Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 9)

Dweller on the Threshold – A Jupiter Miscellany. We continue our look at the Jowett Jupiter’s short but multi-faceted career.

Stabilimenti Farina Jupiter Image: Classics Magazine

The coachbuilt Jupiters 

In September 1950 Jowett announced British prices for the Javelin-Jupiter.  The factory bodied drophead coupe, although effectively unobtainable, was priced at £1087 (£850 before tax) and the rolling chassis was offered at £672 (£525 before tax). The blank canvas chassis was in fact a comprehensive kit, with a wiring loom, switches and instruments, and a set of grilles which coachbuilders were expected to use in a way which would maintain the Jowett identity. If the factory approved the completed car, the standard Jowett six month warranty would be provided from the date of delivery to the end buyer.

Not long into 1950, Jowett had delivered a small number of rolling chassis to distinguished coachbuilders in Italy, Switzerland and Denmark, in advance of others going to British bodywork providers. Widely regarded as the finest haute couture Jupiter, Stabilimenti Farina’s fixed head coupe was shown at the 1950 Paris Salon.

Four examples of this exquisite car were built, almost mass-production by coachbuilt Jupiter standards. Honourable mention should also go to the elegant Danish Sommer coupe.

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It has been suggested that the early star coachbuilder cars were part of a plan by Jowett’s Experimental Design Manager Charles Grandfield to secure a world class design without commissioning a stylist directly. If so, he was soon rumbled by management, and later chassis went to far less illustrious bodybuilders.

The cosmopolitan roll-call of coachbuilders includes Adams and Robinson, Abbott of Farnham, JJ Armstrong, Barou, Beutler, Coachcraft, Epsom Motor Panels, Stabilimenti Farina, JE Farr, Flewitt, Ghia-Aigle, Maurice Gomm, KW, Richard Mead, Sommer, and Carrosserie Worblaufen (F. Ramseier & Co).

As the first factory-bodied Javelin-Jupiters went straight to the United States or to favoured European concessionaires, even rolling-chassis were all but impossible to obtain in the home market. Determination and good connections can win through in adverse circumstances. Through associations with racing driver Tommy Wise, Ted Booth of Hull managed to obtain the fifth production chassis, and also the services of Barnaby’s Motor Bodies, a builder of buses and ambulances in his home city.

Barnaby’s Motor Bodies Jupiter Image: JTC

A body resembling Korner’s design was constructed by Barnaby’s senior coachbuilder Cliff Golan using traditional timber frame techniques. The design was developed using only photographs of the factory car, so there are some obvious variances. The chosen method of construction resulted in the Barnaby’s car being 125kg lighter than the King and Taylor bodied official design. Booth’s car was ready in time participate in the 1951 RAC International Rally and is still in regular use.

Barnaby’s Motor Bodies Jupiter Image: Mike Tibbetts

Another one-off Jupiter designed with sporting intent was the strikingly elegant fixed-head coupe built by Frenchman Jean Latune, pictured on the 1953 Lyon to Charbonierres rally.

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A few chassis were bodied in Australia which levied a lower rate of duty on incomplete vehicles. Most of these had coachwork closely modelled on Reg Korner’s design.

The coachbuilt Jupiters unleashed creativity in a wide range of styles, and varying degrees of talent – there were some real horrors, but most were at least competent. Despite the profusion of suppliers, only around 74 rolling chassis were sold, and to add confusion some of these were returned to Idle to be fitted with standard bodywork. From around March 1952, rolling chassis were dropped from the price list, and only fully-built cars were officially available.

Prices and Predators

The Jupiter deserved to be more successful, but high prices and later mechanical problems slowed its progress. By November 1951 Purchase Tax had been doubled and the UK offering looked like this:

MG Midget: £733 (£470 before tax)
Morgan Plus 4: £880 (£565 before tax)
Jowett Jupiter DHC:  £1394 (£895 before tax)
Jaguar XK120:  £1678 (£1078 before tax)

Morgan Plus 4 Image: Yorkshire MSCC

The Morgan, with a gutsy and modern 2.1 litre Standard four cylinder engine makes the 1.5 litre Jowett look inordinately costly. The Jaguar had almost three times the Jupiter’s power, and an opening bootlid, a refinement denied to the first series of factory-bodied Jupiters.

The Jupiter and XK120 are closer in many ways than might be expected, given the 100bhp power difference. The Jaguar is slightly narrower in overall width and tracks, and only nine imperial inches longer in wheelbase, surprisingly little considering the XK had to accommodate a 3.4 litre straight six rather than a 1.5 litre alloy blocked flat-four. The engine’s bulk explains the Jaguar’s 35% greater weight.

Both cars have longitudinal torsion bar front suspension, the more conventionally engineered Jaguar makes do with longitudinal semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear, and also has a recirculating ball steering box, whereas Eberan insisted on rack and pinion steering for the Jupiter chassis, rather than accepting the Javelin’s well-regarded gear and pinion mechanism.

