No. 14: THE BELSIZE BRADSHAW
AMONGST the more ingenious of the innumerable small cars which struggled, most of them unsuccessfully, to establish themselves on the market after the 1914/18 war, was the Belsize Bradshaw, product of the fertile brain of Granville Bradshaw, who was also responsible, amongst other things, for the excellent transverse flat-twin, shaft-drive A.B.C. motorcycle and the air-cooled flat-twin A.B.C. light car.
The Belsize Bradshaw’s unusual feature was oil-cooling of its 90-deg. V-twin 85 x 114 mm. 1,300-c.c. engine. Twice the usual amount of oil was carried in the sump and this oil was pumped about the interior of the engine and also splash-fed, the cylinders being encased almost entirely in jackets for this purpose, only the cylinder heads, with a few cooling fins, protruding from these casings. In addition, the entire engine, save for these protruding heads, was enclosed in a large metal box, through which air was driven by a flywheel-driven fan to cool the cylinder heads. This gave the engine a decidedly unusual appearance, which Bradshaw offset by providing a handsome rounded-front dummy radiator and long bonnet to enclose it. He offered electric lighting, an electric starter being extra. An experimental 1,100-c.c. V-twin power unit had overhead valves and the gearbox in the base chamber, but the production 1,300-c.c. engine had side valves.
The engine drove through a gearbox that was lubricated by the sump oil (an idea Alec Issigonis has reintroduced after 38 years!) and a plate clutch at the back of the gearbox with a revolving clutch stop. The clutch never slowed below carden-shaft speed while the car was running. There was a Zenith carburetter and magneto, later coil, ignition. The price of a roomy two-seater was £275 and the little car could do some 50-60 m.p.h. The steering box was automatically lubricated by the engine oil.
It was to learn more about this unusual small car that I went to Dagenite Ltd. to interview the Works Manager, Mr. E. S. Chapman, who served his apprenticeship with the Belsize Company in Manchester from 1919 to 1924. Before the war Belsize had established a high reputation for taxis and big Morris (no connection with Wm. Morris) fire engines, for which they made the chassis. At the factory in Clayton Lane, Manchester, they built these engines to close standards, a gang ef employees starting them up for test by pulling together on a rope round the starting handle.
The war drove Belsize to munitions manufacture, and after the Armistice, having had experience of Granville Bradshaw’s A.B.C. Dragonfly aero-engine, they were easily persuaded to make his oil-cooled small car alongside their own good but for some reason unsuccessful Belsize tourer.
The Belsize factory made every mechanical part of their cars, and behind a screen in an assembly shop Mr. Chapman helped the fitters to build the first Belsize Bradshaw in considerable secrecy. It was ready for display at the 1921 Motor Show. Bradshaw, then concerned in an ingenious re-design of some contemporary fruit machines, used to call in at the Belsize factory several times a week to see his prodigy taking shape. He was apparently a very conscientious designer, making the best possible use of assembly drawings before committing a car to metal.
Mr. Chapman recalls much time trying to cure oil leaks in the Bradshaw engine and says it was difficult to start. In company with other apprentices he used to spend happy hours on the Chester road looking for broken-down cars. If, as often happened, a Belsize Bradshaw was encountered en panne the lads would descend on it gleefully, if necessary lifting the entire engine out of the car the better to work on it, to the alarm and despondency of its owner!
Many hundreds of these queer oil-cooled cars were made and at least one survives. But growing competition from Morris Motors, together with the 1924 slump, killed them off. Bradshaw also designed a 2-litre six-cylinder oil-cooled model but it seems unlikely that more than two were built. Apparently Belsize suffered in competition with Crossley, another Manchester firm.‒W.B.