties. From the start Jowett concentrated on light, robust cars with plenty of low-geared pulling power, ideal for the hills around its Bradford birthplace. Though mostly forgotten, Jowett did have one flirtation with the top rung of the racing world before the end, and the sole survivor of that brave effort is now for sale – with Le Mans history.
Jowett’s original engine choice was a flat-twin engine lying ahead of the front wheels and it stuck with the horizontally opposed layout to the end, by which time it had grown to a 1500cc flat-four with 50bhp. Post-war, Jowett made a stab at the big time with the sophisticated Javelin, a streamlined saloon with what used to be called ‘fastback’ styling and torsion-bar suspension, and its fine handling brought some sporting success, even class wins in the Monte and the Spa 24 Hours. Steel was restricted in the late ’40s, though, so they proposed an alloy-bodied sports car and to design it they booked the man who before the war designed the 1938 Auto Union racing car chassis – Eberan von Eberhorst. He had been enticed to the ERA concern to engineer its post-war racer, but was induced to share his skills with the Bradford firm.
The result was the Jupiter, with a twin-tube chassis and twin carbs on the flat-four achieving a mighty 60bhp. The motor still hung out ahead of the front wheels, but the compliant ride and independent front suspension helped compensate for the 55 per cent front weight bias. It’s hard to call the Jupiter a pretty car, though several coachbuilders did a nicer job, and at £1086 it was hardly a bargain – add a couple of hundred and you could be in a Jaguar XK120.
Yet on this chassis the factory constructed three racing versions – the R1, much lightened, tweaked and with minimal bodywork, and aimed at Le Mans where Jupiters had already taken class wins. Two were later scrapped, making the car at Arun Holdings the sole survivor. And it has an honourable record: in 1952 Marcel Bequart and Gordon Wilkins finished 13th and took a third successive class win for Jowett, and it also contested the 1952 Monaco sports car event.
Lovingly restored by a pair of Jowett experts, the R1 has raced at the Revival and Le Mans Legends and has Monaco credentials, too. It may not be famous, but it’s a unique slice of British racing history.
Speaking to Nicholas Overall
Racer, dealer and proprietor, Arun Holdings
Like the other two this car was due to be scrapped because of the tax system at the time, but it was saved by the Jowett apprentices. In fact it was literally cut in half, though I’m damned if I can see where. It has the Jupiter chassis but much lightened, and it’s probably producing about 80bhp, though there’s further potential if you want to take it to Goodwood, or Monaco. You have to admire the drivers – they averaged nearly 73mph for 24 hours. And it raced after that: I have a thick history file on it, and a later owner came round to bring photos of himself doing a hillclimb at its helm. So far most interest I’ve had has been from France, though it’s such a British machine.