Fragments on forgotten makes

No. 33-The Bean.

The Bean Car Club may not thank me for calling the Bean a “forgotten make” but I am sure they will know what I mean! It was a make intended to be built in mass-produced quantities but which never really made the grade.

A. Harper, Sons & Bean Ltd. was a company, registered in 1907, which supplied the growing motor industry with stampings, castings and forgings from Dudley, Tipton and Smethwick until they went over to munitions in 1914. After the Armistice they decided to meet the anticipated motor-car boom and bought up the Perry Motor Co. Ltd. They had disposed of their Dudley shell factory but intended to turn out cars at the rate of 50,000 a year, commencing in 1920, in a new factory, with a large foundry, at Tipton. The mass-production policy embraced assembly lines, off which the chassis came with engines running and were driven away to the body-shops at Dudley. There was a test-bench adjacent to the works.

It was a comparatively simple matter to re-hash the 11.9-h.p. 69 x 120 mm. 4-cylinder Perry as the Bean, with suitably altered radiator. Legend has it that a lion mascot was evolved for the radiator filler-cap, made of porcelain, so that if it was accidentally dropped it shattered into fragments—can anyone confirm this ?

The 11.9-hp. Bean appeared towards the end of 1919, and was endowed with a more substantial 3-speed gearbox in 1920. Harper, Sons & Bean made most of their own components but their massproduction programme never really got off the ground and chatting to Mr. A.J. Jack, at the palatial London offices of Hadfields Ltd. in Berkeley Square the other day, he told me that they ran into problems related to the quality of post-war steels, such as soft camshafts and distortion of other components after hardening, so that he was called in to advise them, spending three months at Tipton.

In their well-documented book “The Bullnose Morris” (Macdonald; 1965), Lytton Jarman and Robin Barraclough refer to Bean production as 225 in the first two months of 1920, which would have far outstripped Morris production figures had it been maintained. In fact, Mr. Jack does not recall the target figure ever being approached—he thinks perhaps the best they achieved was half the intended numbers. In fact, the aims of the ambitious amalgamation between Harper, Bean, Hadfields, Vulcan and Swift, known as the British Motor Trading Corporation and backed by £6,000,000 capital, were stated in a speech by Mr. H.J. Whitcomb, the chairman, at the inaugural luncheon at the Savoy Hotel on November 26th 1919. He spoke of the company’s powerful position, in being independent of outside suppliers, and of its ultimate aim to build 100,000 vehicles per annum without having to relinquish supplies of components to their many customers. “We shall start,” he said, “with only 50 cars a week in January, increase to 300 a week by July, 600 a week by December 1920, rising by stages to 2,000 a week by July 1923”. The ultimate aim was 50,000 small cars, 25,000 medium-size cars and 25,000 commercial vehicles per annum. Mr. Whitcomb had arranged for a bonus scheme, in which the employees would share,to encourage the workers.

J.H. Bean, whose war contribution was inventing the 18-inch shell, Sir Robert Hadfield, Sir Samuel Waring, Robert. Burns, Mr. Hodgkin, Mr. Wardman, Mrs. W.O. Collins (the Secretary), and Mr. Wilding gave their support—the best laid plans … !

At first the Bean cost far more than the competitive Morris cars, but drastic price reductions at the 1920 Motor Show, a move normally attributed only to William Morris, brought them almost into line. The Bean was, indeed, the least-expensive 11.9-h.p. car on the market, until Morris announced his own sensational price slashing four months later.

