A History of the Sizaire-Berwick -- 1913-1925

By G. R. G. Berwick

In 1912 a chassis by the French engineer Sizaire was fitted with a body by F. W. Berwick & Company in London; the first Sizaire-Berwick had been made. The Sizaire brothers, Maurice and George, were already well known from their partnership with the Naudin brothers in the production of the Sizaire-Naudin car. By a convenient division of labour Maurice designed cars and George drove them. The early Sizaire-Naudin was an amazingly unorthodox car. It had a single cylinder of massive size with a very long stroke, the "change-speed gear" was integral with the rear axle, and there was a gallant attempt at independent front suspension, using a single transverse spring. The Sizaire-Naudin, however, was not merely unorthodox; it was also successful, and won many events, including the 1906 Coupe des Voiturettes and the 1907 Targa Florio.

The prototype Sizaire-Berwick had a four-cylinder engine with 80 by 150 mm. bore and stroke, and a four-speed gearbox. Fitted with a light open body, this car underwent considerable testing at Brooklands and on the roads. A wager between Keiller, a director of the firm, and Berwick provided an interesting long-distance test. Keiller wagered £25 that the Sizaire-Berwick could not go from London to Edinburgh in less than twelve hours, a journey he often made in that time in his "Prince Henry" Austro-Daimler. At 7.30 one morning a two-seater Sizaire-Berwick, with a rough mock-up body without wings or windscreen, left Hyde Park with Berwick at the wheel. At 6.20 that evening the car drew up outside the Central Hotel, Edinburgh, completing the 400-odd miles in under eleven hours -- no mean feat in 1912.

It was in 1913 that the Sizaire-Berwick went into production with an engine of 90 by 160 mm., none of the 18-h.p. 80 by 150-mm.engined cars having been released. The chassis were made at Courbevoie, Paris, and then driven to the coast to be shipped to England, where at Highgate the coachwork was fitted. The 20-h.p. Sizaire-Berwick made its public debut in October 1913 at the Paris Salon, although cars were probably sold before the show, from the Berkeley Street showroom in London.

The 20-h.p. Sizaire-Berwick had a four-cylinder side-valve engine in a fine en bloc casting, with a capacity of 4,070 c.c.; the engine and gearbox being carried on a sub-frame in the chassis. Basically conventional, the car had many interesting refinements, some of which will be briefly mentioned. The specially designed Smith's carburettor had four jets and was hot-water jacketted from the cylinder jackets. Engine lubrication by forced feed was carefully attended to, and the large-diameter crankshaft ran in three long bearings. The cylinders were set desaxe, or out of line with the crankshaft, in order to lessen the side thrust of the pistons and obtain easy running. Drive was taken from the camshaft for the oil pump, rev.-counter and water pump. The cooling being thermo-syphon assisted by the pump. Drive was via a multi-plate clutch and four-speed gearbox of the gate type. The open propeller shaft had beautifully made ball-bearing universal joints at each end, the final drive being through Citroen herring-bone bevel. Suspension was by long and flexible semi-elliptic springs all round.

The steering gear, one of the interesting Sizaire-Berwick patents, consisted of a pin, with two independent conical rollers on ball-bearings, fitting into the threads of the worm. The worm had two tracks, an outer one with which the larger roller engaged, and an inner one for the smaller roller. The conical rollers were pressed into the thread by a spring, which took up the backlash; the wear in the worm also being taken up automatically. The steering-column itself was adjustable to five positions. Throughout the chassis considerable use was made of aluminium; the crankcase, sump, and casings of the clutch and differential gear being some instances of this use. The chassis attracted a great deal of attention at the Paris show not merely on account of the interesting mechanical refinements, but also by virtue of the high standard of finish and attention to detail. The dashboard was an example of this, all the instruments being fitted flush in the aluminium dash. This was virtually unheard of in 1913, when the typical instrument panel presented a picture of exposed wires and instruments as graceless protruding lumps. The aluminium alloy brake shoes were also a great source of interest, the makers claiming that this was the first car in the world to fit them. Braking was by large-diameter drums on the rear wheels and a very large transmission brake of the expanding type at the rear of the gearbox.

