Fragments on Forgotten Makes

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No. 39: The Dolphin

The Dolphin was a comparatively rare make of car but I fortunate in being able to obtain some first-hand information about by driving into Kent (with an apprehensive eye on the police cars) to chat with Mr. Michael Sassoon, who founded The Two-Stroke Engine Company, which manufactured it.

Mr. Sassoon was at Cambridge with Harry Ricardo and it was he who helped when, after Sassoon had served his time with Thorny-Crofts at Basingstoke (and gained relaxation by building a Sassoon-Special motorcycle in 1903, using Chater-Lea parts and a Fafnir engine), he set out us become a car manufacturer. A tin shed was erected in the old shipyard, close to the slipway, at Shoreham (the shed survived up to a few years ago; the slipway is still there)., and the Dolphin car evolved round a two-stroke engine using Ricardo patent scavenging cylinders. As the scavenge and working cylinders were at an angle, this gave the engine the appearance of a vee-eight. In fact, two sizes were made, a twin-cylinder 15-h.p. and a 4-cylinder 4 in. x 4 in. 30-h.p. Production commend about 1907.

Rubery Owen supplied the chassis frames, and a Rolls-Royce shape radiator was used, with a dolphin as the radiator-cap mascot—Mr. Sassoon has one to this day. The specification of the chassis was quite straight-forward and as Ralph Ricardo, who was in the venture, had been apprenticed to the Daimler, there was quite a flavour of that great Coventry make about it. A separate 4-speed and reverse gearbox drove via an open propeller shaft with fabric universals to a conventional back axle. Reverse gear was selected with a separate lever and there was worm-and-wheel steering with a full worm wheel.

The engine was the interesting aspect of the Dolphin. A proto-type had been tested in the laboratories at Cambridge. The con.-rods for the scavenge pistons were attached to the main con.-rods instead of the crankpins, so that a full stroke of the piston was accomplished before the working piston had uncovered the exhaust ports at its base, thus ensuring a very complete charge. The circular crankcase and cylinders were all easily made on lathes, the crankshaft being inserted through one end of the crankcase, and run on ball-races. A cross-shaft drove water pump and magneto and a B. & B. carburetter was used. These engines were made, for £85 apiece, by Lloyd and Plaister of Wood Green, who also manufactured sweet-making machinery. The 4-cylinder one developed about 40 b.h.p.

About 15 men assembled the cars, all supervision being done by the proprietors themselves, when they were not away enjoying the delights of near-by Edwardian Brighton! The 2-cylinder Dolphin engine was used in boats and as a stationary engine, one being employed to drive the works machinery. Finished chassis were driven to Redhill, where the 4-door touring bodywork was made.

Performance was quite good, some 50 m.p.h. being obtainable, and the aim was to sell the car complete with windscreen, lamps, etc., at the competitive price of £400, although later the big chassis cost £403. No agents were appointed, the proprietors selling direct from Shoreham. Perhaps all told 30 or 40 Dolphins were produced.

Unfortunately no business acumen was mingled with the engineering know-how and enthusiasm of the young proprietors. They ran out of money in a big way and by 1911 the Two-Stroke Engine co. was no more.

Michael Sassoon emigrated to Vancouver, where he discovered the value of the ModelT Ford. Returning to England, the flying bug bit him in 1930 and he has been flying aeroplanes ever since, he owned Jean Batten’s metal D.H. Moth until it was destroyed in a hangar fire, and he is still flying, at the age of 84. Motoring he regards as a past delight, so for transport to Rochester and Fairoaks aerodromes a nine-year-old Morris 1000, the engine of which has never been down, suffices.—W. B.

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