Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 2)

As we (somewhat belatedly) rejoin Robertas Parazitas’ commemoration of the Jowett Javelin, the design begins to take shape.

Image: The author

1943 has just begun, Britain is at war. Jowett has an ambitious visionary as its Managing Director, and a 32 year old engineer with an impressive record of achievement has joined the company to lead its most important project. Would extraordinary circumstances produce an exceptional car?

While Charles Calcott Reilly had found his engineer, the brief for his task was far from set. The design which evolved defined the aspirations of Calcott Reilly and Palmer – a compact but spacious saloon, was described by its designer as a utility car. The target price was £500, coincidentally Gerald Palmer’s starting salary when he joined Jowett in 1942. Exportability was a priority; despite the company’s characterisation as Yorkshire’s national vehicle, in the pre-war period, Jowetts were exported to at least 60 countries.

Beyond this, there were few constraints, and those identified related to a world reconstructing itself after a global conflict, rather than the expectations of customers when car production could re-commence.

On his arrival at Jowett, Palmer was granted a tiny office and two of the company’s most capable draughtsmen. Reg Korner, Jowett’s chief bodywork designer, was a willing and welcome contributor when he could be coaxed from his work on lightly reworking the 8hp van into the ‘Bradford’, set to be the company’s cash cow for the immediate post war period. In the midst of conflict, it would have been unacceptable even for thriving Jowett to put substantial resources into a project which had no relevance to the War Effort, yet extraordinary things were evolving in the back rooms at Five Lane Ends.

Were Charles Calcott Reilly and Gerald Palmer familiar with Raymond Loewy’s MAYA Principle – the acronym stood for ‘Most Advanced Yet Acceptable’?  Whether or not they were, the idea seems to define the approach to the design of the Javelin. On a defining scale of one to ten, most comparable pre-war British cars would score one or two, the Javelin in production form would merit eight or nine, but some of the diversions on the road to production reality would go off the scale.

In mid-1943, Palmer’s old boss, O D North was invited to Bradford to talk about his 1922 North-Lucas radial engine, an air-cooled five cylinder designed to be installed horizontally with the crankshaft vertical driving a gearbox beneath.

North Lucas Radial engine. (c) theoldmotor

Bristol Aero Engines designer Roy Fedden visited around the same time to talk about his work on a radial engine in a similar configuration, intended for light road vehicle use.  Perhaps these were just cosy chats over tea and scones in the Jowett boardroom, but the very fact that they happened indicates a will to break with convention, more on the part of Calcott Reilly than of Palmer.

Fedden went on to design and construct one example of a six-seat rear-engined car powered by an 1100cc three cylinder radial engine with sleeve valves. The development of this car was near contemporary with the Javelin, and Alex Moulton and Gordon Wilkins were involved in the project.

Also in mid-1943 the Jowett company entered into an agreement with the London Design Research Unit, for émigré Russian Constructivist sculptor to develop an alternative body design to that being developed in-house by Palmer and Korner.

Gabo’s design is extraordinary and timeless, as other-worldly as Flaminio Bertoni’s Citroën DS which would appear twelve years later. The principal dimensions and mechanical layout had already been firmly set by Palmer when Gabo was invited to present proposals, with a £6000 contract in prospect if the design proceeded to production.

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Writing in his 1998 autobiography, Gerald Palmer recalled that he did not welcome this development stating “I was concerned.  I didn’t want to lose control”. His unease would have been short-lived. The decision makers at Jowett evaluated Gabo’s design, concluded that it was completely unbuildable, and terminated the agreement with the London Design Research Unit.

Palmer’s small team had taken a more pragmatic approach, with sharp eyes on the way things were being done in the USA. A monocoque bodyshell was high on the roster of desiderata, despite there being no certainty that the facilities to produce a unitary body from steel pressings would be available to Jowett, whose pulling power for materials and tooling was far short of the UK ‘Big Six’ carmakers.

First Javelin prototype bodyshell. Image: Jowett Cars

The structural design pursued for the Javelin bodyshell was an ‘integrated chassis’ rather than a fully stressed monocoque, with strength derived from longitudinal rails and steel bulkheads. Plywood sheet was used for the passenger compartment floor. The principles applied could accommodate a superstructure using a material of lesser tensile strength than steel, such as aluminium or a reinforced plastic composite. The first three running prototypes, completed from August 1944, had an aluminium superstructure, not as a declaration of intent but through expediency at a time of desperate material shortages.

At the earliest design stages, Palmer considered using symmetrical doors, mirrored on the B-pillar. This would require two, rather than four sets of door and frame pressings as diagonally opposite doors would be interchangeable.  The idea was not pursued beyond quarter-scale models, but vestiges of the idea resonate in the final design.