Sales both of Bean and the company’s associated Vulcan and Swift cars fell but a bad situation was alleviated, if only temporarily, when, in 1922, John Harper Bean and Hadfields Ltd., the steel people who discovered manganese, took over. John Bean and Major A.B.H. Clerk of Hadfields were not motor men but they had a strong team behind them and soon the 11.9-h.p. Bean was given a 4-speed gearbox and, in 1923, was joined by the massively constructed 14-h.p. Bean. This new model retained side-by-side valves but had an enormous chain-case rising as high as the cylinder head, enclosing two reputedly silent chains—but Mr. Jack recalls the considerable chain whirr—driving camshaft/water pump and dynamo/magneto/fan, respectively. Because a coil ignition distributor could be driven from the timing train the Bean Fourteen could be provided with dual ignition, the cylinder head having provision for dual sparking plugs, for an extra charge of £7 10s. Four-wheel-brakes were also available for £25 extra and the Bean concern now had a car in the Austin 12/4 class, the tourer being priced at £375 in 1924. The 75 x 115 mm. (2,385-c.c.) engine had a 3-bearing crankshaft and developed 32 b.h.p. at 2,400 r.p.m. A unit gearbox was used, with ratios of 17.6, 10.86, 7.56 and 4.7 to 1, and the Bean Fourteen had a wheel-base of 9 ft, 6 in., 31 x 4 tyres and a chassis weight of 17 1/2 cwt., the tourer turning the scales at 24 1/2 cwt. Richard Twelvetrees, when he was Editor of this journal in 1924/5, had an 11.9-h.p. Bean with the Fourteen engine and a radio using a frame aerial and loudspeaker of gramophone size—the latter caused him to be escorted from the enclosure at Ascot as a public nuisance!

Early in 1926 Harpers Ltd. acquired control of Bean affairs. Mr. Jack told me that members of this company were expected to run Bean cars, although he managed merely to borrow one occasionally, having a new Gwynne Eight as personal transport. The back axle was liable to give trouble and one night a car stationary on the road ahead turned out to belong to Hadfields’ Managing Director, his Bean stricken in just this manner, although on that occasion there was no oil in the-axle casing.

The high, heavy, Bean Fourteen didn’t sell particularly well, it seems, although Bean cars were popular overseas, probably on account of the publicity achieved for them by M.H. Ellis and Francis Birtles, who made the first crossing by car of the Australian Continent, from Sydney to Port Darwin and back, a distance of 6,278 miles, between June 4th and August 21st, 1924, sponsored by the Sydney Daily Telegraph. Previously this standard 1923 Bean Fourteen tourer had won a gold medal in the Australian Alpine Trial and had been lent to the Captain and officers of H.M.S. Hood, flagship of the British Naval Special Service Squadron. For its overland journey, which included traversing the track from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Darwin by the Limmen River route for the first time by any motor vehicle and the first complete north to south motor traverse of the Northern Territory of Australia, the car carried 9 1/2 cwt. overload and the front brake drums and back mudguards were removed to facilitate negotiation of the undeveloped country. The Bean then returned to England, won a medal in the 1925 Land’s End-John O’Groats Trial and is now in the South Kensington Science Museum.

In an endeavour to boost sales a 6-cylinder Bean was introduced, the engine and gearbox of which were supplied by Meadows. Mr. Jack remembers this as “a ghastly-looking car, like a truck to drive.” Known as the “imperial Six,” or 18/50, it had a bore and stroke of 69 x 120 mm. and appeared in 1927.

It was in one of the first of these 18/50 Beans, a car scarcely out of the experimental stage, that Birtles set out, with Ellis and W. Knowles, to drive from England to Australia. The car, not ready in January, was delivered the following month, cutting it very fine indeed if the Burmese monsoon was to be avoided. It had a bigger engine than the subsequent production version, rated at 25 h.p. against 17.7 h.p., and weighed 37 cwt. unladen, nearly 3 tons ready for the expedition. Balloon tyres were used. which proved their worth in the deserts of Persia and Baluchistan. In the early stages carburation, electrical and clutch trouble had to be overcome and, in a savage European winter, the brakes iced up. We are told the engine oil froze, and it usually took hours to get the engine to start. The radiator alternately froze and boiled and not surprisingly began to break up. Crown-wheels and pinions chewed up, three differential-bolts sheared and the bearings began to knock. Defeat was finally acknowledged, in Delhi.

