No. 12: The H.E.
During the first week-end in January I fulfilled a long-standing invitation by journeying down to the peaceful isolation of a charming village in Somerset to interview Mr. K. O. Sully, son of the late Roland J. Sully, who was responsible for the H.E. car. R. J. Sully entered the motor trade in the early years, having one of the first motor-cab businesses in Wales, circa 1906.
The Herbert Engineering Company, in Wolsey Road, Caversham, near Reading, had, during the 1914-18 war, been repairing crashed Clerget and Le Rhone rotary aero-engines. When hostilities ceased, Herbert Merton, who ran the company, financed by his mother, had to find other work. Mr. Sully had designed a car in 1919 and this Herbert Engineering agreed to build.
This was a side-valve 2-litre 14/20, which was announced early in 1920. The 75 x 120 mm., 2,120-c.c., detachable-head engine developed 35 b.h.p., had a three-bearing crankshaft, ignition by a magneto above the dynamo on the off side and driven by chain, splash lubrication from pump-filled troughs, and an ingenious oil-pressure indicator consisting of a button on the dash actuated by Bowden cable from the sump plunger, to obviate taking oil up to the dashboard. A steering column adjustable for rake and a gearbox in which the constant-mesh wheels were at the back, so that no gears turned when the car was stationary, and the task of the starter was thus made easier, were other unusual features of the H.E. The clutch was a multiple disc of alternate steel and east-iron plates, rather as on a Bugatti, and an overhead-worm final drive was used, while 3/4-elliptic back springs featured in the specification.
The first H.E. was an aluminium-bonnet, tumble-sided tourer, registered DP 3173. In 1921 a special two-seater (DP 3524), chassis number 1000, was used by Sully for competition work. It gradually evolved, first with wire instead of artillery wheels, then with a long tail for Brooklands, and then the tail was made deeper by fitting an undershield extending to its tip, while wind-cleaving tips were fitted to the front dumb-irons, The engine was No. 197 and the weight 2,108 lb. In September 1921 Sully used this car to establish Class C records at Brooklands, including the flying 1/2-mile at 87.63 m.p.h., for which his son still holds the B.A.R.C. certificate signed by Lindsay Lloyd.
Reverting to the production H.E.s, the 1921 catalogue shows a tubby two-seater and several views of a chassis. The chassis was listed at £720, the two-seater at £910, the tourer at £955. The next step was the introduction of the 14/40 model, which adopted the slogan ” tHE Car of Character.” Power output was quoted as 40 b.h.p. at 2,900 r.p.m. and the gear-ratios were 4.2, 6.36, 9.35 and 15.4 to 1. A sports chassis cost £550, an improved two-seater £700, and a very striking fixed-head coupé with semi-oval windows £850, one of these coupes being sold in Reading. These cars had the novel feature of a scuttle which hinged up like the bonnet, to give access to a tool-well on the near side, the back of the instrument panel on the off side. The 14/20 model was continued, the chassis reduced in price to £450, a rather Edwardian-looking two-seater being offered for £600, a tourer for £650, and a two-door all-weather for £750. Wheelbase and track were 9 ft. 6 in. and 4 ft. 2 in., respectively, and tyre size was now 815 X 105 mm. The 14/40 was often fitted with striking three seater “dutch-clog” sporting bodies which contrasted strangely with such Edwardian features of prominent 3/4-elliptic back springs and a slotted petrol tank, as on a Daimler.
With these cars the Company began to thrive and it was soon turning out fourteen 14/40s a week. Up to 1925 a 24-hour shift was operated with some 500 employees and, in all, several thousand H.E.s were sold. The aim was a high-quality car with sufficient performance to be able to hold its own in hill-climbs and trials. Engines, gearboxes and chassis frames were made at Caversham, where they made their own castings. Light alloys were used extensively. notably for the integral dashboard, and the chassis frames were of 5 per cent, carbon steel. K.E. 965 was used for valves, K.E. 805 steel for the axles. Bodies were sub-contracted to firms in London and Cardiff, and in later years Weymann flexible fabric bodies were popular.
