Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 5)

In the face of extraordinary challenges, Gerald Palmer’s vision becomes reality.

Happy days ahead Image: Jowett Car Club

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.

The cavalcade Javelin in Scotland Image: Jowett Car Club

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.

First Javelin prototype bodyshell. Image: Jowett Cars

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.

The Perspex-roofed Javelin “on test” in Sweden Image: G Palmer

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.

CCR and Javelin outside 48 Albemarle Street 1947 Image: Western Daily Press

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.

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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.

Image: Woods Visual Imaging

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.

21 thoughts on “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 5)”

  1. Thanks for this great series, Robertas!

    For me as a Continental European, the Javelin always was a car that I was vaguely aware of, at best. Now I begin to appreciate what an ingenuous and advanced design it was. And I grew really fond of its unusual ‘cab forward’ shape. I wonder what it would feel like to drive one, compared to a Traction Avant, for example (the only car of that period I’ve ever driven).

    I wonder if some of them were ever imported into Switzerland. I’m not aware of having ever seen one, but it might just have gone unnoticed on some classic car event. The Swiss Autoscout24 site actually has a ‘Jowett’ entry in its menu of marques, but of course it returns zero results.

    1. Thank you Robertas for this whole series. Your research is as impeccable as the elegance of your writing and those of us in the Jowett Car Club who obviously appreciate Javelins are grateful to you for spreading the word. The Javelin was far from perfect, but it deserves better appreciation has perhaps previously been the case.

      As for Javelins in Switzerland, one currently lives in Arbon. It has been the subject of a complete restoration in the UK, during the course of which it featured on the JCC stand at the Classic Car Restoration Show for four consecutive years, and is in regular use by its Swiss owner throughout the country. Similarly, there are numerous active Javelins (and other Jowetts of all ages) in Australia & New Zealand, not to mention the USA, South America, South Africa, Scandinavia…..

      I look forward to Part 6!

    2. Thanks for your hint, JTC. I am in the Lake of Constance region from time to time, but I usually pass by Arbon on the highway. Maybe it’s a good idea to drive around the minor roads there on a nice summer’s day.
      On further research, I also found an article about a Swiss driver who apparently raced in a Javelin in the 1950s. The photo however showed a Jupiter, and ‘Jowett Javelin’ was cited as the brand name. So one can’t be too sure what really happened there.

    3. Hello Simon, it was certainly shown at a Swiss motor show. The show car appears to have the Perspex roof mentioned in the article.

      Wonderful series, Robertas – looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. Note from the British Pathé newsreel how the Javelin inspired the Audi A2!

    2. Thanks Charles. I knew one of DTW’s stalwart commenters would know the answer!

  2. What a great story of ingenuity and resourcefulness during the privations of the years during and following the war. Beautifully told too, thank you Robertas.

    Here’s some nice photo of the Javelin:

    1. Great photos Daniel. Another piece of trivia for your collection: that nicely curved windscreen is a swine to fit when renewing the seal – it’s bigger than the hole it sits in and has to be inserted from inside the car (the screen rubber is S-section). First step, remove the steering wheel…..

    2. Hi JTC. That’ll be my fact of the day for today! Glad you liked the photos. The Javelin is a great subject. The second example got me thinking about metallic paint: I wonder which manufacturer was the first to offer it?

  3. Does anybody know what factors contributed to making Yorkshire home of such interesting motoring irons?
    Jowett cars, Scott and Panther motorcycles.
    Old Peculier can’t be the only reason.

    1. Hello Dave, I’d guess that places like Sheffield with their huge engineering heritage, as well as the mills must have generated a culture which supported engineering pioneers. I believe Jowett helped Scott get going, which lends credence to the theory.

      I’m certain Old Peculier helped, though.

    2. Knowing how much Daniel enjoys a fact for the day, my paint guru tells me that the invention of metallic paint pre-dates the First World War. Which manufacturer was the first to offer it is yet to be established but Daimler (of Coventry) certainly used a silver shade during the 1920s.

      As for Yorkshire engineering, I think the answer is that a Yorkshireman (or woman) always knows best. Or so they tell me.

    3. Engines aren’t necessarily related just because they have the same cylinder configuration.
      The Scott inline triple and DKW’s engines couldn’t be further apart.
      The Scott I3 is a transverse flush, domed piston design with separate pre compression chambers inside the open crankcase and exhaust and carburettor at the same side of the engine. The DKW is a reverse flush, flat piston design with exhaust and carbs at opposite sides of the engine and a crankcase designed to provide tight pre compression room without separate castings inside.
      A Scott fan website puts it right stating that DKW bought three Scotts and used them as benchmarks for comparison puposes.
      Scott 3S:

      DKW triple:

  4. Thanks for a great series. Living very close to Bradford, the Jowett has always interested me. A boss from many years ago had a Jowett as his classic car. I was always keen to have a look over it when he brought it into work.

  5. Thank for all your kind words, and to Daniel for the great pictures showing what a fine-looking and distinctive car the Javelin is in a modern context.

    Simon, the Javelin and Jupiter confusion is excusable given that the sports car was sold as a Javelin-Jupiter, until Jowett’s management decided to drop the Javelin part of the name in February 1951. There were still Javelin-Jupiter badges left over, and they were fitted to cars as late as 1953, although most of the stock was exhausted by the end of 1951.

    Jowett and the Swiss seem to have had a particularly fond relationship. The car in Charles’ newsreel is FAK 573, driven to Geneva by way of the Brussels Salon where the Javelin had its world premiere.

    GP states in Auto-Architect: “Hubert Patthey at Neuchatel added the Javelin to his AC, Alvis, Bristol and Nuffield agencies. In 1947 he had driven the first production car, FAK 111, back to Yorkshire and returned with the first of many Bradford vans sold in Switzerland”.

    FAK 111 had been driven to Switzerland by Callcott Reilly in November 1947 on a pre-launch sales tour which also took in the Netherlands and Belgium.

    There were also at least eight Jupiters with bodywork by Swiss coachbuilders; Ghia Aigle, Beutler, and Woblaufen. Also Worblaufen exhibited a two door convertible Javelin at the 1951 Geneva Salon.

    1. Thanks for these clarifications, Robertas (and for the nice convertible photo). I wasn’t aware of this naming confusion actually originating within Jowett.

  6. I’m glad one of the masters has been mentioned. Again, whether this brew actually instigated anything other than a sore head the next morning can not be ascertained. But it’s nice to dream that a few pints of this ale, directly or otherwise helped design a wonderful motor car.

    Keep up the great work, Robertas, it is very much appreciated

  7. With such innovation on what was a big project, it really must have been an exciting time at Jowett in 1946-47

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