The Earl has arrived

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The above announcement might be that of a servant informing his master of the presence of an important guest. Or it might be a domestic comment, as one could say ‘The Austin is here’, as father, or the chauffeur, brought the car round to the door.

In fact I am thinking of a particular American car, rare enough to qualify as a ‘Forgotten Make’ and not all that well known when it was in production. It might have been a call echoed by Mr W J Greene of Aldwich Chamber in the Strand, who had been awaiting supplies of these cars from Michigan, which he was hoping to sell in this country…

The year was 1921, a time when American cars had the merit of being roomier than many British and European tourers, and inexpensive for the space and easy pace they provided, if nasty in the eyes of those who thought in terms of more solid home productions, better finished and equipped. For example, at this time the Model-T Foil and Chevrolet could be bought for £195 and £260 respectively, and an Overland for just less than a Morris Cowley. This in spite of the 33½ per cent McKenna duty imposed on foreign-car imports, to protect British trade.

Further up the prevailing price-range, cars from the USA were also spacious and easy to drive, with big wooly engines. But many Britishers, brought up to expect engineering rather than economy production, looked askance at ‘tin’ sumps and crankcases in lieu of alloy castings, central control levers, and poor brakes, some American automobiles actually making do with contracting bands (although I recall how very effective these were on a 1924 Buick I was given a ride in, after which all my Meccano-based cars had pulleys behind their front wheels to represent the new-fangled front brakes). We also expected coachbuilt bodies, not pressed steel structures, and proper instrumentation — “my dear chap, its got a ribbon speedometer!” It was in this buying atmosphere that the Earl joined a surprisingly wide choice of American cars, as we expanded quickly into a motor-minded Nation.

It had a long-stroke 3.1-litre four-cylinder engine, a sidevalve power unit but with a detachable head and magneto ignition. Pump and trough lubrication would not have daunted customers at this stage, but the finicky English probably disliked the less neat manifolding that characterised Yankee engines, compared with the better engineered home products.

The Earl had the distinction of having many components made in the Jackson factory, and its designer quoted his aims as flexibility on top gear, rather than high power, and a low price with the expected commodious four-seater touring body. But he was able to point to various refinements not normally found in less-costly American cars, such as a three-bearing crankshaft with bronzecapped bearings instead of the more usual die-cast white-metal variety.

Helical teeth ensured quiet timing gears, one comprising a compressed fibre gear on a cast-iron backing ring, said to have overcome the unreliability of such non-metallic gear wheels. In 1921/22 British buyers may have looked rather askance at the Scoe variable-choke carburettor and noted that the flat cylinder head was attached to the block by studs instead of nutted bolts. A feature unusual on an American car was a transmission brake, lever-operated, and of the contracting band type, and the rear-wheel brakes were similar.

Against this, what was in general a typical American import had lower seating than usual and was rather more handsome than the run of ‘Yankee autos’ of that time. But Import Duty inflated the price of this rather ordinary tourer, and before he could sell it in this country Mr Greene had to put in a more easily adjustable screen, rests for the hood (which would be always erected, back in the USA) and move the sidelamps from scuttle to the front mudguards, to meet English laws.

Apparently 2000 Earls were produced between 1921 and 1923, in which period 4,456,141 Model-T Fords left Henry’s assembly-line; so I suppose it can be said that the Earl never really came of age…

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