Airdale Cars Ltd.

Esholt, Nr. Shipley, Yorks.

The Airedale car depicted in a contemporary Motor Show catalogue.

I am fortunate in being able to continue this series with some very interesting information about two very “forgotten” makes, the Tiny Car and the Airedale, thanks to Mr. Harold O. Griffiths of Morecambe, who worked on these, first as art apprentice prior to the First World War, and from memory recalled in great detail how they were made.

George Barker owned a fellmongers’ yard —the Skinyard— in Esholt, Shipley, which provided his son, Norman Barker and his friend Guy Nanson with ready made premises, in 1912, for cyclecar manufacture. Their wives, incidentally, were their respective sisters. Nanson left the business in 1913 and Noel Barber became a partner at the end of that year, though he was absent for the duration of the War, in which he served finally with the rank of Captain. They started with an assembled car, called the Tiny Car, of which three were made. The first had a JAP vee-twin air-cooled engine in a tubular frame brazed up from piping, using a gas blow-lamp and treadle operated bellows. This was given a little van body made by Page at Guiseley and went to Fortes, the stationers, of Kingston-on-Thames. The next Tiny Car had a water cooled Chater-Lea engine and is thought to have gone to someone living in the Crouch area of Essex. A third Tiny Car was made which I believe also had a Chater-Lea engine.

It is interesting that these cyclecars had rack-and-pinion steering, made by boring a casting in the lathe to form the sleeve containing a spur gear. Just before production of these little cars was terminated by the war two Alpha engines were purchased, but were not used in the Tiny. One was put into an old De Dion Bouton for a woolman in Bradford during the war but the other disappeared.

The war saw Nanson and Barker making trench-pumps for Blakeborough’s and sending shell noses to Sheffield. Perhaps as a result of profits from such munitions work they decided to build proper cars in 1919 and became Airedale Cars Ltd. in 1922. Sam Ambler, of Ambler and Son, Midland Mills, Bradford, who lived at Hoyle Court near the fellmongers, put up some of the finance. Barker designed an excellent car, which they called the Airedale, as it was made in the Aire valley and they used an Airedale dog on the badge. Rubery Owen designed a proper channel-section chassis frame, with a sub-frame for engine and gearbox. During the war four American Stirling engines with unit 3-speed gearboxes had been purchased. On of these was used in a prototype Airedale, the installation being done by Mr. Griffiths and a girl in an old scullery at one end of the Skinyard, a wall having to he knocked down to extract it. He remembers that on a Sunday, with everyone in their best clothes, he took it for a splendid test run all over the moors, raising dust as it had no mudguards. In the end all four tyres punctured, so they put stones under the axles, took the wheels off and back to the works, mended the tyres and returned with them on a hand-cart scandalous behaviour on a 1920s Sabbath! The steering column was not attached to the dash and when it fell into his lap Mr. Griffiths crashed into a wall.

The Stirling engine was not used for the production chassis, the first of which had a Dorman power unit, of the kind with two camshafts in the crankcase and four push rods each side of the block, Riley-fashion. A short ginger-haired man called Turner used to come from Dorman’s and tie back the throttle of an engine every so often, testing it to destruction. Incidentally, lubrication of the valve gear on these engines was by wick feed from the oil gallery! The company made their own gearboxes and back axles, drilling the casings for the former with a tall vertical drilling Machine. The engine and gearbox were separate, coupled by a carden-shaft. The works made the universal joints for the propeller shaft and much of the back axle, Coan supplying the casting and Arnold Pochin of Manchester the spur-type crown wheels and pinions. It was a semi-floating axle, with external tic-bar, Clegg and Howgate of Bingley supplying the cast end-pieces. The hubs were of malleable iron.

A cone clutch was used, which was machined in the works. The leather linings came from N. & E. Cloth of Shipley, Mr. Griffiths taking them a paper pattern to which the leather was cut. The rear-wheel brakes were at first cast-iron, in steel drums, the shoes being machined from rings of cast-iron; they also made their own cams. These brakes soon wore out. Copper linings were then tried but in the end they had to use Ferodo.