Early 1914 saw the chassis coming over to be fitted with the high-quality coachwork. There were a number of standard bodies, such as the Chiltern and Malvern torpedoes, Chelsea landaulette, Eaton limousine and the Chelmsford cabriolet, but individual requirements in special bodies were always met. Some chassis were used by other coachbuilders, H. J. Mulliner & Co. building a special demonstration torpedo on one, and a Miss M. Dunkels had chassis number 138 fitted with an "interior driving three-quarter cabriolet" body by the same firm. I think she must have been very pleased with the result painted lavender grey throughout and upholstered in heliotrope grey cloth. The chassis price in 1914 was £475, the complete Malvern torpedo and Eaton saloon, upholstered and painted in colours to choice, costing, respectively, £745 and £860. By 1914 the Sizaire-Berwick had already gained a considerable reputation as a high-grade car, and typical of the comments of the contemporary press is the following taken from The Field: "The most fastidious could not desire a better or more luxurious car for its power -- nine out of ten motorists riding in it would accept it, with a sealed bonnet, as a six-cylinder car. Nor does it suffer by comparison when inspected or dissected."

The start of the "War to end all Wars" upset the plans of most firms, certainly those of an Anglo-French car firm supplied with chassis from Paris. The works at Courbevoie were taken over by the government and the last few chassis were hastily driven to the coast. One driver prominent in this operation was Jack Waters, later chief tester of Sizaire-Berwick, but better known today as a star of all the entertainment mediums—Jack Warner. These last chassis were fitted with bodies, often for use as field cars in the war, and then the Highgate works swung over to wartime production. On various chassis of other makes, mainly heavy Leylands, were built such vehicles as living wagons for anti-aircraft gun crews, machine-gun and searchlight lorries, travelling photographic darkrooms, telephone exchanges, workshops, and caravans which were almost miniature hotels on wheels. Bigger things, however, were in store, for in 1915 F. W. Berwick acquired a site at Park Royal in North London, and work started on a factory at which large government contracts for aero engines and 'planes would be carried out. Work on the factory continued almost without a break from 1915 until well after the war, and it grew to very large proportions indeed, covering some 16 acres of buildings, plus a four-acre sports field, and employing some 5,800 people at the peak of the war.

It will be interesting to mention in passing the main work of this war period. Le Rhone engines were built in quantities as well as DH4 'planes. The DH4s were produced at a price around £1,200 each excluding the engine. DH9s, DH9As and later some DH10s (twin-engined bombers) were also made, and repair work was carried out on Gnome and Clerget engines, while at the very end of the war A.B.C. Dragonfly 'planes were made. Dring the war the factory was honoured with a visit from Queen Alexandra. When at last the end of the war came, and shortly after that the completion of the last aircraft contracts by the firm, the way was then clear for the production of the post-war Sizaire-Berwick.

The post-war car was to be built entirely at Park Royal by the newly-formed Sizaire-Berwick Company, the works having also been designed with a view to the production of motor-car chassis, engines, and bodywork. It must indeed have been one of the most modern car factories in Europe, and even today photographs of it are extremely impressive. The new model, known as the 25-50 h.p., was rather the refined and perfected 20 h.p. than a completely new car. Valuable experience had been gained in the war under all manner of conditions. In fact, at the 1919 Paris Salon, besides the new chassis, a 1915 20-h.p. car belonging to Mr. Edward White was shown, which had completed nearly 110,000 miles in the four years. Certainly a sensible method of showing the ability of a car to stand up to strenuous testing. It was, incidentally, a Sizaire-Berwick saloon, with George Sizaire as driver, that had carried President Poincare of France at the front throughout the whole of the 1914-18 war.

