The other day I drove to Brierley Hill in Staffordshire to visit a factory where steamcars have recently gone into production. Indeed, they are being made on massproduction lines, which should be of some comfort to those who have maintained that in the end steam will return to road and rail. The car in question, Type SA1, has its wood-alcohol-fired boiler beneath the polished bonnet and a single-cylinder, single-acting steam engine with a bore and stroke of 5/16 in. x 3/4 in., is slung on the o/s of the channel-steel chassis. There is a plain big-end on the balanced crankshaft and the exposed flywheel is on the opposite end of the driving shaft. From this shaft a belt drives a countershaft, from which the final drive to the solid back axle is by two side belts. Front suspension is by vertical coil-spring struts, which also constitute the steering-pivots, as on a Lancia Lambda or Morgan 3-wheeler. The artillery wheels are of dieatst alloy.
These steam-cars are made by a Company, founded in 1934, which was well known in the Past for its traction-engines, steam-rollers and steam-waggons. I was most impressed by the honest enthusiasm prevailing, for all things steam, in this efficient modern factory, which has a floor area of 25,000 sq. ft. and which employs a staff of 110, 90% of whom are women. There is much automatic machinery in use and apart from sending finished parts to Birmingham for polishing, most of the components are made on the premises. The cars are fitted with two-seater sports bodywork which copies faithfully the Edwardian fast-roadster, with no windscreen, brass headlamps on the scuttle, running-boards, rakish mudguards, and the spare wheel carried on the tail. In fact, I would condemn this as just another replica, were this not, as you may have guessed, a model steam-car. It is, in fact, the latest Marnod, built by those long-established model-makers, Malins (Engineers) Ltd. It is a most attractive production, catching the glamour and raciness of a circa-1910 roadster, but apart from being attractive to look at, and to a sensibly large scale, it is very definitely a runner.
Malins make no pretence that this Mamod steam-car represents any particular make of car, and they offer it as a soundly-made toy rather than a costly scale-model. As it sells at the unexpectedly low price of £19.25, with accessories, well-boxed, no one can quibble at that.
It makes use of parts used in the other Mamod steam toys and it is being turned out, I was told by Mr. P. S. Malins—who used to motor race, incidentally—at the rate of 350 a day, which will be soon increased to 400 a day to meet a growing demand, with an eventual output, if required, of 1,000 a day. The steam-tractor, introduced in 1963, has sold over 320,000 to date. This costs £13.85 today, the roller £13.40 and the waggon £19.25. Malins make steam engines costing from £4.35 to 13.40, with toy machine tools for them to drive, and make engines for Meccano Ltd.
I was impressed by the size of the factory, which makes nothing but these effective Mamod toys. The brass boilers have soldered end-plates but on the car a riveted boiler is used, the pop-riveted scuttle acting as the opposite end-plate, its copper rivets making a water-tight joint. The pressure in these little boilers is not more than about 20 lb./sq. in., probably 10-12 lb. under load, and the engines are thought to run at somewhere in the region of 2,500 r.p.m., although this has never been checked. The girls solder and rivet-up these boilers on an assembly line, the sockets inside them having been rolled over for secure fitting of the safety valve, etc. Each boiler is then attached to its chassis and the mudguards for one side are fitted, then those on the other side, as the chassis moves along from girl to girl. The cylinder and steam chest consist of two parts soldered together and the pistons are mechanically shrunk to a tolerance of a 1/4-thou. A fully automated Umec Boydell capstan press makes complete wheels, in contrast to more laborious methods seen in German toy factories. A paint shop like that used in the Motor Industry cleans, undercoats, paints and bakes small components as they pass through the spray booths and oven, hung from an overhead conveyor, painting being on the electrostatic system. A battery of pop-rivet machines is used for chassis assembly and gas soldering for making the boilers, which are tested to 75 lb./sq. in. under compressed-air. Smart ribbed p.v.c. tyres are fitted to the road wheels and the steering wheel, which turns the front wheels via the track rod, is attached to its column with Loctite. Nylon bearings obviate messy oiling of the wheel and countershaft bearings.
Malins even have a small experimental shop, where new projects and manufacturing methods are tried out. It is depressing to learn that, just as the Motor Industry is hampered by safety and emission regulations, so the Toy Industry is hemmed about by Officialdom. For instance, although the Mamod steam-car is 15 1/2 in. long and weighs 4 lb., expensive non-lead paint has to be used in case a kiddiwink puts one in its mouth, the Germans require glass-ended boilers so that the water level can be constantly checked, regardless of the fact that the spirit-lamp runs dry long before the boiler, and expensive safety-valves are likely to be a future requirement although the present design has proved perfectly effective since oscillating toy steamengines were first made, long before the First World War. So I suggest you place an order now, before prices inevitably rise! This Mamod steam-car should appeal to many grown-ups as well as to children. I am contemplating a full road-test! Meanwhile, we wanted to get this description into print in November so that overseas readers who are intrigued by the thought of a working toy steam-car would know about it before Christmas.—W.B.