Mr. K. O. Sully recalls Jack Brooks, the foreman, Vic Curtis, the running shop foreman, who later went to Phillips and Powis at Woodley, and Bill Brooks, who drove at Brooklands because Roland Sully’s wife – who, happily, is still alive – disliked her husband going motor racing. Brooks gained a second and a third at the 1921 Autumn Meeting, lapping at 83 m.p.h.
Unfortunately, in spite of the high quality of the H.E., the Company did not prosper financially, probably because Mr. Merton had been too generous in the interpretation of the guarantee. Just before the 1924 Motor Show the Company was forced to close down, having produced very few cars that year. However, it proved possible to keep the key personnel engaged on repairs and servicing, and the Company was reformed in 1925, a five-year guarantee being offered as an incentive to purchase an H.E.
The car was continued much as before, hut the engine size was reduced to 72.5 x 120 mm. (1,982 c.c.) to bring it within the 2-litre class, and it was now known as the 14/50. Showrooms were taken in Berkeley Street and the touring three-seater was offered at £595, a sports three-seater at £720, a four-seater for £620.
Late in 1923 H.E. had introduced an ingenious system of front-wheel brakes with 2-to-1 helical-gear reduction between cable and cam-spindle and full compensation. Indeed, the new 2-litre car had been evolved before the Company temporarily closed down, a new block, an aluminium head without the earlier valve caps, a single passage between head and block to obviate water passages through the gasket, a more compact clutch, and a spiral-bevel axle which replaced the earlier worm-drive axle, being introduced. Coil or magneto ignition was optional, the magneto being mounted vertically above the dynamo and driven by the skew gears intended to drive a distributor – this must have imposed a considerable strain on these gears and soon coil ignition was standardised. Incidentally, an earlier idea had been dual ignition, using twin distributors mounted as a vee behind the dynamo, twin coils, and two plugs per cylinder, which was worth an extra 8 b.h.p.
Confident that they had a good car, H.E. opened up again, producing three chassis a week by the summer of 1925. They claimed 47 b.h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m. for the new engine and introduced some handsome new bodywork for the 1926 season, including a four-seater with cycle-type wings, a two-seater, a two-door saloon and a four-door saloon, the four-seater being priced at £695.
On the first 2-litre in 1925 (DP 6335) the 1/2-elliptic front springs were replaced by 1/4-elliptics shackled at the rear and clipped to the axle, which was located by channel-section members pivoted from the front dumb-irons, these forming a rigid substitute for the missing half of the 1/2-elliptic spring. The idea was to cope with brake torque but it was not proceeded with on the 2-litre cars.
In 1924 it was decided to build two racing H.E.s, a short-chassis sprint car and a narrow long-wheelbase single-seater for Brooklands. A very advanced engine was designed for these, which may well have hastened the downfall of the Company at the end of the year. This was a 16-valve engine with pent-roof heads as on a Rudge Ulster motorcycle, which was put into a very stark two-seater (XN 9429). Try as they might, Terrys could not get the very short valve springs to stand up and the idea had to he abandoned, the narrow long-wheelbase chassis being fitted with a normal 2-litre engine and a two-seater body and sold. But Merton did appear at the Track with the shortchassis 16-valve two-seater, as recounted on page 110 of “The History of Brooklands Motor Course,” by W. Boddy.
In 1928 the four-cylinder model, which was in competition with the 14/40 Delage and a 14/40 Sunbeam, WAS diaearded in favour of a striking new H.E. Six, but Sully remained faithful to side valves, inclining them at 12 deg. from the vertical. The prototype, chassis No. 6001, was a tourer (DP 8219). and another (DP 9667) competed in the 1928 Essex M.C. Six-Hour Sports-Car Race at Brooklands, driven by Clease and Keeling, but retired with a broken timing chain. Known as the 16/55, this new car had a 65 x 115 mm. (2,290 c.c.) engine developing 55 b.h.p. at 3,800 r.p.m., at which r.p.m. Sully’s own saloon would do 72 m.p.h. in third gear. The engine was very neat, with a dummy valve cover above the head which enclosed the plugs and h.t. leads, and the crankshaft ran in four bearings, while an impeller assisted cooling. Suspension was 1/2-elliptic all round, the gear ratios were 4.7, 6.96, 10.26 and 16.9 to 1, and the wheelbase was 10 ft. 6 in. Zephyr pistons were sometimes used and there was vacuum-servo assisted braking. The chassis, priced at £590, was still guaranteed for five years, and a four-door fabric saloon was listed at £850, a fine tourer, complete with air cushions and rev. counter, at £750.
