Carden Cyclecars

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Sir,

Regarding Mr. Spencer’s letter, I feel I can add something to the subject of Carden Cyclecars and their designer.

John Valentine Carden was born about 1890, he was therefore in his early-twenties when he produced the single-seater in 1913. He served as a Captain in World War I, and sold the manufacturing rights of the cyclecar to A.V. in about 1919. A.V. still exists as a garage in Teddington.

J. V. Carden then produced his second cyclecar model, which was promptly sold to Tamplin, now a Volvo agent in Twickenham. He then concentrated on the little 2-cyl. 2-stroke cyclecar with his own design of engine and combined rear axle. About 600 were made; the engine, incidentally, was derived from Scott ideas. Carden’s cyclecar activities ended with liquidation in 1922, in company with many other manufacturers.

Various other motor engineering ventures followed, often associated with Ford T units, culminating in the one-man-tank, about” 1926 or 1927. This was powered by a Ford T engine and utilised other Ford T parts. This vehicle started a long association with the War Dept. and resulted in the formation of Carden Lloyd Tractors, where J. V. Carden was the engineering genius and Capt. Lloyd the salesman. The company was later absorbed into Vickers Armstrongs.

Not withstanding the shortcomings of his early cyclecars (which he readily admitted), Carden was a brilliant intuitive engineer of the old school, endlessly sketching new ideas and improvements on old ones, taking complete responsibility for every part of the vehicle.

Under his scrutiny a vast range of experimental tracked vehicles were produced, the better known ones being the Brim Gun Carrier and the Valentine tank (so called because it was started on St. Valentine’s Day).

The common features of the cyclecars and the military vehicles were: stressed skin construction (plywood for the former and armour plate for the latter), a tendency towards the use of epicyclics in the transmission, and, above all, a proper understanding of the importance of weight reduction on vehicles of all types.

By the early 1930s Carden was in a stronger position, having inherited the Baronetcy and become a Technical Director of Vickers, at about the same time. However, the calls of big business were irksome to him and he sought relaxation in various flying activities, like fitting a 250-c.c. Villiers 2-stroke into the rear cockpit of a sailplane to assist in maintaining height. In between whiles the engine would be wound back into the cockpit by a typical-Carden system of chains and pulleys. On one occasion this device actually took off without a catapult, admittedly against a strong wind. At this stage Sir John came to the conclusion that the engine was not quite powerful enough; it was supposed to develop 11 h.p., but 8 h.p. seemed more like the realistic maximum. In his spare moments front Vickers, Sir John began to assist and finance S. V. Appleby with his Flying Flea project, presenting him with a converted Ford to engine and propeller, and recommending the use of a 4-metre wing in place of Henri Migniet’s 3-metre. This was the Flea that flew the Channel under the auspices of The Daily Express in 1935, and on one occasion Sir John did a circuit of Heston in the Flea, which was quite a feat in view of his 6′ 2″ stature.
At this time Sir John drove a Hudson 8, which he said was the right kind of car, and presented Appleby with a Ford to van as tender to the Flea and as an emergency source of spares. On one occasion I managed to get Sir John to discuss cyclecars. He made no attempt to defend his mistakes, thought cyclecars were the quickest way of losing money, and even admitted that low gear on the Monocar wouldn’t work which incidentally didn’t matter much as it would go anywhere on its 4-to-I top). In reply to my insistence on knowing what a modern cyclecar would be like (this was 1935, remember), he produced the usual grubby envelope and began to sketch a horizontally opposed air-cooled engine flanged to one end of a backbone tube, and a gearbox at the other; then he rubbed the gearbox out, inserted it between the engine and the tube (the normal place), remarking that it would change gear better like that. Then he added independent front suspension by transverse leafspring and started to wonder how he was going to fix the body on. If the telephone hadn’t rung, I think there might have been a fourth model of Carden cyclecars.

Unhappily, Sir John was killed in the Sabena air crash at Westerham in November 1935, returning from a business meeting in Belgium to negotiate Ford V8 engines for Bren Gun Carriers.
So, if your Carden cyclecar is not quite up to expectations in terms of reliability; and 1st gear won’t work properly, just console yourself with the thought that it shares parentage with some of our better World War II equipment. I have never owned a Carden, being more of a GN man, but I am inclined to agree with Hugh Spencer, that without one or the other, you could run a risk of being incomplete.
Hampton Wick – EDWARD RIDDLE

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