Fragments on Forgotten Makes

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No. 28—The Imperial

The particular Imperial of which I am writing was one of the simplest of that popular if fleeting race of vehicles known as cyclecars. It came into being this way.

lmplitico Ltd., of 2, 4 & 6, Pocock Street, in the Blackfriars Road, were, before the First World War, lighting engineers responsible, amongst other things, for the illumination of the stands at the Olympia Motor Exhibitions. Perhaps this close association with the world of the automobile had some influence. At all events, they decided to devote part of their works to the construction of cars.

Now it so happened that Mr. F. Gordon Haydon had been apprenticed to the Charron Company in Paris and was sent back to England by them to look after their cabs which the London General Motor Cab Co. began operating from the Chiswick depot in 1909—their Brixton depot being concerned with Renault cabs, that at Farm Lane, Waltham Green, with Unics, Darracqs and Wolseley-Siddeleys.

Mr. Haydon found these 2-cylinder and 4-cylinder Charrons, with their “coal-scuttle” bonnets, very simple to maintain. All went well until a big strike of taxi-drivers crippled the business. Charron, who built very smooth-running 4-cylinder cars, of up to 75 h.p,, was taken over in this country by Sir Davidson Dalziel, whose main interest was his news agency, and re-formed as Charron Ltd.

This left Mr. Haydon free and he went to Implitico and designed the Imperial cyclecar for them. It was extremely simple, assembled from proprietary components. An 8-h.p. vee-twin air-cooled Precision engine was set in-line with the 3½ in. x 1½ in. armoured ash frame, under a car-type wire-mesh bonnet, and cooled by 8-bladed 12-in, fans rotating on either side of it. It drove by Renold chain to a countershaft, which carried two variable-speed pulleys from which the drive was conveyed to the back axle by 1 1/8-in. belts. The back axle was moved by a hand-lever adjacent to the gear-lever to take up slack in the belts and by this means seven different forward speeds, from 3½ to 1 to 8½ to 1, were obtained by appropriate positioning of the gear-lever—there was no reverse, but this was deemed of small moment in 1913, when traffic was sparse and the Imperial weighed only 6½ cwt. in any case. The system was like that on the Zenith Gradua motorcycle and Bleriot-Whippet cyclecar.

Steering was by cable-and-bobbin, using triple cables, and the brakes consisted of blocks working on the belt rims, the pedal applying the blocks on the inside of these rims, the hand lever those on the outside. Another internal handle started the engine. The Wire wheels carried 650 x 65 tyres and the dimensions of the Imperial were 4 ft. 3 in. x 9 ft. 9 in., the wheelbase being 7 ft., the track 3 ft. 8 in.

Although the layout was simplicity itself, there were some refinements about the Imperial. For example, there was a foot accelerator, a Bosch magneto was fitted, car-type hubs were used, and suspension was by cantilever springs, duplicated on each side at the front, a feature not referred to in the brochure. The firm made its own 3-ply bodies, with a seat of 3 ft. 2 in. by 18½ in. deep, upholstered and lined in brown and always painted biscuit colour, although the prototype Imperial was blue. Ground clearance was normally 7½ in. but with an eye to exports a Colonial model was listed, with 28-in, wheels in place of the normal 26 x 2½ in. wheels, which gave a ground clearance of 9 in.

Implitico detailed some 40 or 50 of their lighting staff to go over to making the cyclecar, and they contrived to sell it for £100, complete with hood, screen, acetylene headlamps, oil tail-lamp, tools, jack, pump, horn and number-plates, which should have been a big attraction, because in 1914, when the Imperial appeared, even number-plates were often extras. Customers paid £25 down, then received a statement requesting the balance due when their car was nearing completion. Moreover, they got a six-months’ guarantee. Model-A, Type S, was the £100 job. Model-B, Type S, was the same, but sans hood and screen, priced at £95. Model-A, Type SR, was like the others but with a reverse gear (£110) and Model-B ditto but sans hood and screen (£105). The prices of spares tend to make the modern mouth water—tyres, 30s. 6d. each, tubes 9s. 6d., belts £1, chain 13s. 6d., plugs 4s. each, valves 4s. 6d. each, valve springs 6d. each, and brakes blocks 3s. a pair. Fancy relining all brakes for six bob! Moreover, a petrol consumption of 40-45 m.p.g. was claimed, or 54-58 m.p.g. on benzol (the tank held 4 gallons), with an oil thirst of a gallon per 1,500 miles (the tank held 3 qts.), and tyre life as 8,000 miles “with reasonable care.”

Unfortunately, Implitico couldn’t have chosen a more unhappy time to embark on their car-manufacturing venture, for war was imminent. Mr. Haydon did what he could, he attended meetings of the then-flourishing Cyclecar Club (now the B.A.R.C.), notably their Brighton Rally, and took part in their General Efficiency Trial of February 1914, gaining a certificate. That month, too, The Motor Cycle was allowed to test an Imperial, commenting favourably. There was no time to appoint agents, but ten or twelve Imperials were made, two or three actually finding their way to Spain, where cyclecar racing was in vogue. The maker’s brochure contained testimonials from users in Wandsworth, New Cross and Pinner, and Mr. Haydon and his wife drove to Yorkshire, Devon and Scarborough with very little trouble, apart from belt-fasteners breaking.

Alas, this simple cyclecar with small-car lines didn’t survive the war, and its designer, who went to the R.A.E. at Farnborough in 1914, and remained there until his retirement in 1940, specialising in ignition equipment, has never encountered one since.—W. B.