A Military Arrol-Johnston

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Sir,

The photograph of an early Arrol-Johnston, said to be the first car in the Sudan, accompanying R. H. Seracey’s letter in the September number, stirs a memory, and the clue is provided by the solid disc wheels in place of the wooden-spoked ones usually worn.

In 1905 or 1906 The Autocar published a photograph of a disc-wheeled Arrol-Johnston of the early type (by then superseded by a conventional model) towing a light fieldgun and manned by two smartly-uniformed soldiers. The caption said something to the effect that half a dozen (I think) of these old-type Arrol-Johnstons had been bought by the Army for use in the Sudan where their high build, sturdy construction and special wheels would enable them to cope with rough tracks. I cannot remember whether the car shown, like the one in Mr. Stracey’s photograph, was without mudguards; but it looks as though the one in his picture may be a survivor of this small fleet or Army motor cars.

Veteran car enthusiasts will recall that the engine of the Arrol-Johnston was of the Opposed-piston variety with two horizontal cylinders each with two pistons, working out wards from a common combustion chamber, giving motion by short connecting rods to rocking levers from which longer rods rotated the crankshaft which lay below the cylinders. Similar engines were used in the firm’s winning and near-winning TT cars of 1905/06, and the layout was revived in the ‘fifties for a most successful high speed diesel lorry engine.

Other intriguing features of the Arrol Johnston “dog-cart” were a fold-away steering wheel, like that of the Edwardian Lanchesters, a pull-cord starter worked from the driver’s seat and an arrangement which allowed the creature to fill its cooling system with the engine running by sucking through a length of hose from a water trough or wayside stream. This useful contrivance seems singularly appropriate to the car’s rather elephantine nature, and its exceptionally sturdy construction is possibly not fortuitous as the “Arrol” part of the name refers to Sir William Arrol, the designer of the Forth Bridge.

Potbridge Anthony Bird

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