Birtles refused to be permanently defeated, however, and in October 1927 he was off again, from London. This time he used his special 14-h.p. Bean “Sundowner,” which had held the Darwin-Sydney record, 2,826 miles in 6 days 10 hours, and had done much bad-country motoring since 1925. It was a sporting 2-seater with drilled chassis frame, stiffened springs, outside exhaust system, and an extra fuel tank, running on Shell petrol and Dunlop tyres. The car was apparently camouflage-painted and carried advertising for Dunlop and Bean. This time the Bean company offered very little help, although the car was photographed at the Sheffield works and seen off in London by “Miss Australia”—this beauty-queen of 39 years ago wearing a cloche hat and fur collar! In fact Birtles’ adventures were legion, including the gruesome experience of camping beside an abandoned car containing seven Persians, all frozen dead in their seats, and of having to reverse the crown-wheel and pinion to get one very low gear for storming the Naga hills, the barrier to Burma. The account is told in more detail in T.R. Nicholson’s “Five Roads to Danger” (Cassell. 1960). Birtles resorted to a boat between Mergui and Penang and between Singapore and Darwin, where he arrived on May 29th, thereafter driving to Melbourne, a total distance of 16,000 miles. The car is now in the Australian National Museum at Canberra. Incidentally, it took until 1955/6, and Land Rovers driven by the Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, before the land-link between England and Australia was completed.

Although this extremely courageous journey may have helped the export sales for which Bean were well known, something clearly had to be done, and the outcome was the 14/40-h.p. model and later the 14/45 and the Hadfield-Bean, the latter designed by A.C. Burton, now of Automotive Products Ltd., using the 14-h.p. engine. The Hadlield-Bean still had a very high chassis, but carried sports bodywork of rakish lines and had wire wheels. It was called the 14/70 but did not survive the year 1929, in which it was introduced. During this last attempt to keep the Bean alive Kerr Thomas, President of the I.A.E., who had been with Pierce-Arrow during the war, was appointed General Manager and Ricardo revised the cylinder heads.

The Hadfield-Bean was capable of some 70 m.p.h. but didn’t sell successfully and as a private car the name became a has-been, although 30 cwt. commercial vehicles were made until the company was finally liquidated in 1931. Bean Industries Ltd. still exist in Tipton and were responsible for building G.E.T. Eyston’s enormous Land Speed Record car,”‘Thunderbolt” amongst other motor-racing associations.—W. B.

Vintage miscellany

Whose was the 3-litre Bentley which John Steed crashed in a recent version of “The Avengers” ? And will someone confirm the identity of the nondescript truck which features in another I.T.V. show, “The Beverly Hillbillies”—is it an early Oldsmobile ? To be celebrated this year, B.M.W.’s 50th birthday. Jackie Pichon, of the Musee d’Automobiles Anciennes at Cleres, whose father worked on the original, hopes to produce a replica of the saloon Renault 45 which captured the World 24-hour record at Montlhery in 1926 at a speed of 107.9 m.p.h., on a 45-h.p.p. chassis he has by him, in time for the 40th anniversary of this fine run, next July. The Editorial 1924 14/20 Calthorpe 2-seater is being steadily rebuilt, after running a big-end some years ago on the way home from a V.S.C.C. “Phoenix” meeting. A garage in London has been building replicas of veteran cars, for a forthcoming film, including De Dion Bouton, 1899 Canstatt-Daimler, etc. The latter is a working replica, based on a Mercedes of the mid-‘twenties which had been converted into a breakdown truck; alas, the engine has been scrapped and all that remains of the chassis with its wheels bearing the three-pointed star on each hub-cap, is the crane it had once borne.

V.S.C.C. Northern Trial

Due to be held on November 27th, this annual event had to be abandoned on account of snow in Yorkshire. Competitors drove from the start to Kilnsey before being snowed in, and unfortunately even in that short distance Brown’s Austin 7 threw a conrod.

Bentley D.C. Employees’ Re-Union

The pleasure of running a vintage car has been embellished in the past by re-enacting classic events and visiting historic haunts, the latter probably pioneered by the Sunbeam S.T.D. Register when it took its members to Wolverhampton, birthplace of their Sunbeam cars and held parties at which ex-employees of the old Company were present.

