Hard Nose the Highway – the Javelin takes to the road
The first prototype of Jowett’s still un-named new saloon was completed on 25 August 1944 arriving into a nation in transition, still anxious, yet optimistic, and at the peak of its technological and manufacturing prowess. It was a land where a computer was a job description for a person adept with a slide rule and log tables, and star engineers and scientists enjoyed the same level of recognition and celebrity as the top sportspeople and entertainers.
For the British car industry, preparing tentatively for the postbellum world, steel allocations were more of a concern than scoop photographers. Gerald Palmer described the in-house built prototypes as “virtually created from raw materials”, by a small development and engineering team, working constantly, even through evenings and weekends. The first car had an 1184cc engine, probably with an iron cylinder block. From the second prototype onwards, the 1486cc export engines were installed.
The first car’s roof, bonnet, bootlid and door skins were formed in aluminium. Early prototypes had a longer tail than production cars, with a pronounced taper to the trailing end of the rear wings and bootlid.
The 2000lb (900kg) target weight was achieved, with the integrated chassis providing the required level of torsional rigidity.
Even the earliest prototypes were not hastily concocted lash-ups. On the contrary, an appearance of production readiness was seen as essential to persuade those controlling supplies of essential materials that Jowett had a saleable and desirable product, complete and waiting for manufacture.
Jowett did not have access to a test track so the roads around Bradford served as their proving ground, with usefully steep gradients and challengingly twisty country lanes. Yorkshire weather does not reach the extremes of Rovaniemi or Death Valley, but the rain and cold was sufficient to test the basic integrity of the car and its systems. The A1 Great North Road was used for high speed testing, often combined with visits to Briggs Motor Bodies British headquarters in Dagenham.
To build up the test miles, a team of drivers subject the cars to continuous, hard, round-the-clock use. Gerald Palmer played his part in the process, although he later admitted that his mechanically sympathetic driving style was not best suited to the purpose.
Failures inevitably occurred, and were remedied. Lower front suspension wishbones failed as they were too lightly constructed. A more substantial redesigned component eliminated the problem.
A more challenging failure was fracturing of the prototypes’ suspension torsion bars (the contemporary expression was torsion rods) at very low mileages. Fatigue testing on a rig under laboratory conditions gave the same result. Heat treatment, and different types of steel made no difference. The bars were splined at each end, and fractures always happened at the end of the bar where, the fixing splines ran out into the plain circular section bar. Palmer tried changing the bar ends and sockets to an octagonal section, and no further failures occurred.
As a minor diversion, Chrysler imported an early production Javelin in 1948, for technical evaluation, and took note of the torsion bar terminations and used a similar, although hexagonal, format for their own suspension designs. Ford, Studebaker, and Nash Kelvinator also imported single Javelins at this time, the first two having serial numbers directly following Chrysler’s car. It has been suggested that the cars may have been provided as part of a technology transfer arrangement between the UK and USA – that Marshall Plan money didn’t come for free.