The Alldays & Onions

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AIldays & Onions cars may not be all that well remembered, but in their time they had the distinction of being manufactured by the oldest company to turn to motor-car production, and can be seen as a very well designed and constructed make. Indeed, the original ironmongery company dates back as far as 1650, when it made blacksmiths’ equipment for Midlands engineering works. It also made bellows for iron-foundries, and this developed into the supply of every conceivable kind of tool, from hand-drills up, for engineering workshops, a profitable line in the busy Midlands.

Later, the specialist industry of fan making, for engineering purposes, became the main outlet, as it has remained to the present-day. The resurfacing of anvils had comprised a large part of the original business, but when cast steel came into use for this purpose the work declined, until in 1916 Mr Allday summarily shut down this department. He had owned a De Dion Bouton in 1899, so had some idea of how the motor industry might develop. Inevitably the Alldays & Onion Pneumatic Engineering Co Ltd of Birmingham, while continuing with the production of blacksmith equipment, fans and blowers of all kinds, added at first the inevitable Alldays bicycle, and then motorcycles. But back in 1899 the Traveller quadricycle with 4 hp De Dion engine had appeared, in both private vehicle and commercial-traveller forms.

However, the first breakthrough on the car front came with the successful 10/12 hp vertical twin-cylinder introduced in 1908, and which was to remain a well-liked Alldays car up to 1911, when it was superceded by the larger four-cylinder cars. In 1908 the Enfield Autocar Co had been taken into the Alldays group, and these long-established engineers were making cars in their two factories, one in Studley, another at Small Heath in Birmingham. So by 1911 motor-car production was in full swing at the Matchless and the Great Western works; up to the outbreak of the Kaiser War some 400 to 500 cars had been made of one model. Meanwhile, Allday & Onions continued to make a wide range of engineering products, of which the Duplex fan was very successful. I was fortunate in being able to meet Mr Michael W Allday, whose father Percy managed the Company and whose great-uncle William and grandfather Edmund were on the board of the car companies, and had united the Onions business with Alldays. The other Directors were Edmund Tailby and Simon Onions. (The Alldays are keen motorists, having just bought a modern Alfa Romeo to replace a VW Golf; for many years Mrs AlIday was a Lancia enthusiast.)

Mr Allday owns a 1903 Alldays imported from Holland, and a 1911 12/1 4hp Alldays Er Onions which his father had new and used until he gave it to the worksmanager in the 1930s. It has been immaculately restored for Michael Allday by Beaulieu Classic Cars Ltd. He also has a 1919 292cc two-stroke, outside-flywheel Alldays “Allons” motorcycle rescued from Scotland. How nice that such a rightful owner should have three of the vehicles produced by his family and be keen enough to use them, the 1903 car having taken part in several Brighton Runs etc, and the 1911 two-seater in various other VCC events, here and on the Continent. Mr Allday has also preserved many catalogues and other documents relating to the Alldays’ cars and other products.

Inspection of the 1911 12/14hp Alldays (which is now owned by one of Mr Allday’s daughters) emphasised the quality and integrity of the Edwardian cars. The neat radiator carries no badge, this feature on earlier cars (of an “A” encircled by an “O”) having been abandoned as too much like an advertising ploy. The engine has two blocks of paired cylinders, fed by an updraught Zenith carburettor on the off-side, which is where the Bosch magneto is situated. The gearbox provides four forward speeds and reverse, and refinements include screwdown greasers on the shackle-bolts, an automatically tensioned cooling-fan belt, and an engine-driven tyre-inflator which will produce 75Ib/sq in and can be connected to any tyre via detachable hoses, two brass-cased dials on the dashboard indicating the pressure and the state of a tyre the pump is blowing-up, with a valve for adjusting pressure in that tyre. The construction of the entire car is clearly well contrived and every component adequate for its task. The dickey-seat lid opens to reveal tonneau-shaped side panels which fold into place and a subsidiary hood can be attached to the main hood of the roomy two-seater body. There is no carburettor choke, but the compression-taps are inclined for easy priming incidentally, although no badge defiles the radiator, the initials A & O used to be stamped on the chassis components such as the back-axle casing and pedals.

