The Calthorpe

For some unaccountable reason I am apt to think of Calcott, Calthorpe, Clufey and Clyno as the four "Cs" of the vintage light-car era I have had some association with three of them. Of the foursome, the Calthorpe was the most sporting and racing-oriented make; the Clyno was covered in May's MOTOR SPORT. There were others of course, the Crouch for instance, but sufficient for the present. . . The Calcott and Cluley were Coventry-built, the Clyno was an inhabitant of Wolverhampton, but the Calthorpe hailed from Birmingham. It became a popular sporting light-car of the 1920s but was well-established before the First World War.

It began with bicycles, the way of so many firms that later turned to cars, but in this case G W Hands left it until 1904 to make his move. He then began with a modest little shaft-drive 10hp four-cylinder car but soon branched out into larger models: first the 12/14hp Calthorpe, then the well-liked 16/20hp, which was introduced in 1907. That same year there was a move into the big car market, with the 28/40hp Calthorpe, but it did not survive for long. The company was convinced that its future lay with the lighter motorcars, which proved to be a correct decision, especially when the "New Motoring" movement grew after the end of WW1, if not immediately to "Motoring for the Millions" as had been predicted.

The Calthorpe Motor Company Ltd must have had sound backers and successful sales because, although we think of Napier and Wolseley as the British makes that represented Great Britain in the early motor races, joined later by Louis Coatalen's Sunbeams, Calthorpe was there in the voiturette division by 1909, four years before Coatalen came up with his winning Coupe de LAuto racing cars, and two years before Sunbeam and Vauxhall raced in France. At the time of this debut in competition work Mr Hands and his associates were well established, making the 10hp, 12/14 and 16/20hp models at Cherrywood Road, Bordesley Green, in Birmingham, and supplying the 102 x 130mm 25.8hp car to those who asked for it, the respective chassis prices coming out at £175, £290, £285 and £410. From which we can conclude that of these well made, conventional chassis with en bloc engines, multi-plate clutches, shaft-drive, three-speed transmission and magneto ignition, the 16/20, rated by the taxation gentlemen as a 21.4hp job, was the most profitable.

The time had come, then, to prove the Calthorpe's merits in motor-racing. Hands had already driven one of his cars in the 1908 Irish Reliability Trials. A racing team was soon ready for the ''Four Inch" TT in the Isle of Man. This was a race for near-standard touring-cars with engines restricted to a cylinder-bore of not more than 4in, The Calthorpe drivers were Leslie Porter and Harry Robinson. The cars had 2.8-litre Alpha engines and four-speed gearboxes with a direct third gear of 3.75:1, no doubt useful on the hilly course. It was not a bad start; after many of the faster cars had retired, Porter finished in fourth place, behind the winning Hutton and two Darracqs, at 47mph, a drive which had fasted for nearly 7 1/4 hours - which was 61min 14sec longer than the winners time (50 1/4mph). Robinson had come so fast down Bray Hill that his Calthorpe had overturned; he and his mechanic luckily had many spectators willing to lift the car off them.

More ambitious was the entry of three Calthorpes for the 1909 Coupe des Volturettes race, with smaller Alpha engines of 1775cc. This was to get within the bore restriction imposed by the rules, the standard side-valve engine's 75mm bore being reduced to 66mm; to maintain power the 120mm stroke was extended by 10mm. The three-speed gearboxes were retained and use made of Rudge Whitworth detachable wire wheels. The drivers were Porter, Fred Burgess and Wiedeman. On lap one Wiedennan went out but the other Calthorpes ran so consistently that, having finished in eighth and ninth places, beating only the Demeester, they won the Regularity Cup. They were the only British runners, and the makers advertised them as standard 12/14 models, with a slightly smaller engine than the £230 catalogue car, beaten only by "powerful, specially-built racing machines". Good for Britain and Birmingham .

In 1910 Calthorpe had another stab at this prestigious French race, now using long-stroke 65 x 170mm engines of their own make, whether because they needed the 30bhp at 3000rpm thus provided, against the 22bhp of the Alpha engines in race form, or because of production factors, I confess I do not know. The design was still of a standard kind but the capacity was now 2250cc with a 2.6-1 axle-ratio giving a claimed 14mph increase in speed over the 1909 racers. The typical circular radiator a sort of Calthorpe radiator topped by a sort of tower for the filler orifice had gone, vee radiators now marking the racing jobs, to be driven by Burgess, Garfield and Lewis. Alas, Calthorpe's bid for patriotic publicity failed dismally. Burgess had an eliminating skid, the sump-plug departed from Garfield's car, and a stone cracked the crankcase of Lewis's, so that both their engines seized.

