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The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter XXIV

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The development and construction of the internal-combustion engine for use in light and heavy motor-cars, motor sea-going craft and the aeroplane cannot be considered as confined to any particular district. Coventry, which was the first home of the bicycle trade, was, curiously enough, the town in which the first light motor engine was constructed by the Daimler Co, founded in 1896 for that purpose. From Coventry the trade spread in various directions, until there is hardly an engineering centre in the country which does not aspire to produce a good class of work in one or more of these lines. Every year at the Motor Show at Olympia new firms enter the field with an amazing fertility of inventive power in the modification and development of the motor mechanism. In the year 1900 there were 184 exhibitors, in 1913 there were 334 and the figure in 1925 was 532. In magnitude and importance this Exhibition has now become the chief gathering of the European motor-car world. To judge from the increase each year of the number of persons who crowd into Olympia, it is evident that there is a growing demand for the light and heavy car, and that, although marine engine-building and agricultural machinery may be under a cloud at the moment, the internal-combustion engine for road traffic can command purchasers at all prices among a public still far from "saturation."

This industry embraces the motor for passenger car transport and aeroplane purposes, and the internal-combustion engine of a heavier type for land and shipping purposes. It is a trade that has developed with extraordinary rapidity, and owes much of its efficiency to foreign enterprise and design, though the motor-cycle is a purely British creation. In 1907 the total number of motor-cars in use in the United Kingdom was 65,000; in 1925 the number rose to 911,000. But in 1907 the number of cars turned out by this country was only 12,000, showing how largely at that period we were indebted to the foreigner. In 1925, however, British production had increased to 153,000 cars, exclusive of motor-cycles. In England and Scotland the proportion of cars to population in 1925 was one car to forty-seven persons, much below the ratio in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, while in the United States the proportion in the same year was one car to every five persons, or over 22,000,000 altogether. It would thus appear that a very large market is still open in this country for inexpensive and handy vehicles, if the American practice is any fair guide.

In 1907 the estimated value of the motor-car output in England was £4,250,000; in 1925 it was £48,000,000 of which £37,500,000 represented private cars and £10,500,000 trade vehicles. In 1907 the British motor-car trade employed 53,000 hands; in 1925 this total had increased to 250,000. In 1897, when the Daimler Co. made its first car, half-a-dozen firms had been successfully at work on the Continent. Now that 29 years have elapsed, we find twenty-two firms in Great Britain having outputs of more than 1,000 cars per year. They are responsible for 94 per cent. of the total production. But, taking the smaller firms into account, sixty-one are producing cars regularly. The output of all firms in 1922 was 38,000 cars; in 1923, 68,000; in 1924, 103,000; and in 1925, 132,000. Of the 1925 output 71 per cent. were 12 h.p. or under, and only 7 per cent. over 18 h.p. Of the total number of cars sold during 1925 in Great Britain, 69 per cent. were of British manufacture.

With regard to the output of commercial vehicles, the year 1923 produced 22,000; 1924 produced 32,000; and 1925 produced 44,000. Of the commercial vehicles sold in 1925, about 14,000 were light vans, 12,000 were motor-buses, 6,000 were light lorries, 4,000 were motor-coaches and chars-a-bancs, 3,000 were heavy lorries, 1,000 were heavy vans and 500 were taxicabs.

It is impossible to say which firm produces the best car, as types vary greatly according to the demands of purchasers, but certain producers stand out very prominently in their special class of manufacture. The chief firms producing luxury models at £1,500 to £3,000 are, in alphabetical order: the Bentley Motors, the Daimler Co., the Lanchester Motor Co., the Leyland Motors and the Rolls-Royce. Among the chief firms turning out luxury and sporting models at £1,000 to £1,500 are the Armstrong Siddeley Motors, the Bentley Motors, the Crossley Motors, the Daimler Co., the Lanchester Motor Co., the Rolls-Royce, the Sunbeam Motor Car Co., Vauxhall Motors and the Wolseley Motors. The last-named firm has been absorbed by Morris Motors (1926).

Among the firms turning out good quality cars at £650 to £1,000 are the Armstrong Siddeley Motors, the Austin Motor Co., the Bentley Motors, the Clement Talbot, the Crossley Motors, the Daimler Co., Humber, the Rover Co., the Star Engineering Co., the Sunbeam Motor Car Co., Vauxhall Motors and the Wolseley Motors.