Quarter-scale model showing parallel doors Image: Jowett Cars

In deference to the expectations of the USA and the nations of the rapidly unravelling British Empire, Jowett’s plan was for a six seat saloon with a high ground clearance and compliant suspension. The mechanical components had to be durable and able to cope with continuous driving over long distances on badly-surfaced roads.

Raised in Southern Rhodesia, Palmer would understand better than his English colleagues the exigencies of motoring on the roads of developing countries. It is interesting to observe that he proposed a unitary body construction in the belief that only this type of structure had the inherent strength to cope with long distance driving on unmade roads. This goes against the conventional wisdom, held even to this day, that when the going gets tough, body-on-frame is the only answer. Only Vauxhall, with their 1937 10-4, preceded Jowett in adopting unitary construction for a British mass-produced car.

Javelin long section. Image: G Palmer

None of the foregoing would necessarily dictate an advanced or mechanically distinctive design, but Palmer’s track record as a suspension designer and Calcott Reilly’s personal enthusiasm –he chose a Citroën Light 15 as his personal transport – would ensure that the new Jowett would be very different from anything Austin, Morris, Hillman or Standard might offer in the post-war era.

Reference Sources:

Auto-Architect:  The Autobiography of Gerald Palmer (1911-1999) with Christopher Balfour.  Magna Press 2004.
Jowett Javelin and Jupiter – The Complete Story – Geoff McAuley and Edmund Nankievell.  The Crowood Press 2003.
From Bristol to Bradford-on-Avon – A lifetime in engineering:  Alex Moulton.  The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust 2009.
Roads to Oblivion:  Christopher Balfour.  Bay View Books 1996.

17 thoughts on “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 2)”

  1. Good morning Robert and thank you for such a well written and impeccably researched piece. As I am sure you will be telling us in Part 3, Calcott Reilly owned, in due course, a unique Javelin – it still survives, just, in a state beyond redemption; the unique bit having been saved…..
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Always wondered how Jowett Cars would have fared had Chrysler either bought a stake / outright acquired it either pre-war or post-war (the latter prior to Ford acquiring Briggs), is it known whether there was any car company that was interested in buying Jowett?

    Like Jowett it seems Chrysler themselves look at flat-4 powered smalls cars, along with the radial engined FWD StarCar prototype. – https://www.allpar.com/history/mopar/small-cars.html

    Both the rear-engined RWD Fedden and front-engined FWD Chrysler StarCar prototypes could have benefited from a more viable boxer engine instead of the radial engines. – https://forum.retro-rides.org/thread/133166/when-chriysler-built-radial-engined

    Despite being front-engined RWD the Jowett Javelin also brings to mind Jean-Albert Grégoire’s work on the AFG (Aluminium Français Grégoire) with the Panhard Dyna X (plus derivatives*) as well as the Hotchkiss Grégoire and the 1955 Gregoire Sport Cabriolet by Chapron.

    * – Which include the Hartnett as well as the later AFG versions of the Kendall people’s car project, the latter conceived by notorious Grantham MP Denis Kendall whose antics were said to have influenced a certain Grantham born resident by the name of Mrs Thatcher later on with the likes of John DeLorean. – https://www.just-auto.com/analysis/delorean-story-the-end_id86317.aspx

    1. There seems to be no record of any approach from other manufacturers. In 1949 there were discussions with one Donald Stokes, export manager at Leyland (then of course a producer only of commercial vehicles) for Leyland to become involved in the export side of Jowett; these foundered but not before Leyland identified a market for the Javelin in Norway.

      By the time that Briggs sold out to Ford in 1953, motor car sales in Britain had just suffered a depressed year and although ’53 showed strong recovery, it was too late for Jowett. But as Robertas (please forgive my spell-checker re-naming you without authorisation) will doubtless explain, Jowett Engineering continued in business long after car production ended, although the Springfield Works was sold to International Harvester. And at more than book value – this is, after all, a Yorkshire tale.

    2. Thanks. Have read a few lamenting the demise of Jowett in the past, yet apart from fixing the Javelin’ issues from the outset cannot really see a way for the company to remain a carmaker upon Briggs being sold to Ford outside of being acquired by a larger carmaker / company.

  3. I’m really enjoying this series – thank you, Robertas. Very good to have the bibliography, too.

    Just as a matter of interest, you mentioned a target figure of £500 for the vehicle; my inflation calculator works this out as around £25,500 today, so they weren’t aiming for bargain basement prices (quite right, too).

    Also, your article prompted me to look further in to Naum Garbo. There’s a brief article about him, the car, and his agency, here, from the Tate:

    https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-21-spring-2011/take-courage

  4. Good morning Robertas, and thanks for bringing us such a fascinating story. Would it be stretching a point to say that Jowett, had it been sustained, could have been the British Citröen? At a time when the British motor industry was slavishly conventional, there seemed to be a unique willingness at Jowett to embrace alternative ideas. The five-cylinder radial engine is very intriguing.

