Factory methods of the vintage era

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No. 14: Clyno

The story of Clyno has been well told elsewhere—the start with motorcycles and a prototype small car before the 1914/18 war. The success of the 5/6-h.p. combination, which was widely used by the Allied Forces as a machine-gun carrier during the war, although a 21-h.p. two-stroke was also made. How the motorcycle business of Frank Smith and his cousin failed financially but was re-formed as The Clyno Engineering Company (1922) Ltd. to concentrate on cars, with Cocker as Sales Manager.

How these Coventry-Climax-engined 1,368-c.c. Clynos with 1/4-elliptic springing and solid back axles challenged Morris sales, with some 50,000 disposed of by 1928. The 10.8 Clyno was designed by A. G. Booth, who later created the Singer Le Mans. The Rootes brothers looked after sales and overseas distribution, Cocker and others drove Clynos in trials, and in 1924 Clyno came out with their own 13-h.p. engine. This was followed by an improved Clyno Eleven with 1/2-elliptic back springing and by de luxe “Royal” models. They even toyed with a sports model, with four-speed gearbox if required, a car finished in Chinese white paintwork with green mudguards. The Clyno became one of the world’s most respected small cars, with commendably smooth steering and effective four-wheel-brakes. But by 1928 Rootes had withdrawn their support and Clyno were in a bad way. They brought out Booth’s Nine in an attempt to capture a part of the new baby-car market but panicked into making it a near £100 car, named the Clyno Century, which cynics called the Clyno Cemetery. The end came in 1929, with a receiver appointed and no takers for a Clyno straight-eight.

While all had been going well, Clyno of Wolverhampton had one of the busiest mass-production factories in the industry. As has been said, the story started with motorcycles, made at Thrapston in Northamptonshire, with a move to Pelham Street, Wolverhampton in 1910, the original factory being enlarged in 1911 and combined with another factory at Brickkiln Street in 1913. Not only was the aforesaid Clyno-Vickers Machine Gun Outfit supplied to the British Machine Gun Corps but large orders for them were obtained from the Russian Czarist Government. The Clyno Company also manufactured 300-h.p. ABC Dragonfly aero-engines during the war years.

The car side of the business was centred on the same Pelham Street factory in Wolverhampton, the original 1910 building being used as a machine-shop and the floor space being increased by nearly six times the area occupied in 1923, by extensions.at Brickkiln Street during 1924 and 1925. During this time sales showed a phenomenal rise. Those of 1924 over 1923 were up by over 720% the following year’s increase exceeded 260% and from 1925 to 1926, in spite of the General Strike (which Clyno and Star were among the last in the country to join), the upward trend exceeded 260%., This represented 3,000 cars in the first six months of 1924 and by the close of the following year the weekly output equalled the entire 1923 production, 150 Clynos being made in an average week, rising to 350 on a good week during the peak of the 1925/6 boom.

At the Pelham Street factory Clyno made their own gearboxes, machined on Ward’s capstan lathes, with Herbert’s automatic machines making brake drums. In the Brickkiln Street machine-shop, overhead belting drove the machine tools in 1925. Capacity ran out and in 1926 the foundations were laid for a new factory at Bushbury, not far from the Guy and Star factories, which was opened in 1928.

Here shops of two- and four-acre floorage were erected to cope with line assembly of chassis and engine manufacture, Pelham Street becoming the Service Department, although the gearboxes were still made there. At Bushbury there was a spacious saloon-car despatch bay and another where chassis prepared for export by Rootes were stored, spare wheels attached to their wooden boxes of components. The machine-shop contained Barber-Colman bobbing machines and centre lathes, their overhead shafting slung from Rubery Owen girders, and a Carrier enamelling plant with electrically-heated drying chambers. Vast Lumsden surface grinders, batteries of grinding machines, and Natco multi-spindle drilling machines with enormous hand-wheels, were installed. Over 100 complete engines would be stacked on the floor awaiting transport to the chassis assembly line and the bodyshop might obtain more than 30 tourer bodies in course of manufacture by the wood-working shop.

Alas, Clyno failed to maintain its meteoric rise to full capacity and the Bushbury factory was taken over by Alfred Herbert Ltd., some of whose machine tools had been installed therein by Clyno in their heyday.—W. B.