Smaller, less expensive cars at £300 to £650 so are produced by A. C. Cars, Alvis Car and Engineering Co., Armstrong Siddeley Motors, Arrol Johnston, Austin Motor Co., James Bartle and Co., Bean Cars, Beardmore Motors, Clark Cluley and Co., Clement Talbot, Crossley Motors, Humber, Lagonda, Lawton Goodman, Lea and Francis, Morris Motors, Riley (Coventry), the Rover Co., Singer and Co., the Standard Motor Co., the Star Engineering Co., the Strode Engineering Works, the Sunbeam Motor Car Co., Swift of Coventry, the Triumph Cycle Co., Vauxhall Motors, the Vulcan Motor and Engineering Co., Waverley Cars and Wolseley Motors. Many of these firms also produce cheap cars under £300, and, in addition, the following firms are engaged in that class of manufacture: Bayliss Thomas and Co., the Clyno Engineering Co., Jowett Cars and the Rhode Motor Co.

It is difficult to estimate the turn-out of individual firms, but it may be safely said that the ten firms turning out the largest number of cars are: the Armstrong Siddeley Motors, the Austin Motor Co., noted for its "Little Seven Austins," of which great numbers are turned out week by week, Bentley Motors, Crossley Motors, the Daimler Co., Morris Motors, Rolls-Royce, the Rover Co., the Standard Motor Co., and the Sunbeam Motor Car Co.

One of the most striking developments of the trade in the last few years has been that of Morris Motors (1926), which is referred to more fully in connection with Birmingham industries (see Chapter XXI). This firm, with works at Birmingham and at Cowley, near Oxford, though its engines are made at the Hotchkiss Works at Coventry, has established a business which is driving foreign-built cheap cars out of the country.

The S.T.D. Motors is a remarkable combination of three large firms, namely, the Darracq Co. of Suresnes, France (1905), the Clement Talbot (1902), and the Sunbeam Motor Co. (1920). The group is an important unit in British motor industry. The technical policy is directed by Mr. Louis Coatalen, a famous designer since the earliest days. S.T.D. is distinguished for its activity in motor racing, and may be considered to be in this respect the most successful firm in Europe.

The Standard Motor Co. was the first to introduce really efficient all-weather equipment (rigid detachable side windows, etc.) which has since become a feature of British cars.

The firms producing heavy cars, such as omnibuses, lorries and the like, are thirty in number. Those having probably the largest outputs are: the Albion Motor Car Co., the Associated Daimler Co., Dennis Bros., Leyland Motors, and John I. Thornycroft and Co.; but other noteworthy manufacturers are the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Co., Crossley Motors, Guy Motors, Halleys Industrial Motors, Bean Cars, Karrier Motors, Maudslay Motor Co., Scammell Lorries, the Star Engineering Co., Tilling-Stevens Motors, the Vulcan Motor and Engineering Co., and Walker Bros.

Of these firms the Associated Daimler Co, registered in 1906, was originally known as the Associated Equipment Co., and was controlled by the London Electric Railways Co. and the London General Omnibus Co., until in 1926 it became separated from the latter group and passed under the control of the Birmingham Small Arms Co which had already absorbed the Daimler Co. It is probably the most important maker of commercial passenger motor vehicles.

The Bristol Tramways and Carriage (1887) Co. was originally a tramway and cab company. It now manufactures vehicles and carries on an extensive road transport business in the West of England.

The Guy Motors, founded in 1914, has export branches in South Africa and Australia.

The Tilling-Stevens Motors, founded in 1906, originated the well-known petrol-electric type of vehicle in which an electric generator and motor take the place of the gear-box.

