Fragments on Forgotten Makes No. 3 - The Day-Leeds

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68

A few years before World Stupidity No. One, the firm of Job Day & Sons, Ellerby Lane, Leeds, had a steady business making automatic tea packaging machinery and an interesting sideline in motor-cycles. These were normal single-cylinder side-valve affairs which were entered fairly regularly in reliability trials as Mr. Joe Eastwood, now gaffer of a very glossy motor emporium, recalls, he having been tester-rider with the company at that time. The significant thing from our point of view, however, is that this was happening at a time when anyone who had access to a V-twin engine, slapped it into a frame, put a wheel on each corner and said, “look I’ve made a cyclecar.” In all fairness this wasn’t the way Day’s went about it. One gathers that the brothers Albert and Charles were agin’ the idea from the start and that the keen one, known with North Country informality as Willie Harry, had all his work cut out to sell the thing to them. Sell it he did, however, and in 1912 the Day-Leeds cyclecar was announced in the motoring press and offered for sale at £120, complete with ” hood, lamps, horn and screen.”

As a matter of fact the machine never went into serious production although a prototype appeared at the Olympia Show of that year (with a patched crankcase due to a last-minute argument with a solid object), and there are photographs showing two slightly different models.

It wasn’t a cyclecar in the sense that the Bedelia, G.N. and Carden were cyclecars, but only in having a motor-cycle engine and transmission (countershaft, 3-speed and reverse gearbox and belts) and an all-up weight of 5½ cwt. The appearance was that of a normal light car with a standard of finish and accommodation which seemed quite exceptional.

The engine, of 85 mm. bore, 88 mm. stroke, giving a capacity of 999 c.c., was mounted across the front of the tubular frame, detachable and interchangeable wire wheels carried 650 by 65 mm. tyres, the springing was ½-elliptic all round and steering was direct. The cone clutch was faced with vulcanite and to make stopping the car a less casual affair, two brake blocks were used on each belt rim instead of the usual one.

Just why this model was dropped, no one now remembers, but it was only a year or so later that the Day-Leeds grew up into a “proper” motor car.

Originally a Turner engine was used but before long Day’s were turning out a 4-cylinder water-cooled s.v. unit of their own design. Just who the designer of this new car was, by the way, is another of those little mysteries. He was certainly an outside consultant engineer, there is a strong impression that he was paid vast sums of money for doing the job, and there is a suspicion that his name was Smith, which seems fair enough!

The bore and stroke were 64 by 100 mm., giving a capacity of 1,286 c.c. Lubrication was by a system of chain and troughs. Chains also drove two external shafts, one on each side of the crankcase. The nearside one worked a Bosch magneto but the other merely buzzed around in two little bearings and served no purpose at all.

These engines gave 18 b.h.p. at 2,200 r.p.m. which doesn’t exactly put them in the racing-car category, but they proved to be completely reliable and well up to the job of propelling 11½ cwt. of motor car. And, of course, each one was hand-assembled under the expert eye of Mr. Barnett, the shop foreman, who had joined Day’s from Daimlers.

Just to give the modern generation an idea of the workmanship involved, the crankshaft was made on a milling machine, it was then filed to the correct profile, hardened, and finally stoned to the required limits!

Castings were supplied by a firm in Antwerp who buried the patterns for safety during the war and then had difficulty in finding them again.

Meanwhile a Manchester firm took over the job with not nearly such good results. Another trouble around this time was the cracking of the front stub axles but co-operation with Sheffield steel experts soon answered that one.

The attractive and beautifully finished two-seater body was made by Lockwood and Clarkson of Leeds and one of the tester’s jobs was to run the chassis to the body builders and take back a completed car. A distinguishing feature was the unusually long steering column, which must have been an embarrassment to the entry or egress of stout parties. The gate change to the 3-speed and reverse gearbox was on the driver’s right, the cone clutch was now leather-faced and detachable steel artillery wheels carried 700 by 80 tyres. At a price of £195 in 1915 this sensible little car compared well with the Morris of the period.

Although Day’s never took part in sporting competitions they won a commercial competition of some interest. It was probably in 1914 that a gentleman with the unlikely name of Hamilton Grapes was sent to England by the Australian postal authorities to choose the light car he considered most suitable for their suburban services. This was an order of some importance and several makes, Calthorpe, Singer and so on, submitted their cars to a 1,500-mile test followed by a strip-down examination.

The worthy Mr. Grapes examined the bits of Day-Leeds spread all over the floor of the works and announced that this was the best of the lot. Could this, I wonder, account for your recent photograph of the restored Day-Leeds in Australia?

Only small modifications were made to the design as the years went on and, by 1924, ten to fourteen cars a month were leaving the works, although the price had risen to around £400 with very full equipment.

To compete successfully would have meant expensive reorganisation on mass-production lines so, to the relief of Albert and Charles, and the regret of Willie Harry, it was back to the packaging machinery, in which line Job Day and Sons are still very active.

It seems a pity that such a thoroughly honest little car, made by real engineers with a pride in their craft, should have to disappear. But perhaps even that is preferable to having yet another Rootes or B.M.C. permutation with only the name scrawled in illegible chromium along the bonnet to remind us of the past.

As one old foreman engineer said, ” Nowt but t’best went into t’owd Day-Leeds.”—K. Lloyd Griffin.