Given the complexity of the Austrian engineer’s chassis design, and Jowett’s reliance on small-run coachbuilders for the Jupiter’s superstructure, it is possible that the unit cost of the Yorkshire sports car was higher than that of the phenomenally successful Coventry machine, of which 12,055 were produced between 1948 and 1954.

The Jupiter Mk.1a

The Jupiter Mark 1a, with a longer rear overhang and a proper opening boot, and numerous minor improvements, arrived in October 1952, although the Mark.1 with its luggage compartment only accessible from behind the seats, continued for domestic market consumption until November 1953.

The Mk.1a revisions included a rework of Eberan’s chassis with the petrol tank relocated, and reinforced and braced body mounting points. A symmetrical instrument panel was introduced to simplify production of LHD and RHD cars. The earnest efforts were in vain, as only 95 Mark 1a chassis were produced. 94 of these were fitted with factory bodies, only one Mk.1a was sold as a rolling chassis, exported to a customer in Beirut in March 1954. By comparison 731 Mk.1 Jupiters were produced with factory bodywork from March 1950 to November 1953.

The Jupiter in the USA

Image: barnfinds.com

Despite its early sporting achievements, the Jupiter failed to make the expected break in the United States. Only 252 examples were sold in the USA; by comparison MG exported 23,488 TD Midgets to the States between 1950-53. These 252 cars sold in the USA represented 28% of total production, when MG and Jaguar were exporting as much as 90% of their sports car output to the United States.

World Wide Import Inc. Image: Ted Miller Collection

Despite Jowett’s success in engaging the Hoffman organisation as east coast distributors, two thirds of US sales were made the west coast by distributors Angell Motors and their successors World Wide Import Inc, both of which provided financial and parts support to participants in club races, which were a major part of the east coast motor racing scene at the time.

Red Skelton at Idle. Image:velocetoday.com

The Jupiter did not escape the cult of celebrity. Comedy entertainer Red Skelton bought four Jupiters. Skelton is a commonly-found surname and place name in Yorkshire. Could he have been paying homage to his ancestry?

More enduringly, the Jupiter receives mention in Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye. In the words of his Oldsmobile-driving private-eye hero  We went to Victor’s. He drove me in a rust colored Jupiter-Jowett (sic) with a flimsy canvas rain top under which there was only just room for the two of us. It had pale leather upholstery and what looked like silver fittings. I’m not too fussy about cars, but the damn thing did make my mouth water a little.

Epilogue

The last Jupiter Mark.1a left Idle in November 1954. The numbers suggest that Jowett’s sports car ambitions had long before been put into managed decline, but the opposite was true. But that’s another story, some way further into the journey.

By virtue of its style and unique engineering, exotic coachbuilt variations, racing successes, and rarity, the Jupiter earned its niche in the (mostly) proud British sports car pantheon, but was it part of the answer, or part of the problem? Gerald Palmer made his views clear in an interview in Popular Classics of March 1990

They spent all their money and resources on building a sports car and racing it, when it wasn’t in their tradition at all.  They ought to have spent their money refining and cheapening the Javelin – backing the bread and butter”.

There’s rational logic to that argument, but the Jupiter in its many forms is a compelling artefact, a sui generis design in a formulaic era, which could and should have achieved far more than the paltry numbers produced in its five year life. I set out writing this chapter with a dispassionate approach to the story of the Jupiter series – this is written in the broader context of the company’s fortunes in the Javelin era – but was soon mystified by the failure of Jowett’s management to make a success of their potential saviour.

What Gerald Palmer says about “refining and cheapening the Javelin” is all the more true of the Jupiter. Both cars used the same engine and gearbox, and by the end of 1951 both components were suffering an unacceptably high rate of failures. The Jupiter’s needlessly overcomplicated chassis and inefficient bodywork production methods made it both unprofitable and uncompetitive, particularly once Austin-Healey and Standard-Triumph took aim at its territory in 1953. By then the busy Idle designers were working on an answer, but it was already too late.

Everything points to a car company which had lost directional control, which is what the next chapter will explore.

Jupiter Production:  Mk.1: 736.  Mk.1a: 95.  R1 4.  Chassis: 74. Total: 909.

(With thanks to DTW reader and commenter JTC for additional information and photographs)

A further rumination upon the coachbuilt Jupiters can be found here.

17 thoughts on “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 9)”

  1. Good morning Robertas. The Stabilimenti Farina Jupiter is rather lovely (and Lancia-like) although I’d prefer it without the odd ‘roll’ over the front wheel arch, so I’ll have the Sommer Jupiter instead, thank you!

    The comparative pricing you provide indicates Jowett’s problem, unfortunately. The XK120 seemed to be a lot more car for a 25% premium over the Jupiter.

    1. Surely you couldn’t buy an XK120 for list price, even if you could buy one at all – they were nearly all LHD for the USA. I always assumed folk bought Jupiters because they were available and more advanced than MGs or TRs.