The Bentley D.C. expanded the latter theme on a unique occasion at a lunch in London last November, when 96 guests, all of whom had been employed by the original Bentley Motors between 1919 and 1931, were entertained. Those present included W.0. Bentley himself, Frank Clement ,(racing driver), R.S. Wichell (Director and Works Manager), “Nobby” Clarke (who was amongst those who worked on the prototype 3-litre Bentley engine in a mews off Baker Street, the place commemorated today by a B.D.C. plaque), C.C. Pennal and H.S.G. Browning (racing mechanics), Mrs. I.W. Purvis (nee Leafe) and Mrs. H.E. Carey-Wood (nee Mills) (secretaries), J. Carey-Wood (engine shop and racing shop), J. Jackson (with “W.O.” in 1919), Walter Hassan (shop-boy, mechanic and racing), Eddie Dean (tester), Fred Squibb (test shop), Herbert Browning (racing and riding mechanic), Jack Baker, who was flown the 5,700 miles to he present by courtesy of Grosvenor Motors of Johannesburg, F.E. Podger (in charge of racing and experimental shop), Harry Scott (delivery and demonstration driving), “Sam” Mayo, who presented the Club with a medal won at a 1925 Bentley Motors’ sports day at the Welsh Harp, G.E. Horn, who brought a picture of the first B.D.C. dinner, held in 1936, “Jo” Grant, who presented photographs of the (Uxgate Lane works, W.G.C. Barnes, W.R. Bridges, A.F. .Rivers-Fletcher, etc.

It was a sober thought that those Present had all embarked on their working life for several years at least when the Company went into liquidation 34 years previously—yet only his Grace the Duke of Richmond & Gordon, Jack Cunningham, Bob Tomlins, and George Welt, were absent due to illness. What a nostalgic gathering this must have been. And what a pity that only 69 B.D.C. members supported it.—W. B.

A.B.C. Car Register

The A.B.C. Car Register lists mini cars, out of the 1,400 or so thought to have been built. These include a 1926 Super Sports, two “Regent” 2-seater, a couple of tourers, the Registrar’s ex-Paxton chassis and a remarkable 1922 example converted from air to water-cooling, hydraulic brakes and an overdrive. The Registrar is R.L. Hurrell, 46, Hardy Road, Bishops Cleve, Glos.

Vintage Odds and Ends

Another anniversary of 1966 will be the 60th birthday of the Austin Motor Company, and the Austin Seven Register of the 750 M.C. hopes to receive strong support for its annual Beaulieu Rally, on July 10th, in consequence. G.F. Simpson, who successfully drove a Chummy Austin 7 up Ben Nevis in 1928, observed by G.G. Douglas, Trials Secretary of the South Western MC., is building a replica of the car he used on that occasion. His climb took 7 hr. 23 min. and he used Clincher tyres, Pratts petrol and Speedwell White Ideal oil. The V.M.C.C. now has nearly 1,900 members and its December issue of The Vintage Motor Cycle contained 48 pages and included hints on tuning the 4-valve Rudge by H.O. Tyrell Smith, a Register of Ricardo Triumphs, memories of and about W.G. McMinnies and much more besides. Most popular makes in the Club are B.S.A. and Triumph, followed by Scott and Douglas. The Banbury Run and T.T. Rally will be held again this year. Hon. Sec. F. Bussey, 38. Station Road, Kenilworth. Betty Haig has re-acquired the 1935 M.G. PB—XG 3729—in which she gained her first victory in an International event, so, with her 328 B.M.W., she possesses two cars she drove before the war in competitions. Incidentally, she paid less for the M.G. than when she went shopping for it originally, over 30 years ago, “at the wrong end or Gt. Portland Street,” a refreshing note in these days of attempts to inflate prices.

The Sunday Times last year referred to a reader who had owned 55 cars, one of them a Paris-Madrid Panhard-Levassor, apparently still in use after the First World War, although the car was wrongly dated and its name rather oddly rendered. We tried to obtain a story but were politely refused. Up to last November membership of the V.S.C.C. stood at a record 5,298. The Bullnose Morris used by Dr. Finlay in the B.B.C. TV Serial has been replaced by a 12/22 Wolseley tourer. In the December 5th edition this was joined by a Rolls-Royce landaulette with 3-letter Reg. No. surely too late for the period depicted and a slip on the part or producer Gerard Glaister ? A 1935 Leyland “Light Hippo” lorry, converted to a diesel, is still in regular use in Liverpool and district. A plaque was unveiled in Manchester last month to commemorate the work there of the late Sir Henry Royce.