In the face of extraordinary challenges, Gerald Palmer’s vision becomes reality.
As the hand-built prototype Jowetts pounded the roads of Eastern England and war ended, the intrepid Yorkshire company faced new challenges of recovery and reconstruction. In March 1945 the entrepreneur Charles Clore bought out the Jowett brothers’ holdings and thereby took control of the business. The new capital was welcome, but Jowett was no longer a family firm, and the new master would soon expect financial returns.
For much of British manufacturing industry, 1945 and 1946 were years of apparent stasis concealing frenzied backroom activity. The will to move forward was there, along with bold new product designs, but materials were strictly rationed, and a supply infrastructure network had to be re-established after years of war production.
Jowett were neither shy nor secretive about their product plans. The signwritten van, with an illustration of an unfamiliar six-light saloon speeding across a sunlit landscape is recorded as dating from “towards the end of the Second World War”. CAK756 was registered in October 1937. By the summer of 1945 the new car pictured on its flanks had been given its inspired and alliterative name.
The first seven prototypes ran undisguised, and were often parked in public view, including the street outside the Palmer family home in Bradford. Media curiosity was whetted by the issue of photographs of a quarter scale model, but the Javelin’s public debut was at the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) Cavalcade of Motoring in the centre of London on 27 July 1946.
One of the final prototypes, EAK771 was given a makeover for the parade, including a curved windscreen provided at a late stage by the Triplex Safety Glass Company. The prototypes had a split screen, as was the norm at the time, but all production cars had the curved screen and a curved rear window, slightly wider than the development cars’ flat glass. The glass upgrade was an up to the minute feature which fitted perfectly with the advanced new car from Bradford. Jowett had been offered the new technology by Triplex, apparently unaware that such a thing was under development in Britain.
Two further cavalcades, in Manchester and Glasgow, followed the London event. The Javelin impressed everybody, and most were surprised by its unlikely origin. The public would have been frustrated that their wait for a production Javelin would be a long one.
By mid-1946 three of the Javelin’s principal elements were at an advanced stage of development. Suspension and steering had been de-bugged, the engine was as ready as it could be, and the bought-in Meadows gearbox was a done deal.
The crucial fourth element was the unitary body. The shape had been finalised years before, and the ingenious ‘skeleton’ construction with unstressed external panels allowed for construction in a variety of materials.
Given Jowett’s resources – they could be characterised as a manufacturer of small engines and precision engineered components with a sideline in manufacturing cars and light commercial vehicles – it was desirable that bodies and chassis should be sourced from an outside supplier. The company had a good relationship with Briggs Motor Bodies from pre-war production, and in 1941 Briggs had established a new factory in a former railway works at Carr Hill, Doncaster for war work.
With the end of hostilities, Briggs were looking for work for the South Yorkshire plant. Even without any certainty of steel supplies or commitment to a contract, Callcott Reilly was able to open negotiations for supply of complete painted and trimmed bodies for the Javelin.
Before Briggs’ involvement, Palmer and his design team had adopted a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the design of the Javelin’s chassis and superstructure. A traditional separate chassis was never favoured, but a plywood monocoque was considered – the De Havilland Mosquito with its wooden sandwich construction was rightly regarded as an extraordinary engineering and functional success. Palmer and his fellow designers visited Mosquito production facilities to gain an understanding of the design principles and manufacturing technicalities.
The Javelin’s chosen pressed steel ‘skeleton’ construction was a pragmatic compromise, allowing the possibility of complete or partial in-house body manufacture, and the use of soft-die aluminium pressings or even plastic mouldings for outer skin panels.
The Javelin’s unstressed outer skin created the opportunity to incorporate a translucent roof panel as an option. A Perspex roof was fitted to FKU 372, a prototype car extensively used by Charles Callcott Reilly. In his 1998 autobiography, Gerald Palmer expressed regret that this feature never made the final step to production, having been rejected on grounds of tooling costs.
With Briggs on board as bodywork suppliers, Callcott Reilly and Palmer shuttled between Idle and Essex, attending fortnightly meetings at the Riverside Plant in Dagenham. At first their transport was a Jowett-owned Citroën Traction Avant, later Javelin prototypes were employed.
The adoption of all-steel construction brought some visible changes. Doors were now fully pressed, rather than having channel-framed windows. The bonnet (hood) shape was revised to simplify manufacture, and the early prototypes’ elegant tapered tail treatment gave way to a true beetle-back, probably as a zoomorphic concession to fashion, rather than a victim of production convenience. Compared with the aluminium skinned prototypes, all-steel construction brought an unwelcome weight increase of 150lbs (68kg) over the 2000lb target.
Perhaps this weight, and possibly more, could have been shed if the Javelin body had been re-engineered into a stressed-skin truly chassisless construction. However Briggs were working ‘at-risk’ until steel supplies were assured, and no contract had been signed between the two companies. Jowett were in a hurry, with the high ambition to be the first British manufacturer to put an all-new car into production in the post-war era.
In any case, the ‘skeleton’ was fundamental to Palmer’s suspension design, and brought class-leading benefits in structural strength, rigidity, and crash safety. The advantages of the design concept did not go un-noticed by other manufacturers, including a distinguished British company who started work on something very similar in 1951.
Charles Clore sold his holding in Jowett to the investment bank Lazards in May 1947. The change in ownership brought not just new capital and the will to bring the Javelin to production, but also a new Chairman, George Wansbrough. Despite a life lived at the core of capitalism, Wansbrough was left-wing and humanitarian by inclination, and sat comfortably with the Attlee government, who appointed him to the board of the Bank of England, and to the Advisory Council for the Motor Industry alongside Leonard Lord, Miles Thomas and Reginald Rootes, and other senior figures of the Big Six manufacturers.
Charles Callcott Reilly and his family returned to their house in Teddington, Middlesex, having spent the war years renting Bramhope Manor, a few miles north east of Idle. Although he visited the Five Lane Ends factory weekly, the Joint Managing Director based himself in an office above the company’s 48 Albermarle Street showroom, justifying his Home Counties relocation by his most important activity, which was campaigning with Government ministries for steel supplies to allow Jowett to return to vehicle production.
In his autobiography, Gerald Palmer recollects a Jowett factory visit which George Wansbrough arranged for the President of the Board of Trade (a British Government minister), after which steel supplies to the company were increased to an adequate quantity. The minister was a 31 year old Yorkshireman, making a name for himself by his determination to end wartime rationing and eliminate unnecessary state control wherever possible. He was at the time the youngest British MP to have been appointed to the cabinet in the 20th century, and great things were expected of him. His name: (James) Harold Wilson.
Not long into the Lazards era, a contract with Briggs Motor Bodies was finalised, for the supply of fully painted, trimmed, and glazed bodies.
In April 1947, Jowett had engaged the services of Frank Salter, a widely experienced mechanical engineer who specialised in vehicle production facilities, to design the new lines for the Bradford van and Javelin within the tight constraints of the existing Five Lane Ends factory. The Javelin lines used ‘inverting cages’ which allowed the bodyshells to be populated efficiently without bodily contortions by the line workers.
Briggs Motor Bodies factory in Doncaster was not ready for bodyshell production to meet Jowett’s launch programme, so the early batches of bodies were built at their Riverside Works in Dagenham, with small numbers arriving at Idle in mid-1947, allowing pilot assembly to commence.
The Javelin Miracle had finally happened. Through inspired design, hard work, and human talent and determination, a small company far from the heartlands of the British motor industry was producing an outstanding car which would soon receive worldwide attention and admiration.
Reference Sources: see part one.