The most obvious external change in the post-war Sizaire-Berwick, apart from the more modern body stylings, was the handsome new radiator design, with slightly angled front and a narrow flat strip down the centre line. At the beginning of the war the Rolls-Royce Company objected to the registered design of the radiator and a settlement was concluded, hence the new design. The 25/50 (4,536 c.c.) had a four-cylinder side-valve engine now 95 by 160 mm., and with aluminium slipper-type pistons replacing the pre-war steel ones, a direct result of experience in aero-engine work. The crankshaft now ran in five bearings, and many minor refinements had been carried out on the engine. A single-plate clutch was now fitted and the final drive was by Gleason spiral bevel. Automatic lubrication of the springs was achieved by merely turning a small knob on the side of the chassis, and engine lubrication and filtration also received special attention. Two easily removable filters were used in the engine; first a closely-packed gauze one on the pressure side of the oil pump, and also one above this through which the oil passed when filling the engine. In addition there was a large gauze screen across the sump above the pump level. The wheelbase and track were increased slightly to 11 ft. 9 in. and 4 ft. 9 in., respectively, and the wheel size increased to 895 by 135 mm. Driver comforts were not neglected and on the well-equipped dashboard a petrol-level gauge appeared, replacing the pre-war gauge actually on the tank. The fuel feed to the carburetter was by Weymann vacuum tank, from the main tank at the rear; this replaced the 20-h.p. model's pressure-feed system, using an engine-driven air pump. There was also an oil gauge with two needles, showing oil pressure by one needle and oil level in the sump by the other. As in the pre-war model all the instruments could be illuminated from the rear at night, and electric starting, previously an optional extra, was now standardised. In fact, the 25/50 was built to deserve the description accorded to it by a motoring journal as one of Britain's foremost cars. This 25/50 chassis (with but minor changes) was to be the basis of all Sizaire-Berwick cars up to the end of 1922. It would be difficult and pointless to attempt to describe all the types of bodies built on the chassis in these years, suffice it to say that there were many varieties of graceful bodies, both open and closed. Special bodies were also built and the very high standard of coachwork on Sizaire-Berwick cars was widely appreciated. It is interesting to note that with F. W. Berwick & Co. at Park Royal were such names as Park and Ward, now well-known coachbuilders (and, incidentally, owned by Rolls-Royce), and also Webb, later of the equally well-known Freestone and Webb. Although the Sizaire-Berwick was a car built primarily for luxurious travel, it had a chassis that was equally suitable as the basis for a more sporting vehicle. The pre-war 20-h.p. had gained a reputation as a powerful car with good handling characteristics. The following extract from The Autocar of November 1914 said of the car on the Hog's Back near Guildford : " . . . about two miles of the dead-straight portion of the "Back" was absolutely clear of man, beast or vehicle, and then—well, then its speed, its smoothness of running, and the comfort it afforded forced on us the conviction that if this was not the best car of its calibre we had ever driven, then it was hard to find a better. A purer delight than the handling of this Sizaire-Berwick at speed, no practised and experienced motorist, attuned to realise all the best points of a car, could possibly desire."The 4½-litre 25/50 inherited these characteristics, but it also had more power than its predecessor. The engine, with an R.A.C. rating of 22.4 h.p., developed 30 b.h.p. at 1,000 r.p.m. and over 65 b.h.p. at 2,200 r.p.m., hence there was considerable power in reserve. Though inefficient by modern standards, the large slow-revving engine combined smooth powerful running with exceptional long life.

The Sizaire-Berwick was an expensive car. In 1920 the chassis fitted with an open body would cost around £1,500, and with a closed body £1,700, placing it in an approximate price class with such cars as the Bentley, Delage and Hotchkiss. As examples of high-grade British cars it was not surprising that Sizaire-Berwicks were owned by many well-known people, not least among these being Royal owners and numerous Indian princes. The end of 1922 marked a turning point for Sizaire-Berwick cars. In actual fact both Sizaire and Berwick had already left the company; M. Sizaire in the next year producing the Sizaire Freres car, while F. W. Berwick was later concerned with the Windsor car and associated with British Salmson for many years. Still active and in good health, F. W. Berwick lives today in Devon. In October of 1922 a new range of Sizaire-Berwick cars was introduced with, to quote a contemporary report, "entirely new chassis designed by Sir Herbert Austin." Two Austin directors joined the Sizaire-Berwick board, and the cars were now sold through Austin agents. The three new models were known as the 13/26, 23/46, and 26/52, but, in view of its success, the 25/50 was continued unchanged. The new Sizaire-Berwick cars were, however, merely built on Austin chassis; the 13/26 using the Austin Twelve chassis, the 23/46 using the Austin Twenty chassis, both these Austin cars having been introduced the year before. The 26/52 used a chassis with a 3-litre six-cylinder engine (81.5 by 102 mm.) rated at 25.3 h.p., and fitted with a three-speed gearbox. This chassis was also certainly of Austin origin, but had no counterpart in the actual Austin range, who apparently did not make a six-cylinder car between 1913 and 1927. For this reason the 26/52 has a rather mysterious background. An approach to the Austin Motor Company in this connection met with little interest, unfortunately, and did not clarify the matter. However worthy in their own class, the Austin chassis fitted with coachbuilt body and a Sizaire-Berwick radiator did not make a Sizaire-Berwick car, a fact which the motoring public quickly appreciated. In any case the 13/26 must have been a very dull car, for it was grossly underpowered, and the 23/46 was a very far cry from the 25/50. At the 1923 Olympia Show only three Sizaire-Berwick models were shown, the 26/52 having been dropped. During 1923 the 25/50 had sold in standard open touring form for £1,225, the Bentley costing the same and the 30/98 Vauxhall £5 less. However, all was far from well in 1924, and at the end of the year all the Sizaire-Berwick models, including the 25/50, were dropped and plans made for one new car. The 1925 model, called the 15-h.p. Sizaire-Berwick but actually rated at 13.9 h.p., had an engine 76 by 110 mm. and a three-speed gearbox. It sold at between £695 and £835 according to the body, but it seems unlikely that very many were ever sold, and no report or road test appears to exist. So during 1925 the Sizaire-Berwick story ended.