British small motor-boats have achieved a striking success in world markets and enjoy an unassailed reputation for quality and performance. We are probably the largest supplier of motor-boats in the world, but reliable statistics are difficult to obtain. Among firms specialising in marine motor engines are the Ailsa Craig Motor Co., W. H. Dorman and Co., Aster Engineering Co., Atlantic Engine Co., W. D. Fair and Parsons Motor Co. The three firms with the largest outputs and whose reputation is worldwide are probably John I. Thornycroft, S. E. Saunders and J. Samuel White and Co. This last-named firm is the oldest shipbuilding business in Great Britain. In the middle of the seventeenth century Whites were building at Broad-stairs ships for the Iceland Fisheries and the Russian Trade. In 1746 John White, the great-great-grandfather of the founder of the present Company, was head of the firm. Fifty years later the shipyard was moved to Cowes, where its fast launches, coastal and Vidette boats are now built.

In addition, there are other firms manufacturing motor-boats, such as the British Marine Motor-boat Co., J. W. Brooke and Co., Camper and Nicholsons, Dickson Bro. and Hutchinson, Husk and Sons, R. Kempe, Maclaren Bros., F. Maynard, Norris, Henty and Gardner, William Osborne, Penman and Co., Rowhedge Iron Works, Salter Bros., Seamless Steel Boat Co., Shortt Bros., and James Taylor and Bates.

Another branch of the motor industry of the highest importance which is developing rapidly both under Government and commercial encouragement is that of aero-engine manufacture. At present the Bristol aero-engine type is standard in half-a-dozen different countries for commercial and military purposes. The French Air Force are using hundreds of them. Napier aero-engines are also used by a number of foreign manufacturers, and have recently won the German Government seaplane trials.

Other important firms producing these are Armstrong Whitworths, and Rolls-Royce. But comparatively few British aircraft made in this country are used in Continental countries.

The British Aeroplane Co., maker of the Bristol Jupiter engine, has sold its licence to the Gnome Le Rhone Engine Co. in Paris. This licence covers the sale of all engines in Europe, and the Gnome Le Rhone is negotiating subcontracts in other countries on the Continent. These engines (but French built) are largely used in France. Indeed, at the recent Aero Show in Paris 50 per cent. of the total exhibits contained Bristol engines. They are also largely used by the Fokker Works in Holland. It is probably correct to say that our leading engines are equal to, and slightly better than, those of Continental competitors, although their price is considerably higher.

The designers of aircraft engines may be divided into five groups:

1. The designers of water-cooled engines.

2. The designers of air-cooled engines.

3. The designers of light aeroplane engines.

4. Re-constructors of old war engines, and

5. Designers of and experimenters on heavy oil engines.

At the present moment the Rolls-Royce and Napier firms specialise in the water-cooled engine. The Rolls-Royce firm has designed these since 1915, turning out engines of varying sizes from 75 to 700 p.h. In the last three years it has produced the modified Eagle 12-cylinder 400 h.p., and the Condor 12-cylinder 400 h.p. This engine is understood to be still in its early stages of development.

The Napier firm produced its first aero-engine after the war, now known as the Napier Lion 450 h.p. This engine has been continually modified, and in its present form is believed to be an exceptionally reliable power unit. The firm has also turned out the Napier Cub of 1,000 h.p., with twenty cylinders divided into five blocks of four cylinders each. This engine, though more or less experimental, has been actually installed in a good many aircraft.

Under class two the Bristol Aeroplane Co. and Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Co. produce the only large air-cooled aviation engines. The former firm has produced the Bristol Jupiter 420-h.p. 9-cylinder radial air-cooled engine, and, it is understood, will shortly produce a modified Jupiter of 700 h.p., to be called the Mercury. The Jupiter is considered by some to be the most reliable aeroplane engine on the market to-day. The Armstrong Whitworth firm has also produced a Jaguar engine of 400 h.p., which, it is interesting to note, was used by Sir Alan Cobham in his flights to Australia and to the Cape. This engine is also largely employed in His Majesty's Service.

Under the third class of light aeroplane engine several firms are well known, such as Bristol Aeroplane Co., Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., A. V. Roe and Co. and Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Co. The first-named firm has for some years produced the Cherub 2-cylinder 48-h.p. engine, which, it may be noted, won the Lympne Light Aeroplane competitions last year.

As to the re-constructors of war engines, Aircraft Disposal Co. of Croydon is the only firm seriously engaged in the adaptation of this kind of engine—namely, the Nimbus and the Cyrrus types. The former is a 300-h.p. modified Siddeley Puma; it is believed to be a very reliable unit. The Mark I Cyrrus engine is a modification of the old 80-h.p. Renault war-type air-cooled engine, and has been used in the De Havilland Moth aircraft with success.