Looking at this 12/I4hp car convinced me that Alldays & Onions made dependable cars of adequate proportions. Apart from the two successful smaller models, a 25/30hp “four” and big 30/35hp six-cylinder were available from 1911 up to the war, and both Alldays and Enfield brand names were used. Apart from a range of models, a very wide selection of different types of bodywork was offered in those pre-915 days. I note in the catalogues that the type-numbers of the 10/12hp cars went from 2 and 4 to 221 and 222 denoting different body styles, the lowest-priced being listed at 210 and 220 gns. Similarly, the 14/18hp cars were listed as Nos 18 and 31. Interestingly, a “Brooklands” model was included, with small bolster petrol tank behind the seats, available on both the 10/12 and 14/18hp chassis. Thus Alldays, whose offices were on Holborn Viaduct in London, had a good range of cars before those lights went out all over Europe.

They used full pressure lubrication, ball-bearings throughout the transmission, and had improved on their valve tappets to ensure quiet running. But the Matchless works made only a few cars in 1915, and fewer still, under Government permit, during 1916-18, when munitions took over. Production was not resumed until 1921, no cars being made in 1919 and 1920. But before this happened, the Alldays & Onions had been quite prominent in the competition field, cups and medals being proudly illustrated in the catalogues. Being based in Birmingham, Shelsley Walsh hill-climb was the obvious venue, and at the opening meeting in 1905 William Allday entered a 10hp two-cylinder Allday with a 95 x 114mm engine for E J Blakemore to drive, without much success. However, in 1906 four were entered, driven by Blakemore, T W Humore, its entrant S Downing and N Tailby, again without much showing. In the Closed event, though, William Allday entered C E Simms, with whom in 1913 he was to patent a compressed-air engine-starter, used on some Alldays, and he was seventh on time.

By 1908 the 14 and 20hp Alldays appeared on the hill, one of the former driven by Downing, being sixth on Formula, its weight 2786 lb. In 1909 Blakemore, on a 2079 lb 10hp, was again sixth on Formula, after which these entries ceased. But these cars continued to appeal to ordinary users; indeed, one customer had ordered his fifth Alldays in 1913, a 25/30, saying he found them reliable and hard to beat at the price. Apart from ordinary body types, they could be supplied with flanged wheels for railway, inspection work, and the commercial vehicle chassis also came as a forward-drive truck for maximum loading-space and with a wonderful char-a-banc body, its bench seats protected when necessary with hanging curtains that would have done justice to any drawing-room! I believe a farm tractor was also made. Post Office and India Office orders were among those which sustained the Company, which had taken on a new lease of life from 1911 onwards.

Nor was the growing market for more economical cars neglected. To cater for it, the neat 8hp Alldays light-car was announced in April 1913. A rather spidery-looking little car, it was nevertheless soundly designed. It had a vertical-twin engine of 85 x 88mm bore and stroke, in a chassis with a cone clutch and three-speed and reverse gearbox. Special steps were taken to ensure quiet gears and back axle. The wheelbase was oft 6in, the track 4ft, and the wire wheels were shod with 650 x 65mm tyres. Throttle control was via a lever on the steering column and a Bowden cable, so there were only two pedals, the brake pedal operating expanding shoes in the small rear-wheel drums, the r h hand lever contracting Ferodo-lined bands thereon. With a smart two-seater body and domed mudguards reminiscent of those on the larger Alldays, the price started at a modest £138 10/-, reduced later to £130. This twin-cylinder economy car was followed by the more ambitious four-cylinder bull-nosed 8/10hp model, with a 61 x 100mm (1100cc) engine, an 8ft 11/2 in wheelbase, 700 x 80mm tyres and a weight of about 11cwt. Until the war ended production this sold for £195, with electric lighting, hood, screen, spare wheel, horn and tools. An unusual feature of both the economy Alldays was cantilever springs front and back, a foretaste of those on the Trojan, although on the cars from the Matchless works they did not overlap.

When post-war production was due to be resumed a problem arose. A W Reeves and A C Bertelli, then works manager at Enfield’s, had come up with an odd little car, “The Bullet”, with a five-cylinder air-cooled dry-sump 1453cc radial engine, and advocated this as the post-Armistice car the amalgamated Alldays and Enfield concerns should make, at the Fallows Road, Sparkford, factory. Percy and Edmund Allday disagreed, suggesting a resumption of the successful pre-war models. In the end, Edmund retired, and Percy started William Allday Co Ltd, making the A & O engineering products but not the vehicles, from which Michael Allday recently retired as Chairman.