The 1910 set-back did not, however deter an entry for the 1911 Coupe des Vatures Legere at Boulogne. This time the standard 13.9hp engine was bored-out to 79.5x150mm, which made the capacity 2848cc, the top speed being declared. With astonishing honesty, as 79mph. The three cars were to be driven by Burgess, Russell Fletcher and Robinson. As the race got going Burgess was actually seen to be second to Boillot's Peugeot, resulting in much joy in British camps. But it was not to last. The leading Calthorpe dropped back, Robinson (could he have been the Cambridge Calthorpe agent?) Poured water into his petrol tank in error, Burgess was seventh, whereas the Sunbeam and Vauxhall, on their Continental debut, retired. And a Calthorpe then scored a third place in the hillclimb that was run in conjunction with the race...

For the 1913 race, although the cars were supposed to be of standard type, Calthorpe had extracted 68bhp at 3000 from their engines, but this was some 12bhp less than claimed for the Sunbeam and Vauxhall entries. Burgess led the Birmingham team, now backed up by Hornsted and Garcot. This was the year in which Coatalen gained great fame when his Sunbeams finished 1-2-3 in the voiturette race which was combined. With the French GP proper, and 3-4-5 in the Grand Prix, behind Boillet's victorious Peugeot and an even bigger FIAT.

But for the Calthorpes, disaster, in what was a two-day 956-mile struggle. Burgess lasted for only one lap, delayed by a faulty steering-box, while the layshaft broke in Homsted's gearbox after only five laps. But Garcot was running on the second day, until his engine expired. Entries were put in for the 1912 GP de France, but no Calthorpes appeared. . .

The patriotic British Company was anxious to run in the 1913 TT but complained that the bore/stroke rule made its production engines ineligible and an SMM&T ban washed the race out, anyway. Meanwhile, there was compensation in the appearance at Brooklands of Hands's 1 .8-litre car and his entry of Burgess with a slightly longer-stroke Calthorpe in pursuit of Class-B records, which became a duel with Tuck's Humber, the Calthorpe doing a flying mile at 75.66mph in 1912. On the production front it was decided to introduce a car smaller than the 12/15hp Calthorpe, in anticipation of growth in the small-car field. The result was the 9.5hp 65 x 95mm (1094cc) Calthorpe Minor, recognised as a charming little car. Its impact was diminished by the outbreak of war, but in 1916 this new four-cylinder model was being offered, fully equipped, for £194 5/-, and a four-seater and impressive sporting version were also available. It had the Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch which was to feature in subsequent Calthorpe cars, and was beautifully made.

Post-war, the Minor was developed into the notable Calthorpe Sporting Four with polished aluminium two and four-seater bodywork, Calthorpe being linked to the Mulliner coachwork firm whose premises were next door, and which it eventually took over. Other models were made, but the 1260cc Sporting Calthorpes were what put the make on the post-Armistice map. Meanwhile, George Hands had left the Company to run the Palace Hotel in Torquay.

As the owner of a 1922 8hp Talbot-Darracq I have been delighted to see this described as one of the best small cars of its time, along with the 8/18hp Humber, and about the fastest, with a top speed of nearly 60mph, equalled perhaps by the Gwynne 8. But I have to admit that, although with a larger engine, the Calthorpe Sporting Four was probably just as quick... (The 16-valve Bugatti, engine slightly larger again and costing £750 for the chassis in 1919, was in a different category.)

These Sporting Four Calthorpes had a bulbous tail with a small shelf below it in two seater form, and a less obvious "bustle" as a four-seater, with disc wheels. Zephyr pistons enhanced the performance. Shopping for such a car it would have been hard to resist.

The factory had not recovered from wartime production until late in 1918, but by the following year these exciting new models were available, Lady Mary Grosvenor becoming one of the first owners, of a sports two-seater, and demobbed Army, Air Force and Naval Officers were keen customers for these polished aluminium Calthorpes, cars to enjoy and be seen in. Ordinary models were also featured, and at the first postArmistice Olympia Show in 1919 a chassis, twoand four-seaters, a smart Mulliner coupe and a four-seater Sporting Four were shown. Improvements were soon made, such as stronger front and back axles and steering, etc. The specification embraced a balanced two-bearing crankshaft, pressure lubrication, a three-speed ball-bearing gearbox, r h gear and brake levers, half-elliptic springs, an 8ft 3in wheelbase, 710 x 85 tyres on Michelin disc wheels and Brolt lighting and starting. Chain drives turned a magneto on one side, the camshaft on the other side of the L-head engine. Gear ratios were 14.3, 7.5 and 4.3:1. A small, neat radiator was used.

