Arnong many oddities which car makers have spawned along the years the ABF has always rather intrigued me. The reason being that when a photograph appeared in the summer of 1923 it showed this one-off offering to have a racing body with the number 26 on the roundels on its flanks, suggesting that it had been exposed to a competition of some kind, even been raced at Brooklands. Disappointingly, investigation proved otherwise. The car’s racing appearance had arisen because its creator, a Mr Robert Ford, had built it at Kenilworth, which is not far from Coventry, and this was presumably how he acquired a body for it that had once graced a racing Alvis.
Mr Ford apparently learned to fly in Canada before WW1, came to England and served for a time with the Observer Corps, then had a bad prang and turned to making his ABF and another more conventional light-car. He later had a garage business in Moreton-in-the-Marsh and than turned to making hospital furniture, until his death around 1960. He is thought to have designed the Ford carburetter for rotary engines during the 1914-18 war.
The car’s initials stood for “All British Ford”. Although the ABF was in a different category from the Model-T which was then the best-selling car in this country, priced at £130 as a roomy tourer, I suppose one can hardly blame the builder of this new light car for cashing in on having the same name. But unless he proposed to issue advertising material to explain the ploy, it would surely go unrecognised? Alas, for him, the idea was stillborn; Ford built over 15-million Model-Ts, whereas only one ABF of this kind was made.
It was one of those designs that was unconventional to a degree that may have stifled its future in the minds of those considering the sort of car they wanted, at this period when so many manufacturers (179 in 1920) were battling for sales. Ingenious certainly, but impractical, at all events to those who regarded the two-stroke engine as suitable only for lightweight motorcycles and the more eccentric cyclecars. Leslie Hounsfield was however to prove them unduly cautious, with his wonderful utility Trojan. Mr Ford had designed a two-cycle engine for his ABF, but of a rather superior kind.
It had four cylinders in a vee-formation, and the two-throw, two-bearing crankshaft made it possible for one cylinder of the 90-deg V engine to deliver a charge to its neighbouring cylinder while it was on its firing stroke, as on the Trojan engine. The water-cooled cylinder blocks gave a bore and stroke of 66 x 89mm (1216cc), the bore being planned to make the tax rate of the car £11 per annum. Truncated aluminium pistons, in liners pressed into the sump, their lower ends acting as the charge pumps, an aluminium crankcase and H-section con-rods were used, and the bearings were of white metal, those for the crankshaft in die-cast bushes. Lubrication was by jet-feed to the big-ends, Austin 7 style, and by pressure to the main bearings, from a plunger pump driven from the front of the crankshaft, a second gear here driving the dynamo.
At a time when separate gearboxes were common place, Mr Ford went for a three-speed unit gearbox driven by a Ferodo-lined inverted cone clutch. A ball-gate gear lever was used and the handbrake lever could be chassis or gearbox mounted. It was intended to have gear ratios of 14, 10.5 and 4:1, with 14:1 reverse gear. Full cantilever suspension was another unusual feature (Trojan-like again) and radius rods and a torque-tube located the back axle, so that only one universal joint was needed. On the experimental ABF a worm back axle was fitted but this was to have been replaced by a spiral-bevel axle. The steering drag-link was attached to the tie-rod and the body used was so low that a universal joint was needed for the steering column. Michelin disc wheels were shod with 710 x 90 lyres and wide 11in-dia rear brake drums accommodated side-by side brake shoes faced with Ferodo linings.
Thus the ABF (reg no UF 51), which Mr Ford said you could decarbonise in less than an hour and for which he claimed 65mph and about 35mpg. The racing body was that from the 10/30hp Alvis “Yodol Dodol Doh” which C M Harvey had driven in the 1921 JCC 200 Mile Race. Had the ABF gone into production a roomy three-door four-seater body was intended, selling for £250 with a starter and full lighting equipment. But this never became possible and only one of this kind of ABF was made.
Usually prototype cars such as this just fade away. But not the ABF. It apparently languished until well after WW2, when it was discovered in a dismantled state and put back into running order by Tom Potter, to the extent that it appeared, I believe, in a Brighton & Hove Club event. Potter also acquired the other Ford car when Mr Ford’s garage was due for demolition because of roadwidening. The ABF then went to ground again until Peter Russell, a VSCC member, found it in a chicken house in Sussex. It had been painted blue but after stripping it the Alvis name and the number 26 were still evident on the racing body. Peter Russell got the car into reasonable order again, after making missing parts. He had it on the road but the gearbox soon broke up. This was repaired and when he went up to Scotland for a spell, he used the ABF as normal transport, slow as it proved to be in climbing Scottish gradients. He traced Mr Ford’s daughter and discovered that Mr Ford had made all the engine parts, the patterns, the castings and the machining of the castings, etc. The body had been made for Alves by “Jacquest-Taylor, Sports & Racing Bodybuilders, Bangor Street, Coventry”, whose plate still adorns it. The story goes that Mr Taylor received no payment for it but that they made up for this by giving his son a free apprenticeship.
