Veteran Edwardian Vintage, November 1979

A section devoted to old-car matters

Fragments on Forgotten Makes No. 58: The Newton Bennett

A reader, Mr. F. E. Greaves, kindly sent us some Press cuttings about the late Mr. R. O. Harper, whose story appeared in a local Eccles newspaper, The Journal, and with information from which it has been possible to prepare these notes. Incidentally, Mr. Greaves remembers his father, who was a tester for Newton & Bennett before and following the First World War, driving a bare, nickel-plated NB chassis up through the night from London, where it had been at the Motor Show, to Stretford, arriving on the Sunday morning in a snowstorm and, after having a meal, driving it on to the Victory works. He had been apprenticed to Newton & Bennett and was a close friend of Mr. Harper.

Mr. Robert O. Harper was a keen model-maker during his schooldays; in this he was encouraged by his mother (who is thought to have later financed the Newton & Bennett venture) when she bought her son a 3 1/2″ lathe. Leaving school, Harper entered the Manchester College of Science and Technology, learning machine-drawing under a Mr. Cussons. This gentleman gave Harper a job at his works, where models were made for other technical institutions. Harper followed the 1,000 Mile Trial on a bicycle, attaching himself to a Locomobile steamer, and later he was looking at one of these cars in a showroom, when the Proprietor came out, got into conversation, and asked the young man to join the firm, Bennett & Carlisle, which later became Newton & Bennett, as an apprentice.

This apprenticeship gained Harper experience of most of the contemporary petrol cars and steamers such as the Locomobile, White, Weston, Milwaukie, Turner-Miesse and Serpollet. He retubed many Locomobile boilers, fitting the 1,400 1/2″ tubes by hand, but it was extracting the old tubes without damaging the tube-plates that was the difficult job. Harper soon became Foreman of this firm, where most of the spare parts needed by customers had to be made in the works. With a Mr. Ashworth he made an attempt on the Land’s End-John o’ Groats record, hoping to better the time made by Mr. Stocks with his De Dion Bouton. They used an 8 h.p. MCC-engined Argyll. Getting this car to the start involved rebuilding the timing-gears on several occasions and Ashworth drove the car into a lead mine when they were crossing Bodmin Moor in a fog. Argyll agents along the “End-to-End” route were out to guide them but at the top of Shap the camshaft broke and they had to give up.

In 1904 Harper designed an engine and gearbox for Newton & Bennett, which he patented. It had removable copper water jackets to simplify foundry work, an overhead-camshaft operating variable-lift valves, and the 4-speed and reverse gearbox had only six gearwheels, and gave a direct drive on third and top. The work was done in conjunction with Mr. Carlisle but when he left N&B it was abandoned, after successful hillclimbing tests.

Mr. Harper was made Works Manager of Newton & Bennett’s and in the 1908 TT race he drove a SCAT, for which the Company was sole-concessionaire. A team of three standard 22 h.p. chassis with racing bodies had been brought over. They were hampered in this “Four Inch” (cylinder bore) race by having the standard cylinder-stroke, whereas rivals used extended strokes. The other drivers were Ward and Buckley. Soon after this Harper designed a compressed air starter for cars which could also inflate tyres and jack up the wheels, which SCAT fitted under licence to all their cars, from the 15 h.p. to the 22 h.p., from 1909 until war stopped production in 1916. Besides this starter, Mr. Harper had patented a detachable wheel, hydraulic shock-absorbers, and a petrol-feed for cars using rear-mounted fuel tanks, which SCAT adopted and he was also responsible for much of the design of the 1909 SCAT. This led to a Directorship of Newton & Bennett’s.

He then designed a 10 h.p. two-cylinder car, in 1910, with its cranks at 360 deg., a 4-speed gearbox, and front-wheel brakes. SCAT were to have manufactured these but were so busy with bigger models that the English concessionaires had received only two, by 1911. So Mr. Newton and Mr. Harper went to Italy and found a small factory in the Via Palmieri in Turin. Here they commenced production of the new 11.9 h.p. four-cylinder NB, which had the same 3-point suspension of the power unit and the single-plate clutch used for the twin-cylinder car, and a patented mechanical starter which the driver could operate from his seat. Mr. Harper took charge of the Turin plant, making 37 return journeys between there and Manchester in the years 1908 and 1916. The cars were sent by LEP Transport to Manchester, and export orders were shipped to Africa and Australia from Genoa. About 1,000 were sold, many in England. At home NB cars competed in trials in Wales and in the Lake District, one doing 62 ton-m.p.g. of petrol. Mr. Greaves used the Cat and Fiddle as one of his test hills.

The Italian project ended in 1916 due to the war, the NB factory being sold to Diatto.

