Tax Dodge!

For most people with recollections of post-war cars, mention of the name Zephyr invokes memories of that 4.3-litre V12 Lincoln with which the versatile Ford Motor Company followed up its ability to offer an inexpensive V8.

Less well known than its Ford-built namesake, however, was another Zephyr, a car planned before the Kaiser’s War and introduced just after the 1918 Armistice.

James, Talbot and Davidson had, until then, been known for their lightweight Zephyr pistons. During the war this business had prospered and the partners, like so many others, decided that car manufacturing would be a useful addition to their operations. Davidson designed the 11.9hp machine, deciding to incorporate some of his wide experience of the American market into it.

When it surfaced in the drawings stage at the end of 1919, it contrived by a happy coincidence to make good use of the new RAC horsepower ratings introduced for taatation purposes in 1921; its de saxe four-cylinder engine had a bore of 69mm, but instead of having to make do with a swept-volume of 1500cc or under the Zephyr had a capacity of 1944cc by reason of its piston-stroke of 130mm. This meant that customers would have a two-litre car vvhile paying an annual tax of only £12.

Moreover, the engine was of overhead-valve type, using push-rods and long-rockers actuated by a camshaft driven by a silent chain. These overhead valves were enclosed by an aluminium cover, the push-rods were within the cylinder-casting, and the valve-gear was lubricated from the engine oil-pump. A forged crankshaft with integral balanceweights ran in two bearings of a novel kind, being half white-metal lined, half roller-races. A chain-driven magneto, thermo-syphon cooling aided by a fan and, naturally, Zephyr pistons (which had enhanced their reputation during the war) figured in the specification.

The big-ends were trough-lubricated and, likewise common at the time, the Zenith carburettor was gravity-fed from a scuttle petrol-tank. A Ferodo-lined cone clutch, a unit four-speed gearbox with central lever, torque-drive to a worm back axle of semi-floating type, and Michelin disc wheels shod with 760 x 90 tyres rounded off the Zephyr’s make-up in 1919, when it was planned to sell the chassis (complete with electrics and a speedometer) for £350, a two-seater for £420 and a four-seater for £450. Those who preferred Sankey disc-wheels could have them for no price increase.

Davidson had contrived to use a notably narrow vee-radiator, which gave the Zephyr an appealing appearance, in conjunction with a narrow track of 4ft, and the wheelbase of 9ft 6in allowed for four-seater bodywork. It all sounded nicely promising for a piston company about to embark on car manufacture, especially when a stand was taken at that year’s London Motor Show. Here a rather sporting-looking four-seater Zephyr was shown in ship’s grey with a polished aluminium bonnet — a smart outfit which no doubt attracted those who judged cars on outward appearance rather than engineering soundness, and there were many who did.

The salesmen had been told to explain the fact that this four-seater had but one door by saying this was to prevent rattles! Having gained entry, rear-seat passengers took to a gangway between the front seats. These same salesmen no doubt emphasised that parts requiring service adjustments were easily accessible, that valve-gear parts were “absolutely interchangeable”, and that the engine incorporated those Zephyr featherweight pistons. Incidentally, the crankshaft now had three bearings, the con-rods were of H-section, and the track was now quoted as 4ft 2in.

The cars were to be made at the Waveney works in Freemantle Road, Lowestoft, by James, Talbot and Davidson (1916) Ltd. One very unusual aspect was that the front axle consisted of an angle-section girder, to which the stub-axle pivots were rivetted. The steering embraced a transverse drag-link, and rear suspension was by quite long cantilever springs with supplementary spiral springs at their forward ends — such was design versatility in those times. . .

A chassis and that four-seater had been prepared for the 1919 Show but it was not until well into 1920 that a car was ready for testing. By then it had become clear that the crankshaft ran in only two bearings, a roller-bearing at the front and a plain one at the back, that a trough was employed to oil the valve rockers, and that the gear-ratios were 14.4, 8.6 and 4:1. The long-stroke engine was claimed to be a good hill-climber, while much pride was taken in the construction of the gearbox, with its large ball-bearings and oil lubrication, surplus oil running down the torque-tube to keep the levels in the back axle and differential correct. The axle was of overhead-worm type, and axle and torque-tube were detachable from the gearbox by undoing three nuts — an ominous sign?

Even when a Zephyr was available for testing, it was only a works hack which had been running for a considerable time. It was found to have rather lively back springing unless a full complement of passengers was on board, and rather “quick” steering, although irreversible and free from backlash. The oil-lubricated cone clutch was smooth, the gearchange easy, and the gears and the valve-gear quiet. The engine pulled the 4:1 top gear from below 5 mph and accelerated to 40 without a trace of pinking or flat-spots; its rear-wheel brakes stopped the Zephyr in just over 60 yards from 40 mph.

Several chassis were reported to be under construction in the summer of 1920, and deliveries were expected by the end of July, the chassis price having by this time been put up to £400, that of the two-seater to £470, the four-seater to £500. However, something must have gone badly wrong, because that was the last ever heard of the car! At Olympia in 1920 the Zebre and Zeillier were there, but there was no sign of the Zephyr. WB