    Looking forward to part three.

    1. Hi Charles. Thanks for the link and, yes, the comparison with Lancia is a good one.

    2. Daniel – perhaps not a British Citroën; the French company had gained enough “Traction” in the pre-WW2 years to be too big to fail and somehow managed not just to survive but expand impressively despite their financially parluous state in most years between the December 1934 bankruptcy and the 1974-6 Peugeot takeover.

      In more propitious circumstances I could envisage Jowett might have had a future as a sort of British Saab, or even a British Porsche.

    1. Well spotted! I’d never made that connection before but you’re right. Didn’t the 501 have the headlamp flasher instead of a horn button in the centre of the steering wheel and a ring for sounding the horn? Or so I’m told….

  5. The North-Lucas radial looks very interesting, but I do wonder what advantage it was thought it might confer. Surely any packaging benefit the configuration might offer would have been more than neutralised once all peripherals (especially intake and exhaust manifolds) had been attached?

    1. Surely production costs would have been prohibitive, not to mention maintenance/reliability dealing with the lower cylinders. There is a vast difference between what can be put up with in an aeroplane where preflight checks and meticulous maintenance are part of the routine, and cars.

      E.g. checking to see if oil has gotten into the cylinders before starting.

    2. The North-Lucas at least had the excuse of being from the relatively early days of motordom and workable internal combustion, where anything new was considered worth a try.

      There was a a slightly earlier attempt at the same principle by Enfield-Allday of Sparkbrook, Birmingham with their 10 hp Bullet car designed by A W Reeves. This had an air-cooled sleeve-valve 5 cylinder radial engine of 1247 cc mounted on the front bulkhead.

      In the UK, there was some revived media interest in the Enfield Allday design- which never made it to production – in 1976 with the introduction of the 5 cylinder Audi 100, although the principles were entirely different, and the only common factor was cylinder count.

  6. Looking forward to seeing the 1953 Jowett Bradford CD prototype being touched upon aside from the online images of the 2-door estate and van prototypes.

    Know it was to spawn pick-up and possibly even saloon bodystyles as well as be powered by a flat-twin engine, yet it is not clarified if the Bradford CD was to slot beneath the Javelin or whether the flat-twin still featured side-valves as a full carry-over from the previous Bradford (if not updated to IOE aka inlet-overhead exhaust or OHVs or even replaced by a Javelin-based flat-twin OHV or to feature a 1200cc version of the Javelin flat-4 engine).

  7. Love articles like this with such detail. Thanks for the great effort. I too look forward to future ones in the series. I know very little about Jowett but they seem quite eccentric, never a bad thing for someone like me to ruminate on.

    As an aside on the structural capabilities of unitary versus body-on-frame vehicles, two possibly unrelated things strike me:

    The first is that it is always wise if possible to deliver external dynamic loads to the same point where the object is also supporting an internal concentrated mass. In layman’s terms, put your coil-spring damper unit mount as close as possible to the engine mount. That way there is little intervening bodywork or chassis material to bend, stretch, twist or vibrate between the generator of vibrations and a mass to absorb them. This is easier to do with a separate frame than a sheet metal box for RWD front suspensions. And MacP struts are fairly useless in this regard as are long torsion bars, so things have to be beefed up to survive, and add extra weight to a sheet metal structure, while still not dampening vibrations as well as the first method, providing more places for resonances to occur.

    The second is that the Volvo PV444 developed during 1944 and later, was a unit body design unlike previous battleship Volvos, and was tough as nails in African service. It met the above first criterion for the front suspension at least with a welded fork oval subframe on which both the engine and suspension mounts met.

    I owned a later 544 and literally tried to kill it before my trip to the UK to do graduate work in vibration theory, who’d have guessed. It was worth nothing at ten years old from manufacture in Sept 1969. So I decided to beat it to death one day on the washboardy, rutted, stone-strewn, yump laden backwoods dirt/gravel roads still common in our neck of the woods, and at silly speeds as I was just beyond callow youth and fearless. I got big air. On washboards the passenger seat became a blur. I soon had it rattling away like a bag of bolts, imagining I was winning the 1965 East African Safari Rally which one 40,000 mile example in fact did. Several hours of torture followed. However, upon returning to metalled roads, nothing untoward seemed to have happened. My mother sold it for me, while I was in London, for $150 to a local known for driving at silly speeds and his mother complained to mine after 90 mph trips to town, that she shouldn’t have let Ronnie buy it. Yet blow me if I didn’t get to see it four years later on a trip home, still rolling on the second pair of hands after mine! Its sills sported hand-fashioned ally wraps riveted on to hide the rusty originals. There were other strutural members inside, btw. That was a rugged car of what seems, on the face of it, a simple design, but something or other was done right and a nearly 20 year, 500,000 unit production history bears this out. Not technically interesting but in the real world not a bad old bus at all.

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