One can suppose that Mr Ford got it for the proverbial song. Apparently there had been some oiling-up problems with the ABF engine, which had truncated pistons rather like those of a DuneIt motorcycle, giving a mild supercharge effect to the mixture they sucked into the two-stroke engine’s crankcase, because tiny drain holes were found in one bank of cylinders. When this cure was resorted to on the opposite cylinder bank the plugs on that side were cured of the trouble Peter Russell took the ABF to a Brooklands Society Reunion in 1980, where I remember seeing it and where as it was run on the banking it was mistaken for a former Brooklands racing car; he decided the ABF was not up to ascending the 1-in-4 Test Hill.
After the ABF venture Ford built that other small car, of quite different concept, which looked, I am told, rather like a Kingsbury Junior.
Peter Russell also took the ABF to a Motor-100 meeting on a very wet day; it was here that a chap, driving in to shelter from the weather, turned out to have been apprenticed to the son of the Alvis body-builder, which is how Russell heard that part of the ABF’s history. The ABF drawings had existed until quite recently, then had been destroyed. At the aforesaid Brooklands Reunion Torn Potter turned up with Ford’s nephew, and both were delighted to see the car again. Becoming interested in other vintage cars (he now has a 1930 Austin Rahelagh) Peter Russell disposed of the ABF which has recently turned up in America.
Another oddity was the two-stroke Loyd-Lord, which startled the visitors to the 1923 Olympia Motor Show who understood technicalities. Three versions of what was a very unconventional concept were displayed, a two-cylinder car and two four-cylinder models all with two-stroke engines. They were the work of Mr A Loyd and his partner Mr Blythe, who had premises in Chiswick High Street in London, later the famous fashion centre (at No 327a for researchers into motor origins). They had also by 1922 a promising-looking 12/20hp 1.7-litre pushrod ohv car priced as a four-seater at £475 and exhibited at the 1922 London Motor Show.
By 1923, however, it was those two-strokes. Whether Mr Loyd, who had been linked with Capt Lord, was the influence I do not know but by now these unconventional Loyd-Lords were the only models listed. The project was a firm one, apparently, with the Grosvenor works in Chiswick making complete two-seater and four-seater cars, with their the two “Ls” intertwined on their radiator badges in Rolls-Royce fashion. Their power-units, with heavily-finned cylinder heads, were supercharged, from rotary blowers within their crankcase. At low engine speeds normal two-cycle functions were followed but as speed rose these blowers, sucking from two Zenith carburettors on the off-side of the engine, fed additional mixture that had been compressed within the crankcase, to the cylinders via the transfer ports.
These blowers were attached to the crank-throws, were balanced, and served also to throw oil onto the cylinder bores to lubricate the pistons. The crankcase was in two sections, so that each carburettor fed a pair of cylinders. The built-up crankshaft had its throws at 180-deg. but the pairs, as it were, joined at 90 degrees so that the effect was that of an eight-cylinder layout, apart from which a four-cylinder two-stroke engine has the torque characteristics of an eight. This balanced and hardened crankshaft had an aluminium centre bearing, running directly on the crank, and two roller bearings, and roller bearing bigends were used. The pistons were aluminium and the central sparking-plugs screwed into cast-iron sleeves screwed in their turn into the aluminium cylinder heads. Ignition was by Philbrim coil and battery, with the distributor driven from the front of the crankshaft, as was the dynamo. Thermosyphon cooling was assisted by a belt-driven fan. It all sounded rather improbable but Mr Loyd said that the design had been thoroughly and successfully tested, that “there was nothing to go wrong”, and that the forced induction of the gas eliminated the erratic running at low rpm that was a two-stroke shortcoming in simpler offerings.
Indeed, he had raced a Loyd-Lord at two Brooklands Meetings in 1923, getting Capt S Cockerell to drive the red four-seater. The publicity snag was that it appeared to have the four-stroke ohv engine of the 12/20 car. In its first race it retired after lapping at a miserable 54.9mph and was a non-runner in its following race, but at the next meeting Mr V G Lord (a brother, perhaps) took the wheel and did rather better, lapping at 73.67mph. I suppose some of the “Right Crowd” may have noticed it and remembered the name. . .
Of the two-stokes, they were available with two-cylinder 92 x 82mm and four-cylinder 87.5 x 83.5mm, and 75 x 120mm engines. The last-named was that in the 14/30hp Loyd-Lord, a 2121cc model priced as a four-seater at £490 at the 1923 Show But the larger four-cylinder engine belonged to the top model, the 18/60hp of 2009cc It had a plate instead of a cone clutch and a longer wheelbase, the coil ignition, wire instead of disc wheels and cost a high £650 as a tourer. The Alford & Alder four-wheel brakes were rod and tube operated with special compensators and a single adjustment. The worm-and nut steering gear had all its joints fed by oil whenever the wheel was turned — shades of the forthcoming 14/45 Rover.
But even the 11hp £187 10/- Loyd-Lord failed to save these ingenious two-strokes; Mr Loyd drifted away to Vickers-Armstrongs to help Sir John Carden supply Carden-Loyd tracked vehicles to the British Army, and before long it too soon drifted into limbo and Loyd-Lord became an assembled car, with Meadows engines. W B