Alldays & Enfield went ahead with the radial-engined car, which was built by 1919. But there were problems, including oiling up of the lowest of the five cylinders, and apparently one broke down on the way to the Motor Show. However, Reeves had pressed on, and two and four-seater versions were on display at this 1919 Olympia Show. But even at only £350 for the fourseater and in an “aero age”, the car was too unconventional, with this unusual powerunit at the front, behind a dummy radiator. (The test car had a circular dummy rad and wavy disc wheels rather like those of an Angus Sanderson.) So, having decided against rehashing the well-tried pre-war models Bertelli was commissioned to hastily prepare a suitable post-war followup. He came up with a conventional watercooled four-cylinder 10hp 631/2 x 1171/2mm 1 448cc car with three-speed gearbox and a helical-bevel back axle. A new shape of radiator set off the car well, and the gearbox was so suspended that chassis deflection did not affect gear engagement — sometimes a problem on my 1924 12/20hp Calthorpe. But at £575 for the four-seater there could not have been many buyers, although the new Enfield-Allday won the first prize at a Midland LCC trial, Not many mods were required the following year, apart from moving the gear lever to the r h side and improving the water inlet to the radiator; bodywork was now made in the Enfield works — “the cars built like a gun” The 12/30hp model was revived in 1923, with a four-speed gearbox and the cylinder-bore enlarged. But the high prices were against such cars in the post-war depression and after making about 100 it all ended in 1925. The general engineering Company survived very successfully as Alldays & Onions, and latterly Alldays-Peacock.

Incidentally, the difficulties with the Reeves radial-engined Enfield had included problems with the aluminium cylinder heads distorting and upsetting the tappet clearances, cured by having them work in holes bored in the cylinder cooling fins, and the valves hammering into the special alloy valve seats cast into the aluminium heads. The weight of the car also increased when the chassis and its springs had to be strengthened and starting and lighting sets fitted. Moreover, the hoped-for 40 bhp was an actual 20.5 at 2500 rpm. So an investment of some £120,000 was of no avail. Reeves went off to make his own Reeves Radial, and Bertelli to design the ohc Aston Martin which superceded the side-valve cars of that make.

Before this happened, however, the Enfield-Alldays came again upon the competition scene. In the 1921 JCC 200 Mile Race at Brooklands, Bertelli drove a modified version of his new car, with overhead valves in the valve-caps above its side valves, operated by push-rods and rockers, twin Zenith carburettors, lightened conrods, and Zephyr steel pistons. With a racing body 80 mph was expected, from the 40 bhp developed at under 4000 rpm. It finished in 16th place and a late entry was then made for the 1922 loM TT, but Kent Karslake said of Bertelli’s effort that the car ran consistently, but was too heavy and had rather rudimentary FWB. For the 1922 “200” Chance had a standard car but Bertelli and Woolf Barnato more highly developed ones. Both these retired, but Chance’s sports version was fourth at 76.88 mph. By 1923 the Enfield-Alldays had been renamed Bertellis, as they had new single-sleeve-valve engines credited to Bertelli and made at Barnato’s place at Lingfield, with his finance no doubt assisting. They made no impression in the “200”, but appeared in shorter races at Brooklands up to the close of the 1924 BARC season, when Capt I C Douglas raced his Bertelli “Larubia”.

Alldays cars had attained a fine reputation, especially in the pre-First World War era. One owner wrote of a 10/12 twin that had left the works in December 1909 and which he had purchased in 1915, using it for thousands of miles in the hilly Isle of Wight and for Welsh tours, with no engine trouble, maintenance done by himself with very few replacements; he would not hesitate to buy another of the same make.

The motorcycles should not be overlooked, either. Those from the Matchless works were known as Alldays-Matchless machines (although there was no connection with the Plumstead Matchless) and came, like the cars, in a considerable range of models. The single-cylinder versions were available with 499 and 539cc engines, and vee-twins of 798cc and 988cc were offered, all of Alldays design and manufacture. They were refined motorcycles, with enclosed valve springs, and in later times chain-cases and sprung foot boards on the beautifully finished touring outfits. For commercial use box sidecars were available. After the war these machines were sold as Alldays “Allons”, and a post-war 350 could be bought for £55. Before production ceased in 1924 some versions had side valve 1AP engines. W B