The Individualist HE

The HE can be classed as one of the more interesting sportscars of the vintage years. Its makers were justified in coining the advertising phrase ‘HE — Car of Character’. It was designed by Roland J Sulley, who had long motor-trade associations, even having run a motor cab service in Wales from 1906. After WWI he was able to obtain support for the HE’S production from a Herbert Merton, who had a factory, Herbert Engineering, in which wartime Clerget Le Rhône rotary aero-engines had been overhauled. Apparently his mother was willing to help finance Sulley’s car production, which would give employment to some of the otherwise redundant Merton workers.

Thus, in 1919, the initial model made its debut, with a 69x120mm (1795cc) side-valve four-cylinder engine. This had the unusual feature of using bolts instead of studs and nuts to hold down the aluminium cylinder head. Its design may have been finalised during the war, as was suggested by the use of valve caps in the cylinder head, and although the three crankshaft bearings and those of the chain-driven camshaft were pressurefed, lubrication of the big ends was by trough, with a button, as on early A7s, instead of an oil gauge. Another antiquated feature was threequarter-elliptic rear springs, though 34 cars sold on the British market still had these in 1920. The HE also had slats on its petrol tank cover, following Daimler tradition.

The original car was followed by the 14/20, with a 2121cc (72.5mm bore) engine using a Zenith carburettor, and a new chassis frame. By 1923 a sports version, the 14/40, was announced. A London office had been opened and agents established — two in Cardiff, with others in Swansea, Bristol and Exeter.

Merton’s factory at Caversham, near Reading, had its own foundries and Sulley was made the assistant works manager. Engines, gearboxes and chassis were all made there, using top-grade steels, etc. The early cars were fitted with Morgan wire-braced ‘Zephyr’ bodies. A new range of normally constructed coachwork followed, of which the £700 cloverleaf three-seater became an HE hallmark.

The engine was noted for good amateur servicing facilities and its neat layout. Cooling was by impeller and fan, with adjustable belt drive. The distributor for the coil ignition (two coils to supply two plugs per cylinder) was combined with the dynamo, which also had chain adjustment. An adjustable dry multi-plate clutch and enclosed propeller shaft took the drive to the overhead-worm-drive back axle, still sprung on those antiquated springs. The separate gearbox had ratios of 15.4, 9.35, 6.36 and 4.2:1, with 815×105 tyres on Rudge Whitworth wire wheels. The wheelbase was 9ft 7½in, track 4ft 2in.

There were some notably sophisticated features, such as six brakes with nine handwheel adjusters. The pedal applied four-wheel brakes, with geared compensation for cornering differences of the front ones, for which cables and pulleys were used. The handbrake operated the two separate rear brakes with rod linkage. The adjusters comprised one for each brake, another to adjust all four, others to do this for the front two and the rear set, and a ninth, which the driver could use, to vary front and back retardation. Lubrication of the universal joint on the propshaft was automatic and the chassis was provided with a generous number of greasers. Steering was by a much-praised worm-and-nut system. Further sophistication was to be found in the location of the constant-mesh pinions at the back of the Bugatti-fashion gearbox. A tachometer was driven from the back of the dynamo.

This rare car was discontinued by 1927, except for a few assembled to special order. Output was about 14 a week, with sales dropping around 1924. Apart from Bentley, the HE was, I believe, the only car offered with a five-year guarantee. Known finally as the 14/50, to distinguish it from the 40hp touring models, it gave way to the six-cylinder 2.3-litre cars. But in its day the HE was a very individualistic car.