Forgotten Makes No. 90: The Calcott
WHENEVER the Calcott is mentioned I think of the “Four Cs” — Calcott, Calthorpe, Cluley and Clyno. I have never owned a Calcott but do have a Calthorpe two-seater and a Cluley chassis, and I used to own a Clyno. All can be said to be representative of those small cars which met motoring needs when more and more people began to afford cars and went out and about in them. Some of the many makes to which this applied were good, some were bad, but their fate was not necessarily allied to their effectiveness in the market place.
Usually mass-production by Morris and Austin enabled good cars to be offered at such competitive prices that the small output makes, even if of high quality, eventually just could not compete. That applies to the Calthorpe and the Cluley, but the Clyno very nearly survived. Lack of capital, coupled to the recession that quickly followed the Armistice of 1918, together with sparcity of supplies arising from the moulders’ strike and other industrial unrest, killed off many automotive ventures in the ’20s. I think it can be said that this was what befell the Calcott. It began, as with so many pioneer makes, with the cycle industry. There were two Calcott brothers who, after toying with various businesses, turned to small time bicycle manufacture in 1886, in conjunction with a partner, Enoch J West,
who had been associated with Progress bicycles. West left in the ’90s to look after his Progress interests, when motorcars began to link themselves to cyclemaking. He went on to make such things as the Ranger cyclecar in 1912, parts from his Foleshill factory for the now wellestablished Motor Trade, including chassis, and before that had been associated with the West-Aster car, the last-named another forgotten make!
All this happened in the Motor City of Coventry, where the Calcott commenced production in 1913, after the brothers had engaged A. Alderson, who had been responsible for the successful Singer Ten light-car, as their designer. Alderson set to work and made a satisfactory small-car of conventional aspect, using a radiator shaped like that of another fast selling big-car-in-miniature of those pre-war days, the 9.5 hp Standard. When I used to chase after vintage cars in the long-gone times when you could find them in old garages and farm barns and buy them for a few pounds, I would be told of a Calcott, which when tracked down would invariably, to my disappointment, turn out to be a later vintage worm-drive Standard Nine . . . When the Calcott concern was launched and before a car had been made, the two sons of one of the Calcott. brothers, Jim and Will, started to tour the country fixing up agencies. Calcotts had offices in Far
Gosford Street in Coventry and the Bridge factory ran from the offices through to Gulson street. It was here that the first 10.5 hp Calcotts were made. They were typical of the light cars of the time, with a fourcylinder water-cooled side-valve engine of 65 x 110 mm (1,456 cc), with pump lubrication and fed by a Zenith carburettor. This drove through a leather-lined cone clutch to a three-speed and reverse gearbox, final drive being by shaft and a bevel gear back axle. The wheelbase was 7 ft 6 in (the Austin 7 of 1922 had a wheelbase of 6 ft 3 in, the distinction between a vintage baby car and the original light cars.) The Calcott had a track of 3 ft 9 in, ran originally on 700 x 80 tyres on artillery type wheels, and a two-seater weighed about 11 % cwt. Calcott were their own selling agents and kept going after war had broken out in 1914, listing the two-seater at £185, and a roomy coupe for £265. Equipment included a five lamp lighting set and a spare wheel, but a dynamo to charge the battery cost £15 extra and an electric starter another £25. However, customers opting for the coupe got the dynamo thrown in for an additional £15. Bodies were made by Cross & Ellis, Thomas Pass, and Hollick and Pratt, and if special coachwork was needed, Charlesworth would oblige. Jim Calcott was made works manager; Will Calcott was the sales
manager. The company secretary was a Mr Cadman and the test shop superintendant was Tom Carpenter, who was a member of the Calcott family by marriage.
The Calcott factory was quite modest, with no bodyshop, not much in the way of good machinery in the tool room, no foundry or smithy. So many components had to be bought out — but there was nothing unusual in that, amongst the smaller manufacturers. It is said that by the time car production started, much of Ca!cotes unsuitable plant had been worn out making roller skates for Gamages’, when the cycle boom had begun to fade. Chassis frames were obtained from Mechans of Scotstoun and electrical equipment from Lucas or CAV. Lack of finance meant that castings were favoured instead of pressings and due to having no camprofiling machine or stamping mill, Calcott at first had to make its camshafts of cast-iron cams threaded onto a mild steel spined shaft, which reduced the ability to use close valve clearances, inducing noisy running and poor idling.
As well as cars, Calcott made motorcycles, starting as early as 1905 with machines using proprietary White & Poppe engines but going over in 1909 to their own 250 cc engines and then making attractive little 292 cc side-valve singles. The end of the war saw the other “Cs” (including the Crouch) gain earlier publicity, and presumably sales. The excuse could have been that improvements were
being effected to the Calcott, such as chain instead of gear drive for the camshaft and magneto, a solid steel camshaft replacing the aforesaid built-up job, slightly larger clutch and flywheel, fabric instead of metal prop-shaft universal joints and an easier brake adjustment. The carburettor was now horizontal instead of vertical and the 10.5 hp two-seater sold in 1921 for £350. A rather endearing feature was a quickly detachable oil pump, incorporating filter and float-type oil level indicator.
Of the other “Cs”, the Calthorpe was raced quite extensively, the Clyno very occasionally, the Cluley and Calcott not at all. But CJ Myson ran his ageing 11.9 hp Calcott in MCC trials; by the time of the 1923 Exeter, it was sporting Avro aeroscreens, a cluster of tiny triple sidelamps on each front mudguard and a rear petrol tank. It completed the London-ExeterLondon journey and in the following Land’s End and Edinburgh trials it took gold medals. For 1925 an entirely new 72 x 120 mm (1,954 cc) four cylinder four-speed model was introduced, priced at £375 in twoseater form. The smaller car, somewhat revised by Alderson and known now as the 10/15 hp, sold for £275 in both twoand four-seater versions. (But you could buy a Morris Cowley two-seater for £175, a Morris Oxford four-door saloon for £385.) The new 4WB 12/24 hp Calcott was designed by L J Shorter from Humber’s. It is said that being used to a factory equip
ped for sufficient production, he gave the Calcott foreman drawings specifying tolerances to which Calcott’s outdated machinery was quite unsuited. They were apparently still using a handmade cylinder boring machine, and up-to-date grinders and balancing machines had not been installed. Calcott Bros Ltd in fact lacked financial reserves, because it was said old James Calcott salved his conscience over the small dividends paid to his shareholders in the early days by paying good returns when the Company became successful, instead of investing capital in modern machinery. Alderson departed to work for the Cluley people. As a final fling, Calcotts fell for the six cylinder ploy, bringing out a 2,565 cc 16/50 hp version of the 12/24 hp model. It had a seven bearing crankshaft and a 10 ft wheelbase chassis and was priced at £495 in open form, £650 as a saloon. Cecil Clutton has a theory that all too often the incidence of a small six into a maker’s range led to the intervention of the Official Receiver. (Calthorpe and Cluley also ended up making sixes.) By 1925/26 the Calcott, a car favoured by doctor’s and professional men, was no more. The factory was taken over by Singers, which was somewhat in the “full circle” syndrome. These days it is a make rarely met with in vintage circles, although Martin Shelley of the Bullnose Morris Club is restoring an early example, to keep his Morris Cowley company. WB