Earlier this year some correspondence was published in “Vintage Postbag” about Hodgson cars. This led to the discovery that Mr. Harry Hodgson, their creator, is living at Hailsham. So one dreary day I drove down over the lorry-infested roads of East and West Sussex to interview him, in a car about as almost little-known in this country as the Hodgson itself, namely a Datsun. Consequently, it is possible to add a few more fragments to the story.
Prior to the First World War, Mr. Hodgson ran the Imperial Motor Company from Turtons Buildings in Leeds. Here he gave automobile engineering instruction and driving lessons to those seeking to obtain a footing in the now-prosperous Motor Industry. This was a very successful undertaking and it is rumoured that when a similar firm started up in Leeds it failed to draw pupils away from the Leeds Company and that its manager was eventually given a job in the Hodgson set-up. Mr. Hodgson still believes that it is ridiculous to put in charge of motor vehicles people who have no inkling of what happens when they start an engine or engage a clutch. He was concerned in 1914 with giving people a proper grounding in motor engineering and had to turn away would-be students, even at the then stiff fee of seven guineas-a-course.
That was his business activity but for sport Mr. Hodgson wanted to take part in motor racing. The Sandhurst Engineering Co. Ltd., of Stockport had contemplated making an interesting engine with a ball-bearing crankshaft. This project had come to nothing but sets of parts and castings were available and Mr. Hodgson had intended to use one of these engines for his first Hodgson racing car, had the war not intervened.
The war over, he returned to Leeds and in 1921 took part in the Scarborough Speed Trials, driving a sports Morris-Cowley, which he tells me would do 86 m.p.h. after he had worked on it. The idea of building a car based on the Sandhurst engine went overboard when Hodgson met Gustave Maclure, who had designed the now-famous side-valve 69 x 100 mm. 1½-litre Anzani engine. Hodgson was encouraged to tune up these engines, which were used in all his cars, in conjunction with a Meadows 4-speed gearbox, etc. The first competition appearance of a Hodgson was at the Staxton Hill-Climb of 1922. Although the shock-absorber settings are said to have been tampered with, third place was obtained. Many awards were obtained in speed trials, speed hill-climbs and sand races. M. B. Lax had a Hodgson which he entered as a private competitor, while Mr. Hodgson himself was a Trade entrant. The latter ran at the Garrowby hillclimb, and at Southport Martin Lax won two classes and Hodgson was second to a Marseal in the up-to-1,750 c.c. category. At Scarborough speed trials Hodgson won the 1½-litre and 2-litre classes from a Horstmann and Eddie Hall’s Brescia Bugatti; but Lax’s back axle seized. All those who purchased Hodgson racing cars, such as Martin Lax and L. Chappell of Leeds, Mr. Beardsell of Holmfirth and Count Telfener in Italy, had the benefit of Hodgson’s assistance when they entered for competitions.
It was at Southport, in the sand races, that the Hodgson excelled, Harry Hodgson later won all manner of awards there, from the silver spoons of those days to imposing trophies, including 36 firsts in open competition.
The Imperial Motor Co. had operated from Vicker Lane, Leeds, but after the war new premises had to be found and Hodgson cars were built first at Moortown, later in Whitehall Road, Leeds. It was a very modest factory, staffed by about four men, and the odd apprentice or two. The first car was a very staid-looking two-seater but subsequent versions were of sporting appearance, with aluminium bodies, Mr. Hodgson guaranteeing 70 m.p.h. with the side-valve Anzani engine. Bodies were farmed-out to a Bradford firm. Jonas Woodhead, the spring manufacturers, became interested in investing a considerable sum of money in the business, impressed by the racing successes of the Hodgson, but Harry Hodgson preferred to keep things under his own control.
One Hodgson was owned by a policeman, who appreciated its speed and insisted that all tuning was done by Hodgson in person. Others were sold to Frank Carr, F. E. Cox, to a nephew of Mr. Lax and to an owner in London, the racers being built for Lax, then living in Torquay but now resident in Cromer, and Beardsell. The total constructed numbered about eight. This was in two years, production models being built only in 1924 and 1925. The Super Sports and touring models were listed at £395, and a supercharged 12/50 racing car at £585.
Reverting to competitions, two Hodgsons were entered for the Boulogne Race Week in 1923, Hodgson returning to take part in the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb, in which he was third in the 1½-litre racing car class behind Mays (Bugatti) and Frazer-Nash (G.N.) in his 11.8 h.p. Hodgson.
In 1927 Hodgson patented a dual-quarter-elliptic suspension system and later he designed and built the British Eagle car, still using Anzani engines, of which five were completed before he abandoned specialist car manufacture. This did not mean the end of competition work, for Hodgson acquired an early “Brooklands”-model Riley 9, built a skimpy single-seater body for it, tuned it, and did so well at Southport that he won outright the splendid silver cup that was awarded to the winner of the 100-Mile Race, by finishing first in this event three times in succession; a previous winner was Birkin, with the D.F.P., in 1914. After this the Riley was very heavily handicapped but its fame was assured when it covered the Southport flying kilometre at 93.21 m.p.h., the highest speed attained by an unsupercharged 1,100-c.c. car, which won Hodgson another fine silver cup. It is nice to be able to record that all these cups are still in possession of the builder of the cars that won them.—W. B.