The Manchester factory of NB was set up for munitions work, making large quantities of control-gear for Ricardo tank-engines and H-section con-rods, machined all over, presumably for the same engines. It had been the intention of N&B to expand into a new factory at Stretford but materials and labour had been eroded by the war. However, as the production of munitions increased, permission was obtained to go ahead and a works in Rochdale that belonged to Mr. Tweedale, whose Works Manager, Mr. Ashworth, had been the NB agent in Melbourne, Australia, was acquired. A new Company called Newton Harper was formed, which at first made tank transmissions for the War Office but finished these so quickly that it was put on to producing 18-cylinder 500 h.p. Green submarine engines, Mr. Harper making all the jig and tool drawings, these being used also by Peter Brotherhood in Peterborough and by the Aster Co. at Wembley, who were making these engines. This contract necessitated expansion for Newton Harper into a factory at Cornbrook, Manchester, which had an overhead crane. When the USA came into the war so many munitions were required that Harper got permission to build a new factory on the site of the old one at Stretford, Government-sponsored, and equipped with Herberts, Churchills, Burton Griffiths, Buck & Hickman, and other machine-tools.

When the Armistice came they were given a year to clear up. The Rochdale works was sold to a clothing factory, the Cornbrook factory to “Cough Cure”, and the Victory works to Parkinson & Cowan, who still occupy it. Mr. Harper was then still running a Newton Bennett car, which had done over 100,000 miles on war work. When its single-plate clutch was taken down, the original Ferodo lining was so good that it was sent to Messrs. Frood, who put it in a glass-case in their factory. It was now that Mr. Harper designed and built his single-seater handlebar-steered Harper Runabout, which has been given space previously in Motor Sport. It was a three-wheeler with a single wheel in front, and a passenger could be carried, back to the driver. The first one was made in Harper’s home workshop and it attracted so much attention that Sir William Letts of Crossley’s suggested making it, which was done by A. V. Roe Ltd., of which he was also a Director. They were made under the supervision of the Works Manager, who became Sir Roy Dobson, and sold by Armstrong Graham, the Manchester agents being R. H. Carlisle & Co. The intention was to make at least 500.

The little machine ran in trials, such as the 1922 Scottish Six Days, the MCC trials, etc., came successfully through an ACU-observed test at Brooklands, and was a surprising success. It had disc brakes, the linings of which were interchangeable with the clutch lining. In the ACU test Brooklands Test Hill was climbed with and without a passenger, astonishing for a single-cylinder 2 1/2 h.p. vehicle. The Harper Runabout was made at A. V. Roe’s Newton Heath works and it was used as an invalid carriage, in a flower-battle at Blackpool, and was available as a van, one of these tiny vans being used by Morrison’s Ayr shoe stores. After three years, by 1924, the contract with A. V. Roe expired and Harper did not renew it, as he intended to make some further innovations. However, other ambitions prevented this. They led to Mr. Harper becoming Technical Director of Graham Bros. (Motors) Ltd. in 1925 and when in 1933 they wanted a car-hoist that would lift the Vauxhalls and Bedfords they sold and serviced, but without the intrusion of the hydraulic cylinder into the floor below, Harper designed a patent four-post car-lift which Laycock’s made in their Sheffield works. Incidentally, the actual Runabout that Mr. Harper had used in 1922 was rediscovered in 1953. It is the one he used in trials, his Sales Manager, Mr. Graham, driving another. Before this another Harper Runabout had been sent home for overhaul, in a crate, from Rhodesia. Incidentally, the engine of these Runabouts was a two-stroke Villiers, hung on the off-side; it is said that the power was increased by Mr. Harper’s redesign of the porting and that Villiers charged him £50 to cover the re-tooling necessary to alter it! This prolific engineer made an early cine-camera and invented the film-splicer. He died this year, aged 95.

Before the First World War the Newton-Bennett had very Italian-looking lines, with somewhat Fiat-like radiator. When it was revived after the war it retained the same chassis, with the side-valve, long-stroke 69 x 140 mm. (2,094 c.c.) engine, but had adopted a sharply bull-nose radiator. Now called the Newton, the former unusual body with easy to fold all-weather top and wind-up windows, and a single door on each side, was shown at the 1919 Olympia Show. A new model to replace this £850 12 h.p. car was forecast but never seems to have appeared. Indeed, at the 1920 Show the Newton was absent and by 1921 the Company seems to have turned to making bodywork, such as a saloon on a 40/50 h.p. Napier chassis, notable for its absence of mouldings. By 1923 the Newton re-emerged as the exciting twin-cam 1,086 c.c. model referred to recently (chassis price: £395). The Company began to import the Newton Ceirano from Italy in 1925, a small car of Lancia Lambda appearance but with conventional springing. It was a survival by the former makers of the SCAT, so the links with NB were understandable. The car had telescopic shock-absorbers in which Newton-Bennett’s specialised and today, as described last month, the Company makes such equipment for heavy-duty military vehicles.