The H.E. Six proved a good car, even if the tourer could scarcely exceed 65 m.p.h., and many special bodies were supplied on this chassis. Sully’s brother had a tourer with cycle-type wings and steps in place of running-boards. and a keen sportsman living in Scotland had a tourer (KO 8511) with a close-coupled two-door open body with vast boxes for his guns and gear behind the fixed cycle-type front wings, which were braced across the car, no doubt with rough-going in mind.
For 1930 Whatmough redesigned the cylinder head and, with S.U. carburetters, the Six became known as the 16/60. Some good ide.as were introduced at this period, such as a single steering damper consisting of brake lining clamped between sliding steel strips, connected by cables to the steering arms, so that shimmy was killed at birth, without the damping action having to go via the steering joints. Another of Sully’s ideas was to mount the headlamp bar on Silentbloc bushes so that the lamps could be dipped, controlling the degree of inclination by a lever inside the car, connected by Bowden cable, this lever having a ratchet like a handbrake so that the lamps could be held in any position the driver fancied. Yet another ingenious feature of the six-cylinder H.E. was a pivoted brake pedal pad so that, by slightly tilting the pad as he applied the brakes, the driver operated the vacuum-servo control valve to an increasing degree, thus obtaining progressive servo assistance; a lever behind the pad and forming part of it was coupled to the control valve by Bowden cable.
With the introduction of the Six the Company bought complete Moss back axles and frames from Rubery Owen. Some 64 Sixes were sold. H.E.s’ last fling, before financial difficulties this time really engulfed this still-private concern, was a small 12-h.p. six-cylinder car, the 12/35, of 56 x 96 mm. (1,419 c.c.), with 1/4-elliptic rear springs and the 1/4-elliptic front springs with slave extensions as tried out on a 2-litre in 1925. Twelve of these were built and George Eyston persuaded Sully to supercharge one of them with a Cozette compressor; this was a stylish two-door fabric saloon with dummy hood-irons. In 1931 the bore was increased by 4 mm. to give a capacity of 1,622 c.c., but to no avail.
The 16/55 and 16/60 H.E. Six had “I” section con.-rods of forged dural and a destruction test made on these involved twisting them through 360 deg. with a crowbar – if they didn’t shear the material was regarded as sound! Engines were, of course, hand assembled and tested extensively – con.-rods were assembled so that they just, but only just, fell from the horizontal under their own weight.
The Six had an early fault. The king-pins swivelled on taper roller-bearings, the top cap of which was held by three 5/16-in. B.S.F. studs, which used to fracture, with alarming possibilities. The cure was to replace them with 3/8-in. B.S.F. studs. Another problem was that, the car used to get tired on a long run and mysterious ridges appeared on the tappets. This was traced to the valves “growing.” When 4 thou. was taken off the valve stems both troubles disappeared.
As I sat before a blazing log fire listening to the reminiscences of Mr. Sully, who went to help his father in the Caversham factory on leaving school, I was transported back to an age when pride was taken in craftsmanship and cars were largely hand made – and when, alas, making a sound chassis did not necessarily spell financial survival. The H.E. went the way of many other good cars in the slump a the nineteen-thirties – the old works is now a bedding factory – but if anyone is rebuilding one Mr. Sully has instruction hooks, catalogues and much valuable data, and he will be delighted to assist. In recent years he has been responsible for development work on the Bristol car and lives with his family in the country, obtaining excellent economy motoring from a Renault 750.
A reader who hopes to restore a bodily-sound but mechanically sad 1929 Triumph Super Seven requires spares, a handbook or “just sound advice.” Another reader who is restoring a 1920 E-type 30/98 Vauxhall Grosvenor two-seater would like to receive first-hand knowledge of this fine car and says he will return any literature sent, by registered post. Finally, does anyone know where a 1-1/2-litre supercharged Squire can be seen by a reader keen to drive one? Letters can be forwarded.