Fragments on forgotten makes, No. 65: the Marshall Arter

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The Marshall Arter was one of these light cars that sprang up optimistically bethre the First World War, when the small-car movement was emerging, but regrettably did not survive afterwards. Incidentally, the make, like the Frazer Nash, had no hyphen in its name, we are assured, which did not prevent its use in contemporary press reports and more recent descriptions! We were able to obtain some details of this rare make from Col. de Cordova just before his recent death, at the age of 94.

The venture started when Mr. De Cordova, who had been born in Jamaica and educated at Uppingham and had then studied engineering at London University, was articled to a consulting engineer called Ackermann, who had premises in Victoria Street, London. Here De Cordova met a former employee of Ackermann’s, a Mr. Marshall Arter, who had called in. This gentleman was anxious to build and manufacture a light car, if possible to sell for less than £100. Mr de Cordova joined Mr. Arter and his brother, Erland Arter and a Company was formed, with a works in Beavoir Lane, Hammersmith. A Mr. Carples was responsible for making parts and for marketing the completed cars, with a work-force under his control. A Mr. White was Works Manager and they had no showrooms.

That was in 1912, when a gearbox had been tested for 10,000 miles; a later demo car had run 6,000 miles by December 1913. The chassis frames were of ash, strengthened with metal flitch-plates, for simple construction, and it could carry two-seater or four-seater bodies. At first a water-cooled vee-twin 964 c.c. JAP engine was used and for a time the car was called the QED. The water-pipes to the radiator were duplicated and a novel feature was the patented spring-drive incorporated in the transmission. Presumably the idea was to smooth-out the rough running of a two-cylinder engine. A long flat spring inside a tubular casing took the drive from the leather-lined cone clutch to the front part of the normal carden-shaft, from whence universal-joints conveyed the drive to the back axle. The axle itself was unusual, a two-speed and reverse gear-box being part of it, with the gear-box lay-shaft in line with the axle shafts. This axle gave forward ratios of 11.9 and 4.65 to 1. The spring drive could both bend and flex to absorb chassis movements and to accommodate this its easing was mounted on spherical end-pieces and made rigid laterally by means of semi-circular wood blocks in the centre. The springs were ¼-elliptic all round, but their leaves were horizontal until loaded, which was claimed to reduce or eliminate rebound, as with the half-elliptic springs on the later Brooklands Calthorpe racer. The wheelbase was 8′ 9″ and the weight about 5½ cwt. 650 x 65 tyres on wire wheels were used. Steering of the Marshall Arter was by enclosed bevel-gear and a large steering wheel. Announced late in 1912, the two-seater, with gas-lamps, bulb horn, a speedometer driven by enclosed cable from the offside front wheel, and a single-pane windscreen, failed to meet the hoped-for £100 target but was priced at 135 guineas.

In August 1913 Erland Arter, who was obviously the Director who looked after competition matters, took a Marshall Arter through the first Cyclecar Fuel Consumption Trial, over a road course in Surrey. Using a Solex carburetter and Shell No. 2 petrol that then cost about 1/7d (less than 8p) a gallon, he averaged 54.8 m.p.g., but was beaten in the 1,105 cc. class by the winning Morgan three-wheeler (69.4 m.p.g.), two GWKs and two GNs, although beating another Morgan and Percy Bradley’s Duo, as well as being placed third in his class on Formula. Then three cars were run in the 1913 London — Edinburgh Trial and all are said to have gained Gold Medals.

Some time before war broke out it was decided to become more ambitious and use four-cylinder engines. The one chosen was the French Chapuis-Dornier, in 59 x 100 mm. (1,096 c.c.) and 60 x 110 mm. (1,244 c.c.) forms. A stand had been taken at the 1913 Motor Show, adjacent, apparently, to that of William Morris (later Lord Nuffield, and the smaller engined two-seater was priced at 152 guineas. The 1.2-litre four-seater cost 175 guineas, a coupé 190 guineas. It was decided to concentrate on the bigger four-cylinder model, the 12-14 h.p., which did 47 m.p.h. over the Brooklands ½-mile. To encourage his son’s efforts, Mr. de Cordova’s father had purchased a four-seater Marshall Arter. When war broke out both de Cordova and Erland Arter joined up but Marshall Arter, a brilliant engineer according to de Cordova’s daughter, stayed in England, eventually losing his sanity and ending his days in an institution.

Mr. De Cordova was in charge of the first five tanks to be deployed in the field, two of which were destroyed in the first German attack and were subsequently cannibalised for spares. He rose to the rank of Colonel and in 1915 took four days’ leave, to return to England to see what could be done to save Marshall Arter Ltd. Alas, it was clear that it must be wound up, and this was done.

There is a sequel to this. In 1927 the De Cordovas returned to Jamaica to start a business and when Morris was out there appointing agents for his cars he was entertained by them, as they were becoming Morris agents. Probably remembering the 1913 Motor Show, Morris said “Ah, but for the grace of. God, our positions might have been reversed”. . . . — W.B.

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