The Co-Op cars
This time we will depart from the previous policy of this feature, and cover a number of different makes instead of just one marque. This, I think, is permissible, because all were products of the Co-Operative Wholesale Society chain. I have been reminded of the little-known fact that the Co-Op made motor vehicles by some pages from the CWS Magazine sent to us by an ex-employee, Mr Roy Sandbach of Stockport, to which the pictures and some of the following inormation are acknowledged.
The Co-Op project of making motor-cars seems to have stemmed from the desire to make its own contribution to what had, before the First World War, become one of the largest car fleets in the country. The idea was to make use of the solidlyconstructed chassis made by Bell Brothers at Ravensthorpe in Yorkshire. The Bell, although not greatly known outside its immediate territory, had developed from a rather overweight 8/10 hp two-cylinder car into four-cylinder models of 16, 20. 24 and 30 hp. The smallest-engined Bien had established itself as a good vehicle in the taxi field. The Yorkshire factory was occupied with things other than car production during the war and afterwards, around 1919, the Co-Op Wholesale Society turned its attention to the resumed task of car manufacture.
It seems that the factory was, in fact, acquired by the CWS and 1921 that the Bell CWS Motor Car Company was formed, at Broughton in Manchester. A luncheon was held to celebrate this, the menu in keeping, with such items as Gear Soup, Front Axle Beef with rather unappetising-sounding Autovac vegetables, concluding with a choice of Back-axle or Cushion pudding, Con-rod cheese and, ugh!, Benzole coffee. The cars with the substantial build and Rolls-Royce-like radiators, with the slogan ‘As Sound As A Bell, were to be made by the Co-Op movement in 16, 24 and 20 hp forms. But there is apparently no evidence that production ever commenced at the Manchester factory. If it did, the cars were probably made against special order only. Oddly, the Bell persisted as available until 1926 but perhaps this was because publishers of Buyers’ Guides were never informed to the contrary.
What did occupy the Co-Op for a few years was the manufacture of a three-wheeler, but this was made at a works at Tyseley, in Birmingham, in the Kings Road. It was a smart little job, which was powered with a water-cooled version of the vee-twin JAP engine which the CWS used for its Federation and Federal motorcycles assembled at the same factory, yet another venture of the CWS into the world of motor sales. The 1AP engine of this CWS three-wheeler drove by chain to a three-speed Juckes gearbox (the make of gearbox used by John Bolster for his first Bolster Special) and was of the conventional single rear-wheel layout. Final drive was likewise by chain and the price was £150. This price included gas lamps, horn, tools and of course a windscreen but the hood was an extra £3 15/ — (£3.75). The CWS had been making bicycles and motorcycles in the Birmingham works and had over 500 Society outlets from which to dispose of them, including a tyre depot at Irlam and even its own oil refinery. Yet the CWS three-wheeler lasted only one year, 1922, before it was withdrawn, the excuse being, of course, that it could not compete with the newly-introduced Austin 7. But the motorcycles, with Villiers twostroke engines of various sizes and 1AP four-stroke motive power, were more suc
cessful. They were made up to 1937, according to Erwin Tragatsch.
The chassis of this rather attractive CWS was made of 3 x 11/2 x ‘Alin channel-steel pressings, with a 7ft 8in-wheelbase. The Goodyear tyres were 650 x 65s, the spindle of the back wheel of one-inch rolled steel. The rear suspension (quarter-elliptics all round) was of CWS’s own design with two sturdy radius rods for lateral stability of the back wheel, which makes one wonder whose design the rest of it was? The engine was lengthwise in the frame, the right-hand brake lever outside the body and a cockpit starting-lever was provided. The dummy radiator held three gallons of petrol, gravityfed to an Amal or B & B carburettor to choice. It sounds rather nice; a pity perhaps that it wasn’t successful.
This is not quite the end of the CWS story of motor vehicle interests. From its George Street works in Aberdeen, the Scottish CoOperative Wholesale Supply Company, having tried a three-wheeler in 1907, followed by cars, later decided to go in for commercial vehicles, at its Glasgow factory where bodywork was made for CWS vehicles, presumably horse-drawn as well as motor chassis, and perhaps steam-wagons. At all events, these vehicles emerged under the name Unitas, but were in reality
the 30/55 hp three-ton Belhaven lorry chassis built at Wishaw, Lancashire and sent to the Scottish CWS to have the bodies for them made in their own bodyworks in Glasgow and Leith. The identity was the same, except for Unitas badge/radiator. It has been said that many of the Co-Op drivers were used to horses and were apt to be hard on the motor lorries when transferred to them, which may be why the rugged qualities of the Belhaven chassis caused it to be chosen. This venture ended in 1924 but the commercial vehicle work continued at Broughton, from where, around 1928, came a mobile-shop with side display-windows and a van sold to the Crumpsall creamcracker biscuit people, that was well-known in the Midlands for many years after wards. W B