Fragments on forgotten makes No. 34: The H.P. 3-wheeler

THE H.P. 3-wheeler is fascinating because it appeared on the commercial scene comparatively late in the cyclecar lifespan and was simple in the extreme—a final attempt, as it were, apart from a few isolated later efforts, to offer the confirmed rider of a motorcycle combination a car of like weight and simplicity, at the same low price, although at the time of its introduction cyclecars were by no means defunct. Indeed, it was well into 1928 when the New Cyclecar Club was formed, to flourish for a year or two.

The story really starts with the Rev. W. H. Peacey, Rector of Mordiford, who was a great cyclecar advocate. Indeed, while living near Southampton he built a car powered with a Stuart Turner model petrol engine which he had converted to rotary valves, and in which his young sons learnt to drive round the verandah which surrounded the old house.

This motoring clergyman, who graduated eventually to Bugattis, next built a full-size cyclecar. making every single part of it himself. Its engine was a 3-cylinder rotary-valve single-acting steam engine under the floorboards, a flash boiler, also made in the home workshop. being placed under the bonnet, heated by a home-made paraffin burner. The front axle consisted of a piece of ash sandwiched between channel-section members which extended to form steering pivots, and a friction-disc transmission was used, with final chain drive, supplemented by an ingenious 2-speed chain-and-dog mechanism to overcome the inefficiency of friction drive beyond its middle ratio. Bicycle tyres were used, as being those most easily obtainable. A condenser occupied the position normally taken up by a radiator.

This clever machine, built by the Rev. Peacey in 1913/14, followed earlier experiments with a conventional steam engine in a Darracq chassis. He was not an engineer, but this self-created cyclecar served him well for many years. Its demise came about when, climbing a hill out of Cheltenham after a posting to Tewkesbury, he urged his son to “keep her going,” whereupon young Peacey, with all the enthusiasm of youth, put the boiler pressure up to 1,750 lb./sq. in. and blew-up the boiler!

This son, later to become the “P” of the H.P. project, was then 13 years old and an early 1907/8 4-cylinder F.N. single-speed motorcycle had been acquired for him. After the disaster with the steam engine his father commandeered this excellent power unit for his cyclecar, buying the boy a 1⅓-h.p. Clement-Garrard.

This, however, proved rather too tame, and a T.M.C. was acquired, Peacey’s father meanwhile discovering a 4-cylinder Buckingham engine, which he converted to rotary valves and substituted for the F.N. in his cyclecar. Further experiments with water-injection resulted in two of the cylinders blowing off. . . .

Meanwhile, the motor-minded sun, Robert Peacey (who rode a bycycle to Brooklands and back in order to see the first 200-Mile Race, while at school in Cheltenham) was serving an apprenticeship with the Cotton motorcycle company, where he gained a very thorough training in practical engineering and amused himself by building a 3-wheeler with a 90-bore side-valve J.A.P. engine and Jardine gearbox.

Leaving Cotton’s, he saw an advertisement by Hilton Skinner asking for a partner in his Pixie 3 project, a 3-wheeler business this gentleman had started at Letchworth. Skinner claimed the experience, Peacey invested the capital, to the tune of some £300. However, after driving the prototype H.P. some 30,000 Peacey decided it would need drastic modification.

At this time the Bleriot-Whippet cyclecar (see Motor Sport, December 1963) had gone out of existence and there was a sale et the Addlestone factory, where later the Eric-Longden was made, until the Weyrnann body people took it over. This sale, which was attended by Mon. Bleriot himself, Peacey attended, buying up enough parts and raw material to stock the one-time builder’s sheds in Board School Road, Woking, where he proposed to manufacture H.P. 3-wheelers. The second one completed was exhibited at the 1926 Motorcycle Show.

The design was deliberately kept as simple as possible. A frame like that of the Bleriut-Whippet, of laminated ash, was sprung on ¼-elliptic front springs, to which a cut-down Bleriot-Whippet front axle (of which hundreds had been bought at the sale), was adapted by means of brazed-on plates to fit the springs. without the original radius-rods. There was no springing of any kind at the back! The engine, controlled by a hand-throttle, was normally an 85 x 88 mm. single-cylinder Aza-J.A.P., the 5oo-c.c. side-valve “lawn-mower” version, driving by chain to a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox (giving a top gear ratio of 5.9 to 1), final drive being by a long chain to the unsprung back wheel. To absorb the road shocks this wheel was shod with a Hutchinson 4-in. tyre, whereas 3.25 in. front tyres sufficed. (The Gnome—later Nomad—four-wheeled cyclecar of this era had no springs at all, but was shod with balloon tyres.) The H.P. used a British rear hub and there was a brake drum on each side of the back wheel; that on the sprocket side being the better and therefore used as the service brake. wheelbase measured 6ft. 6 in.

