The Jupiter performed far better on the track than on the company’s balance sheets.
Had the Jowett-E.R.A. sports car alliance endured, Reg Korner’s frenzied work through the autumn and winter of 1949-50 may not have been necessary. In parallel with his Chief Engineer Dr. Ing. Robert Eberan-Eberhorst’s chassis development, E.R.A owner Leslie Johnson commissioned Seary and McCready, a small coachbuilder noted for high quality work, to develop an aerodynamic body with distinctly transalpine influences.
The design was presented to the media as the ‘E.R.A Javelin’ at Jowett’s London showroom on 27 September 1949, rising on a lift from the building’s undercroft with its paint scarcely dry. Motor Sport of November 1949 described the three seater coupe thus: “so trim, so refreshingly different did the car look, prompting thoughts of Simca, Cisitalia, F.I.A.T., that those privileged to set eyes on the first complete E.R.A.-Javelin were captivated.”
Elsewhere in the magazine it was recorded that after the gathering of Pressmen hosted by Leslie Johnson “a cheery luncheon celebration was staged at Brown’s Restaurant”.
This may have explained why the published opinions were at variance with that of Jowett’s management, who were unimpressed with the design. Two attempts at reworking its appearance failed to ease their concerns, and Jowett’s in-house bodywork design team had already set to work on their own proposals.
The design influence behind the ‘E.R.A. Javelin’ is no mystery. Motor Sport reported that “We asked Johnson who was responsible for the body styling and he said that no one person had designed it but that some years ago he brought from Italy the drawings of a F.I.A.T. coupé that had taken his fancy, declaring that one day he would build just such a body.” My moderately-informed guess is that he was referring to Dante Giacosa’s 1947 Fiat 1100s Berlinetta.
Not long after the Albemarle Street presentation, the Jowett-E.R.A. Gentleman’s Agreement reached an abrupt end, with the coup de grace delivered by Wilfred Sainsbury, Lazards’ representative on the Jowett board. E.R.A had gone far more than the extra mile to make the partnership work, not only revisiting their coupe’s styling but also accepting Jowett’s stipulation that they could not modify the flat-four engine. All they got from the venture was a commitment to supply five Jowett-produced chassis.
Lazards’ intervention was a disturbing reminder of the real power base at Jowett. Although the two businesses’ objectives were probably irreconcilable, it seems a shabby act on the part of Jowett’s financial backers, particularly as Leslie Johnson was a well-liked individual with a reputation for selflessness and altruism, both as an employer and entrepreneur, and in his motor racing activities.
E.R.A chose to concentrate their resources on developing their own Bristol-engined G-Type. This was a complex design also with Eberan’s input, but without the restrictions imposed by use of the Javelin suspension components, and the limitations of the small capacity flat-four. It was not a great success, and was denounced by Stirling Moss as an example of “the Clever Professor approach to racing car design.”
Despite Lazard’s peremptory intervention, racing remained very much in The Jowett Car Company’s plans, and Reg Korner’s workload included a functional sports-racing body codenamed R1, as well as the 2/3 seat sports tourer. Jowett’s Engineering Manager Charles Grandfield, and Development Engineer Horace Grimley were enthusiastic motor sports participants, on the sidelines and occasionally at the wheel, and were instrumental in drawing together a works team of top-level drivers and also providing support to enthusiastic and talented private entrants.
Grimley, who joined the Jowett Car Company in 1925 as a 20-year old apprentice, deserves particular mention for his leadership in an early motor sport success for the company when a twin-cylinder special of his design and construction broke the Class G 12 hour record at Brooklands, achieving an average speed of 54.64 mph.
The new sports car was first known as the ‘Javelin-Jupiter’, the ‘Jupiter’ title receiving its second outing, having been used before on the 1936 10hp saloon which featured the company’s first flat-four engine.
Reg Korner’s design was a pleasingly styled two seater with obvious Jaguar inspiration, though far from a slavish copy of the well-received 1948 XK120. The Jaguar itself was neither wholly original nor quintessentially British – E.R.A. owner Leslie Johnson having lent his personal BMW 328 to William Lyons to assist with the XK120 design.
Jowett had limited in-house bodywork production facilities, so the first factory-bodied Javelin-Jupiters actually had their coachwork built by King and Taylor of Godalming. The sub-contractor’s limited capacity led to vigorous early promotion of the Jupiter chassis to internationally-known coachbuilders, particularly in Italy and Switzerland.
By the end of 1950, the Bradford company had found a new supplier of body pressings, the Miles Aircraft Company, although this arrangement was far from ideal, as the panels from Miles’ rubber-bed pressings needed hand finishing and adjustment at the assembly stage to produce a body of the standard required to meet Jowett’s quality expectations.
Reg Korner and Charles Grandfield’s small teams had worked relentlessly in the first months of 1950 to ready a car for the mid-April British Automobile and Motor Cycle Show in New York. The Hoffman Motor Car Company, already handling the Aston Martin and Porsche franchises, was engaged as East Coast distributors.
Motor sport success was a important part of Jowett’s plan to achieve recognition in the USA, with an emphasis on European events which would be followed and reported worldwide.
The June 1950 Le Mans endurance race was Jowett’s major target, an internationally known event with a wide-based field. Tommy Wise and Tom Wisdom shared driving duties, the bonnet of their lightweight-panelled Jupiter was signwritten mischievously as Sagacious II. In an extraordinary debut performance, the works team achieved not only a class win, but a class record-breaking average speed of 75.8mph.
The Javelin-Jupiter was not officially launched in the UK until October 1951, but production had started in tiny batches, and the all-important baptism in the fire of competition commenced.
In 1951 three factory-entered Jupiters competed in the Monte Carlo Rally, along with four private cars, totalling more than half of the thirteen Jupiters so far built. Six Javelins also entered, and ten Jowetts finished. The Bob Ellison / Bill Robertson Jupiter won its class, and was equal sixth in the general classification. In the International Rally of Portugal in May 1951 Joaquim Filipe Nogueira gave the Jupiter its only outright international event win, in an unmodified Jupiter Mk.1.
In September 1951, a month before the Jupiter’s official UK launch, a works team of three ex-Le Mans cars entered the RAC International Tourist Trophy race on the Dundrod road circuit in Northern Ireland. Bert Hadley and Tommy Wise finished first and second in their class and seventeenth and eighteenth overall. Tom Wisdom’s car, stricken by head gasket failure, finished in 44th place. The driver’s foul-mouthed post-race tirade at Engineering Manager, Charles Grandfield was an unfortunate conclusion to this half of the Sagacity duo’s Jowett driving career.
The Jupiter R1. ‘Bug-eyed’ but oddly elegant, and undeniably purposeful.
In 1951 and 1952 Jupiters achieved class wins at Le Mans, but in the 1952 race the Jowett, an R1 driven by Marcel Becquart and Gordon Wilkins was slower than smaller capacity cars from Panhard and Porsche.
Jowett’s star as an unlikely but decisive racing success had fallen rapidly in the face of competitors from Germany, France and Italy. Another factor was the inferior integrity of the mid-production engines, evident even in the specially assembled completion units. To their credit, the company worked hard and largely successfully, to strengthen the engine and remedy its known points of failure, but too late in the day for the Jupiter’s racing reputation which had given so much early hope.