The Airedale had worm and sector steering made in the works, but the pinch-bolt on the column used to crack the alloy casing of the box. They even made their own differentials. There was a small forge, but not all was plain sailing. Layshafts were apt to buckle unless a bar was inserted; they would be strengthened in the lathe with the aid of a straining bar and heavy hammer! Gears were run-in on a lathe until they quietened down. The wire wheels were built on a spindle, after some difficulty in getting them concentric.

The Airedale works employed eight fitters, and the apprentice. The machine tools included a Herbert capstan, a 1.h. vee-bed German 6½ in. centre lathe, Clarks and IA millers, a very nice Barker, Spink and Lease combination lathe, a little planing machine, and three milling machines. Later they had three Walwork gear hobbers and were able to use involute instead of spur-tooth gears. Heat-treatment was done in a little furnace, using whale oil.

A carefully finished chassis was prepared for the Olympia Show, polished by the York Range and Mantle Co., fireplace makers, who also supplied Airedale with light castings. This wasn’t finished until about 8 p.m. on the eve of the Show, being then pushed all the way up Hollins Hill to Guiseley Station, to be put on a truck for London. It wasn’t driven as they wished to keep it dean—Barker, Wilson and Griffiths did the pushing! A spare gearbox was “frosted” and polished as a separate exhibit and given a lid held by wing-nuts, so that Show visitors could look within. This was finished even later than the special chassis and when the fitters were taking it to the stat:on they hid it in the corner of a field while they went for fish-and-chips—to the consternation of Mr. Barker!

Later the Meadows engines were used instead of the Dorman power units. The electrics were Brolt, with that free-wheel dynamo. Most of the bodies were two-seaters with dickeys, although a few four-seaters were made. Jimmy Rock of Bingley made half-a-dozen, then F. Robinson, the local joiner, supplied these bodies, which were panelled by a Bradford firm. Patterson did the hoods and trim; the usual colour was French grey.

The Airedales were assembled on the first floor of the old corn mills, the chassis then being lowered to the ground floor on block and tackle. The workshop machinery was driven before the war by a 16 h.p. gas-engine with tube-ignition, found in a cellar at the yard. This had to supply the light for the fellmongers’ yard, which started work at 6 a.m. and finished an hour after the Airedale works had shut, so Mr. Griffiths had to get there early to start it up and stay on to switch it off, rushing from the shed before all went dark! After the war a new 16 h.p. Robson’s of Shipley gas-engine was installed, after a conrod had become detached on the ancient one, although a stationary steam-engine was used for a time, bought from Bradford Corporation; it was coupled to the flywheel of the wrecked gas-engine, which then was able to turn the machines as usual! Later a new 36 h.p. Robson engine was installed. It was mounted in error on the old water wheel in the engine house and was very unstable until rubble was poured into the foundations.

The office typist was a Miss Learoyd, a triplet. Nearly 100 Airedale cars were made, Sir James Hill, the Amblers and Arthur Davy being among the customers; Davy’s son John entered his blue 62 x 120 mm. (1,839 c.c.) four-seater Airedale at Brooklands in 1923 but was a non-starter. Alas, Amblers eventually withdrew their financial support and the end was in sight. No more Airedales were manufactured after 1924. But they are remembered as good cars, noted for excellent springing (half-elliptic) and quite a brisk performance. On the closing down of Airedale Cars, Mr. Barber bought all the spare parts to enable him to supply owners requirements for several years. The premises where they were made in Hollins Hill, Esholt, are now occupied by Naylor Bros., the MG-T specialists (see MOTOR SPORT, June 1974).

After a difference of opinion Mr. Griffiths left, at the age of twenty starting his own garage, Sharp and Griffiths, who are now Chrysler dealers, in premises half-a-mile away, but he remained friendly with Messrs. Barker and Barber. Mr. Griffiths, aged 76, is an enthusiastic caravan user, towing his Carlight van all over Scotland and Wales. Until recently he used a Chrysler 180 but now finds a 2-litre Chrysler excellent for the purpose.—W.B.