Two H.P.s, however, had 500-c.c. Dunelt two-stroke engines, and three were given 500-cc. British Vulpine o.h.v, engines— all single-cylinders, of course. It was with one of the latter that Peacey competed in a Victory Cup Trial—he remembers that this one would do some 75 m.p.h., although this was only safe in a straight line! There was also one with a 600-c.c. J.A.P., for Harry Langton, the Scott exponent, who, with other motorcycle dealers, was one of the agents. The single-cylinder engines were carefully silenced by big two-cone silencers!

The bodies were made in the Woking works by an ex-Hooper coachbuilder. They were of plywood, on an ash frame. covered with fabric in lieu of paint. The early H.P.s were blue, but later ones were done in red and a more superior upholstery material than rexine was used. A Binks carburetter and Miller battery lighting formed part of the equipment (a dynamo cost extra), the windscreens were wood-framed, ex-Bleriot-Whippet, and the partners contrived to sell these 400 lb. two-seater 3-whee/ers for £65, or at £50 in chassis form—at a time when the Austin 7 cost £149.

Asked how many staff the works employed, Peacey says, “Oh, the chap from Hoopers, Edgar Marshall, Hilton Skinner and myself.” But the venture lasted for some 18 months and they built about 40 cars.

To gain publicity, J. J. Hall and Peacey took class records in an H.P. at Brooklands in May 1927. It was a standard version, with the doorless body sides cut away “to make it look more sporty,” aero-screens, and a Derriugton regulation silencer. Long-range tanks put the weight up to 900 lb. On the first attempt the fuel tank, formed as the header tank of the Bleriot-Whippet dummy radiator, collapsed. So a better-made tank, liberally wrapped in felt and flexibly mounted on ash stays running from radiator to dash, and strapped down, was contrived, and all went well, the H.P. circulating for eight hours at an average speed of 48 m.p.h., in spite of losing 25 minutes when a chain broke and smashed the carburetter float-chamber. After which it went on and on, lapping at a consistent 58 m.p.h., to capture a total of 18 records: Its unsprung back wheel gave the occupants a terrible time, however, the skin being stripped from their backs. The engine was a 344-c.c. 2-port o.h.v. T.T. J.A.P. provided by Jimmy Hall. The H.P. averaged 60.97 m.p.h. for 5 miles and 61.97 m.p.h. for 5 kilos from a flying start, on its second attempt—the date being June 1st, 1927. Useful bonus was picked up, R.O.P. petrol, Palmer tyres, Sternol oil, a Coventry chain—and Galloway’s Cough Syrup, being used.

Incidentally, the H.P. had absolutely direct steering, like a Morgan before the advent of the reduction box, and as BleriotWhippet steering wheels proved unsuitable, big alloy-hub, wooden-rimmed aeroplane control wheels were adapted.

The hard ride he suffered round 13rooklands prompted Peacey to fit the last II.P. built ‘with torsion-bar rear suspension, of laminated type as on a VW, arranged to obviate the need for pivot pins. The original patentee of torsion-bar springing, who was at the Gloster Aircraft Company, provided the idea. Towards the end of the production run a jockey sprocket was fitted to tension the long final-drive chain.

Alas, the project failed to make money for its ambitious and enthusiastic sponsors. When they ran out of capital, with over a ton of Bleriot-Whippet wheel spokes and enough front axles and laminated ash for many hundreds of cars, the unwanted material and components were sold and Peacey bought Metro Motors, a firm which specialised in 3-wheelers, importing the D’Yrsan, Sandford, etc. He imported Senechals while running, this firm and later became a staunch Bugatti enthusiast. But that is another story. . . .

Bob Peacey has only seen. one H.P. since the project folded: a Dunelt-engined model he encountered one night during the war in the Edgware Road. “Were they so bad they were all scrapped, or so good their owners never had to bring them back to us ?” he muses, looking back on this attempt to manufacture one of the last of the true cyclecars.