Under the fifth class the designers of and the experimenters with heavy oil engines are actively occupied in working more or less on the Diesel principle, but the greatest secrecy is maintained by the firms experimenting on these lines, and it is difficult to say what progress has been made. It is, however, known that the Beardmore Co. has produced an engine said to give excellent results, but at present it is regarded as in the progressively experimental stage. It is understood that the Vickers, Bristol and Armstrong firms are all engaged in heavy oil-engine experiments, similar to those proceeding in both France and Germany, and the Junker firm is understood to have at least one type of engine under construction which differs from any existing type. At the present time there are of civil aircrafts in use in Great Britain 216, in Germany 250, in France over Boo, in Italy 200, in Belgium 24, all licensed by the respective Governments.

If Great Britain was laggard in the development of the four-wheel motor car, she was from the outset in the front of the bicycle and motor-cycle industry, which originally centred in Coventry, and has now spread over a wider area. There are some ninety manufacturers of these machines, of which seven well-known firms may be mentioned as typical of the trade. Douglas Motors is a firm centred at Bristol; A. J. Stevenson (1914) at Wolverhampton; B.S.A. Cycles and Norton Motors and John Marston and Sons are established at Wolverhampton. Raleigh Cycle Co. carries on manufacturing at Lenton in Nottinghamshire, while Coventry is well represented by Triumph Cycle Co. The figures relating to the capital and output of these or any other firms cannot be obtained without considerable difficulty. But the export values afford a good indication of the steady growth of this trade, which doubtless supplies a far larger number of machines to the home market than to buyers abroad. It is apparent that Great Britain holds the leading position in the motor-cycle trade for both output and racing records, and on her merits she has captured all the important export markets.

The exports of motor-cars and parts from the United Kingdom in 1926 represented £9,120,000, while our imports were only £5,816,000 in value.

The motor industry is a valuable adjunct to the producers of the finest quality of Sheffield steel. The laboratories and electric melting furnaces in that city are turning out large quantities of steel of special types, mostly alloyed with other metals, such as nickel, tungsten, vanadium and chrome, but absolutely free from sulphur, phosphorus or other ingredients, which impair the mechanical strength of the metal. In addition to what is used by British manufacturers, large quantities of these steels are sent abroad, and there is no high-class car or aero-engine in this country which does not rely upon one or more of the leading Sheffield firms. High as the cost may be of these special steels, the extra expense is as nothing compared with the losses which may ensue from the breakdown of an engine, an axle, a spring, the steering mechanism or the gear. And to the purchaser of a car its durability, apart from the risk of sudden collapse, counts for much. The value of these steels is demonstrated when the mileage covered over a course of years by a good car is taken into account.

The Census of Production taken by the Board of Trade covers the motor and cycle trades down to the end of 1924 only. The Report gives the following statistics, showing an increase of trade in the last twenty years from £11,533,000 to £93,819,000.


&nbsp 1913 1916 1925
Cycles £609,482 £286,171 £1,308,025
Motor-cycles £733,269 £599,969 £1,857,025
Totals: £1,342,751 £886,140 £3,165,050

The total value of goods made and work done in the motor and cycle trades in 1924 was £93,8i9,000, of which £44,,059,000 represented the value of motor-cars and chassis, while repair work was done to the value of £14,887,000 and the value of parts of motor-cars was £14,357,000. The following table compares the output of the various sections of the trade in the three years in which statistics were collected:

Kind of goods 1924 Selling Value 1912 Selling Value 1907 Selling value
Motor-cars and chassis £40,059,000 £7,436,000 £3,585,000
Motor-cycles and tri-cars £5,877,000 £1,613,000 £137,000
Bicycles and tricycles £3,774,000 £2,121,000 £3,383,000
Parts of motor cars £14,357,000 £2,042,000 £552,000
Parts of motor-cycles and cycles £8,696,000 £2,286,000 £1,845,000
Aeroplanes and parts £3,553,000 £36,000 -
Other products £2,616,000 £761,000 £431,000
Repair work £14,887,000 £1,744,000 £1,600,000
Totals £93,819,000 £18,039,000 £11,533,000

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