One of the few, or maybe the sole surviving NB is that in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. It is an Italian-built car which was owned for many years by Noel Newton, son of John Newton who owned the firm, and was presented to the Museum by Mrs. Kathleen Jessop, daughter of Mr. Harper. It has his detachable wheels and cockpit starter. The car was restored in the Museum workshops. It bears a Cheshire registration. — W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany

The Shuttleworth Collection is hoping to open a De Havilland Flying Centre at Old Warden, Biggleswade, so that it can display in a hangar its wide range of DH aeroplanes, literally all under one roof, as well as demonstrating these machines from time to time from its timeless grass aerodrome. To this end an appeal has been launched for a DH Trust and leaflets are available about this, for those interested in this worthy cause and for distribution to those they know who may be likely to help. These leaflets are available from The Trustees, Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden Aerodrome, Near Biggleswade, Beds. The Collection has 15 DH aeroplanes in its possession, ranging from a 1923 DH 53 to a 1946 DNC-1 Chipmunk, as well as relevant aero-erigines ranging from Gipsy I to a rare 12-cylinder Gipsy Twelve. It is interesting that a correspondent to Flutenews, monthly newsletter of the flourishing Vauxhall OC, says that while they read in restored Vauxhalls in Britain, in New Zealand those of the 1950s are often encountered still in daily use, and there a 1955 Vauxhall in quite good, drive-away order, was available recently for 50 dollars, Maybe there is a lesson in this, somewhere . . .

The autumn magazine of the Morris Register carried an article by Harry Edwards of the early days of Kennings, the Morris Agents, illustrated with nostalgic photographs. showing George Kenning in one of the first £100 Morris Minors, a fleet of “roadless” (tracked) Morris one-tonners for delivery to the Anglo-Persian Oil Co. in Abadan in 1925, a fleet of Morris Commercials delivered by Kennings to BP in 1925, and Sir William Morris (later Lord Nuffield) opening the Derby premises in 1930. Incidentally, Mr Kenning bought the Morris surplus production in 1927 for £66,924-13s.-3d. In this year’s Pre-50 America AC’s Rally of the Giants, many of the prizes were won by pre-war cars. For example, the overall winner of the Concours d’Elegance was M. Brown’s 1935 Ford Model-48 cabriolet, the Buick Cup went to D. Melbourne’s 1934 NA saloon, the Dearborn Cup to M. Webber’s 1932 Model-B Ford Tudor sedan, the Overseas Award to H. Kok’s 1930 Graham sedan, the Burford Cup to G. Keath’s 1934 Terraplane saloon, the Daily-Use Trophy to C. Rogers’ 1935 Plymouth Type PJ coupe, the UK long-distance prize to a 1938 Packard Super-8, the Auburn Cup to a 1919 Cadillac, the Foulkes-Halbard Cup to a 1927 Chrysler 62, the Antique/Prohibition class was won by the Graham, the Roosevelt class by Brown’s Ford, and the Elite Cup by C. Simmer’s 1931 Graham Custom-8 convertible sedan, while the ladies liked best a 1931 Ford Model-A Fordor saloon, the children a 1936 Diamond -T four-tonner, and the Thomas Trophy went to a 1937 Dodge hearse, the Big-G Trophy to a 1938 Oldsmobile 8 sedan.

The Post-Vintage Humber Club Secretary Ian Gardner, 80 Frobisher Road, Rugby, held a summer rally in Oxfordshire at which over 100 cars were present, all driven there. The prizes went to some of the pre-war Humbers, such as 1935 16-60 coupe and a 1938 Snipe, the former being judged the best car present. The Standard Register Trust has changed its name, to humour its Bankers, to The Standard Motor Club. The new secretary is L. Fish, 1 York Gate, London N14 6HS. The Club has about 400 members, carries thousands of spare parts but seeks advertising and registration material for the early 1930s cars, if anyone can assist. At least up to 1933 a pre-1914 Renault two-seater, probably an 8 h.p. model, was in use for hauling sailing boats between the Royal Cape Yacht Club of Africa and Zeekoeviel. What became of it?

The Riley Register, Secretary, I. Thorpe, 26 Hillcrest Close, Tamworth, Staffs., B79 8PA, is encouragingly active, and has enrolled an impressive number of new members. Its last Bulletin had a front-cover picture of the ex-Billy Cotton modified Coventry Riley which Nev. Farquhar has rebuilt and which he took to this year’s Coventry Rally, and it contained articles about a run done by a Riley Nine Monaco saloon which in 1930 visited eight European countries in six days, the crew including Clive Windsor-Richards who writes a footnote to the article, and the car’s then-owner Harry Loe, who was a keen MCC trials’ competitor before the war. There is also a most interesting article about the Riley-Amilcar that Stanley Kerr built and drove at Brooklands before the war (not to be confused with the Amilcar-Riley), and which was restored in recent times by Robert Townsend. There was also a picture of the Riley Nine which Joan Richmond drove from Australia to England. Reg. No. GP5455, with a query as to what happened to it. The Chain Gang Gazette of the Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC remains another enthralling and very professional Club journal, the current issue containing much about another successful raid on Bolzano carried out by the Section in their chain-propelled motor-cars, together with accounts of the Frazer Nash (and GN) invasion of Shelsley Walsh last summer, a long-distance jaunt by Alastair Pugh’s ‘Nash in America, and Lionel Stretton’s “go” at the MCC Land’s End Trial, per Frazer Nash.- W.B.