Today, thanks to a few vintage enthusiasts, there are still some very fine Sizaire-Berwick cars in existence. Mr. J. G. Hutt has a 1914 20-h.p. model, which he has restored to its present immaculate condition, while Mr. W. A. Matthew is soon to start restoring an even earlier 20-h.p. built in 1913. His is certainly an unusual find for he traced the car to a bonded whisky warehouse, where it had been since 1922, having undergone a very full overhaul shortly before disappearing for its 35-year rest. M. Lefranc, in France, has a 1916 20-h.p. model, which is apparently in perfect condition. In the United States there is a fine 1919 25/50 tourer in the possession of Mr. H. L. Cook, a keen member of the V.M.C.C.A., and in Australia a 1922 25/50 belonging to Mr. H. Batten, besides another Sizaire-Berwick of doubtful vintage. In Britain again there is an excellent 25/50 torpedo and a saloon, which is at present undergoing restoration after mutilation into a station-wagon. Both these cars are 1923 models. As far as is known, none of the Austin-based cars have survived.

Having brought the story up-to-date, it would be interesting to have the views of a present-day owner of a Sizaire-Berwick, and no one is better able to do this than David Scott-Moncrieff, until recently the owner of a 25/50, to whom I am indebted for the following impressions: "If I were shown a Sizaire-Berwick 25/50 for the first time I would, almost certainly, imagine it to be a four-cylinder prototype built, but never put into production, by the Rolls-Royce Company. So much is so very similar in design that it seems to confirm definitely the oft-repeated story that two of the best Rolls-Royce draughtsmen left to join F. W. Berwick. (I have found no grounds for this story, but it does appear likely that some draughtsmen left Sizaire-Berwick after the war to work for Rolls-Royce -- G. B.)

"My own 25/50, not to be confused with the later model, a much inferior job, built up largely of Austin parts, had a performance approximately equal to an average Silver Ghost of the same year, 1923. This is particularly creditable when you consider the Rolls has a cubic capacity of nearly three litres more than the Sizaire-Berwick. Funnily enough, in spite of the outward similarity, it doesn't really feel like a Rolls to drive. It's difficult to define exactly what it does feel like, possibly a Napier of its own era is about as near as I can get.

"The great charm of the 25/50 Sizaire-Berwick lies, like so many other luxury cars of its day and age, in its slow-turning engine pulling a very high gear. This is particularly accentuated by the incredible smoothness of the 4½-litre Sizaire power unit. I don't recall any other engine of four cylinders quite so silken smooth, although, if it was modified to run more efficiently, much of this smoothness might well disappear.

"To my mind the three great delights of this car are its beautiful finish in every detail, its wonderfully effortless cruising speed at forty-five miles an hour and the marine-engine tick-over of 200 r.p.m."

Finally, I should like to thank the many enthusiasts who have written to me concerning the Sizaire-Berwick, and also Motor Sport for printing my initial appeal for information. Today, the Sizaire-Berwick is among the rarest of vintage names, and if this brief history has given a clearer picture of this fine car it will have served its purpose.