Fragments on forgotten makes
No. 31—The Gordon
According to “Doyle,” the Gordon came into being in 1912. It may have gone into production in that year, but Mr. Gordon Armstrong, whose prodigy it was, assures me he made his first car in 1909. Having served an apprenticeship with Clark Chapman of Gateshead-on-Tyne, he was a qualified engineer brought up in the old school of hard-work-and-no-nonsense, and an idea he had for a variable belt drive somewhat akin to that used so successfully today on Daf cars, caused him to turn to car building.
This system of transmission was not proceeded with, and the early Gordon cyclecar had a 90º vee-twin J.A.P. motorcycle engine at the front, parallel with the frame, driving by chain to a Chater-Lea gearbox, another chain taking the drive to the back axle. The cars were built at the East Riding Engineering Works at Beverley in East Yorkshire, and they incorporated a unique method of unit construction, which probably pre-dated the combined chassis and body of the 11.1-h.p. Lagonda. The chassis and body of the Gordon was formed of steel tubing, and the only wood used was that of the floorboards.
At that revolutionary Motor Cycle Show at Olympia at the end of 1912, when the cyclecar boom broke out, the Gordon was to be seen on Stand No. 38. A rather angular little vehicle, it boasted three speeds and reverse, an 8-ft. wheelbase, and 700 x 80 tyres on wire wheels, and was available in 2-seater and 4-seater versions, priced at £135 and £160, respectively.
The Gordon made its first appearance in an A.C.U. trial early in 1913 and was, indeed, driven in many of the cyclecar trials of those days. Cass’s Motor Mart of Warren Street were the London agents, who obviously thought well of the cars, fitting them out with improved bodywork, etc., while Mr. L. Cass drove a Gordon in the leading competitions of the day.
At the beginning of 1913 The Cyclecar subjected a Gordon 2-seater to a severe test, by driving it 69 miles over snow-bound roads from Beverley to Leeds, a run the little vehicle accomplished “magnificently,” in spite of snowdrifts that sometimes brought it to rest. Incidentally, there were two toll-gates on this road in 1913 (cars: 9d.) and when the driver stopped to buy “a great black double-breasted oil-skin” coat, it cost him–12s. 6d.! The car had an ingenious differential, consisting of a clutch-drive to one of the back wheels, which slipped on corners, but which could be locked by means of a lever-operated dog clutch when extra grip was desirable. Although one would have expected this to have been just the job for negotiating snow, no reference is made to it in the report beyond mention of a “neat form of differential,” so maybe Mr. Armstrong, who had been out on the wolds a day or so before, had not yet introduced the locking device.
The gear-lever was located by a bolt which dropped into holes in a plate instead of by a gate; the testers remarked on the ease with which the gears could be engaged but Mr. Betts, in the A.C.U. Spring Trial in Surrey, was less fortunate, his gears sometimes jumping out ot mesh.
The chains on the Gordon were fairly high up, which offered them protection from water and road-grit. Conscientious efforts were made to ensure proper tension of the final-drive chain, as there was a jockey sprocket under the lower run of this chain and the rear 1/4-elliptic springs were arranged to slide out of the chassis to effect chain adjustment. The J.A.P. engine may have been somewhat difficult to start, as Mr. Cass rigged up his Gordon with a geared-up starting handle, which drove via bevels and thus came out at the side of the car.
Before the summer of t913 the front-engined Gordon had been abandoned in favour of a new model with the J.A.P. engine at the back, air being taken to the air-cooled cylinders through a dummy radiator and a trough beneath the hammock-type fabric seats. The aim was to sell this model for £100.
As many parts as possible were made in the factory, which employed perhaps 20 workers, but, naturally, engine, gearbox, and the round-fronted radiator were bought out. Mr. Armstrong made a point of entering for the 1914 R.A.C. and Scottish Small Cars Trials to publicise his products. In the latter Six Days’ event he made best time on five out of the eleven hills, second fastest time on three more, and averaged 53.98 m.p.g., which was 11 m.p.g ahead of his closest rival on an economy basis and 20 m.p.g. better than the average fuel consumption of the entire entry. One of the four finishers out of 13 starters, his car won a bronze medal.
It is interesting that this performance in a really tough-terrain event brought in 200 orders from Australia and 100 orders from New Zealand before war broke out and supplies faded away. With most of these—”I had more orders than Nuffield!”— unfulfilled, the East Riding Engineering Works went over to making munitions. Car. manufacture was never resumed, but about 100 Gordons had been built, almost all of them the rear-engined model. Incidentally, Herbert Briggs had been an apprentice; he is today a Director of the Armstrong Patents Co. Ltd.
A year or so after the war ended someone called at the factory in a Gordon and asked Mr. Armstrong whether he would like to drive it. He went about a mile up the road but that was enough. He came back, saying “We must have been b— heroes before the war.”
Nevertheless, last year he took steps to try and locate one of these cars. So far the only rumour is of one in Australia, but as it is reported to have dumb-irons, which never figured on the simple tubular frame of the Gordon, there is doubt as to its authenticity.
However, if anyone knows of a Gordon, or recalls these cyclecars, Mr. Armstrong, whom I interviewed a few days before he left on a visit to Cape Town, would like to hear from them.
After the Armistice, perhaps influenced by the poor springing of pre-war cars, he concentrated on shock-absorber manufacture, leading to the well-known Armstrong dampers of modern times. But he retains a practical interest in i.c. engineering—in his garage he has a 3-chamber rotary engine of his own design, using fuel injection, which he built himself, and which he started up for my edification!
His present car? A Vauxhall VX 4/90. — W. B.
Stuttgart Motor Museum’s 100,000th visitors
Visitors to the Daimler-Benz Museum in Stuttgart exceeded the 100,000 mark during 1964. Almost a third of the total–32,393–came from some 97 countries all over the world. Interest in the exhibition—opened in 1961 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the invention of the automobile by Gottleib Daimler and Karl Benz—is steadily increasing. The exhibits trace the progress of the car from Daimler’s early attempts to develop a lightweight, high-revving petrol engine from the heavy slow-turning coal gas engines of the 1880s to today’s highly sophisticated designs epitomised by the new Mercedes-Benz 6O0.
The Shuttleworth Museum now have a 1929 1-1/2-litre Alfa Romeo on loan from Lieutenant M. D. Comber, R.N. “This magnificently restored car (GU 9699) distinguished itself,” they say, “in many races during ihe 1929-31 period and was a direct ancester to the famous Alta Romeos which were winners of the Le Mans 24-hour races in 1931-33-44.”