By 1921 more body space had been provided and prices were: two-seater £472 10/-, four-seater £498 15/-, coupe £577 10/-, in keeping with a luxury light-car. A saloon was also available. Rich red upholstery, black mudguards and the shining bodywork made these cars stand out: the coupe was in chocolate, lined with black, the saloon primrose with black top. This 10hp model remained the only type made until 1923. A Service Depot was openend by Mann Egerton, the sole London Calthorpe agents, at Kilburn, managed by F W Lee, and many prominent people ordered these cars, including Capt Brittain and Percy Bradley (who later became Clerk of the Course at Brooklands), and The Light Car & Cyclecar had a Sporting Four as a staff-car. The Calthorpe MD was Mr J P Hillhouse. The pre-war Brooklands appearances were continued, with a special single-seater designed by C Pole Wedmore, which became known as the "Ghost Car" on account of its abnormally slim body. It continued to win races after it had been sold to Axel Whale of "Whale For Motors", the Camden Town Calthorpe agent (see MOTOR SPORT, November 1981), Capt Woolf Barnato, long before he bought Bentley Motors, raced a Dorsey-Calthorpe and a yellow Calthorpe, and the make was well represented in speed trials and hillclimbs by such drivers as S H Newsome, Capt Brittain, R Sahl, G Bird, C Dorman etc.

By 1923 the price of the two-seater 10/15hp model was down to £240, and the non-sports four-seater cost £310. But competition from Morris, Clyno and Austin was hard to meet. Mr Hands had given up hotel management, and after making his Hands light car had returned to Calthorpe in September 1924, to try to instill some new life there. Hugh Rose, who had been designer at Humber, Hillman, Sunbeam, Guy, Belsize Crossley and later designed the ingenious Sunbeam 'bus engine and then joined Lea Francis, produced a larger car, feeling that it was the 12hp market they must aim for. (I recently met Rose's son, who flew Spitfires during the war and was associated with the ELB racing car). He went ahead in 1923 with an entirely new 12/20hp Calthorpe. It was to be made alongside the older model (which in standard form had gear ratios of 18, 11.6, 7.6 and 4.8:1, a new four-speed gearbox and 36 x 3" tyres), as a crowded stand, decorated with red rambler roses, at the Olympus Show, confirmed.

The new 12/20hp Calthorpe had a side valve 69 x 100mm (1496cc) engine and embodied some advanced features, such as inclined valves to give a good combustion chamber shape, all components positively-driven, including the speedometer, and the dynamo from the nose of the crankshaft. There was a new barrel-cased four-speed gearbox in unit with the engine, the internals of which were easily withdrawn, effective crankcase breathing, magneto and water pump set transversely at the front of the engine, a larger radiator but retaining the "C" within a circular blue badge, underslung back springs and 12in rear side-by-side two-shoe brakes. It had an open prop-shaft and 760 x 90 Goodyear artillery instead of disc wheels.

As I described some time ago, originally an ingenious non-detachable head with cooling water surrounding the valve caps and plugs was devised, together with a new single-plate clutch. The former was apparently too complicated for production and was replaced with a normal detachable head, and after the pegs of the new clutch started to bind and cause clutch slip, cutting short The Autocar's road-test, it was replaced by the former smooth, reliable and very durable (my experience) Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch. The engine of the new 12/20hp car developed 28bhp, and in two-door 18 3/4cwt saloon form top speed was about 52mph — assuming it could reach 3000rpm and 0-30mph took 11.5sec. At the 1924 Show, a two-seater cost £285, a deluxe tourer £350, and a coupe £395. The 10/20 which had been turned out at from 50 to 70 a week, 50 as four-seaters in 1921, was continued. The new 12/20 was a quality car — as Jenks remarked. when working on mine — compared to less expensive small cars. It had a very nice gearchange, that excellent clutch and very good brakes after the FWB axle was fitted, but the r h gear lever was apt to bind if the chassis flexed (which had been avoided on the 10hp car). But my 1924 Birmingham registered Mulliner two-seater is terribly pedestrian up even mild gradients, for some unaccountable reason. Calthorpe's made a great attempt to publicise this model at the 1924 Show, with exhibits from a polished chassis to a £395 three-door Cabriolet, as well as showing the older "Red Rambler" 10/15 £225 tourer.

However, times and prices were against them, and although the make lingered on for quite a number of years, share deals undermined the company's finances and the end loomed ever nearer. A popular car in its better days, production was up to 42 a week in 1919. But competition from less expensive cars was too much, and the fact that Hands had brought with him his 1991cc Light-Six single-overhead camshaft Hands, which it was hoped to sell for £385 as a Calthorpe in 1925, probably represented a further damper on survival, remembering Lord Montagu's theory that many of the smaller firms were bankrupted by the introduction of similar six-cylinder ventures. I believe that part of factory was taken over by a paint manufacturer and may still exist. WB