    2. Fair point, Mervyn, although very frustrating for those who were lucky enough to be able to afford the Jaguar!

  2. Love the Raymond Chandler quotation; honestly this whole saga reads like a thriller!

    1. Absolutely – this reminds me I must re-read The Long Goodbye again!
      Also – I agree the Farina Jupiter is a little jewel. The brows over the front arches are a little odd, as Daniel says – I would guess they are an attempt to take visual weight out of the front wings. As it happens, they lend the car a faint air of 300SL in the overhead three-quarter photo…

  3. When you consider the comparative prices, it’s a wonder that any Jupiters were sold. They can only have been bought by people who really, really wanted one – which may also account for the survival rate: 411 still exist and at the last count over 320 were on the road or under active restoration.

    1. Hello JTC – yes, that was my thought, too. I looked up what its price translates to, today, and it’s around £38k. I must say that I would have been tempted by a Triumph or an MG, instead. That said, the Farina version is beautiful (and has some similarity to a Lancia Aurelia). I like the Sommer, too.

  4. The Long Goodbye, one of my favorite books since my youth, I think I read it 20,000 times or so – and it was the first novel I read and understood in the original, back then, many years ago, in the last century.
    So yes, the book was also the reason why I knew the Jowett before I knew many other cars from the UK.

    But there is another story, a personal one, that connects me to this novel. For the characters in the novel I had – like everyone I suppose – a picture in my head of what that person looks like. So Terry takes Marlow to Victor’s in the Jowett, where Marlow, who normally drinks Whisky, get to know Vodka Gimlet.

    It was early 1985 when a new production manager joined our film production department. The first time I saw him in the office I thought by myself “Oh, my God, he looks like “my” Terry Lenox from ‘The Long Goodbye´”.
    About half a year later, we were back in Miami after a long shoot on the Virgin Islands and the production manager organized the return trips for the whole crew. For some reason we both were the only ones left in Miami and were supposed to take the flight to Munich together the next day. We had dinner at a fancy restaurant and then went back to the hotel. He said, “it´s still early in the evening, we should go to the hotel bar and have another drink”. When we arrived there, he told me to organize a table for us, he will get us the drinks. He came back with two glasses, I sipped on mine and said “Hm, delicious. What is it?” He answered “Vodka gimlet, what else?”. Goose bumps, I tell you, goose bumps.
    I told him the story of Terry Lenox and The Long Goodbye. He had never read a Chandler novel before…

    1. What a great story, Fred. You appear to have led a rather glamorous life!

    2. Yes, indeed.
      However, any form of envy is not appropriate. I think each of us can tell personal anecdotes that sound glamorous to others.

      And the next time DTW writes something about a Pontiac, I have another personel Chandler-story for you.

  5. Surprised Jowett managed to sell as many Jupiters as it did given the price and 1.5 Flat-Four unit compared to rivals.

    Like the exterior of the Stabilimenti Farina Jupiter, also the Sommer Jupiter Coupe (sans front) and Jean Latune Jupiter.

    Despite the following being FWD it is interesting to compare the Javelin and Jupiter with the Hotchkiss Gregoire and derived 1955 Grégoire sport (or Tracta Gregoire Sport – others say 1956-1958 instead of 1955), Jowett could have benefited from a similar capacity engine as the latter’s 2.2-litre Flat-Four unit.

    1. It’s fair to remember Bob, that in the era the Jupiter (ergo the Javelin) engine was designed in the early forties, the old ‘RAC Motor Tax’ charging system was current. This was calculated by the formula, B(squared)N/2.5. where B is the cylinder bore (in inches), and N is the number of cylinders. The consequence of this meant that in order to limit the road tax, any increase in capacity, other than increasing the stroke, would have a running-cost implication. The Javelin/Jupiter stroke, at 90mm, was already quite long: good for low speed torque, but not so good for higher revs due to the effect on piston velocity. Furthermore, a longer stroke would have had dimensional implications for an engine that is already quite broad in the beam. But we Javelin/Jupiter owners would indeed have loved a 2 litre version!

    2. Have Javelin/Jupiter owners such as yourself looked at what scope there was available as far as further development of the Flat-Four was concerned (if it was even capable of reaching 2-litres to begin with)? Especially when the RAC Tax Horsepower system was replaced by a Flat Tax from 1948?

      Also interested to hear yours and other Javelin/Jupiter owners thoughts on how the company could have possibly avoided its fate, whether remaining an independent or being acquired by a larger carmaker (either pre-war or early post-war)? What is the general consensus on how Jowett’s prospects could have been improved and what are the common ideas explored in a typical Jowett counterfactual scenario?

  6. They’re interesting questions Bob. But the (sad?) truth is that Jowett were drifting towards more ‘run-of-the-mill’ designs, as witnessed by the stillborn CD range. And it’s a moot point whether the R4 sports 2 seater would have seen much profit. The most likely outcome, in my view, would have been a buy-out by a larger conglomerate, as witnessed by so many other ‘small’ manufacturers of course. Then, surely, the range would eventually become badge-engineered clones. But that doesn’t prevent us from indulging in a bit of speculative dreaming. And in any case, we rather like what we’ve got!

    1. Back in 1964, when Car magazine was still Small Car, it ran a series of design ideas that might have come from defunct manufacturers, had they still been in business. In June, the chosen car was the Jowett Javelin.
      Small Car, in conjunction with Lionel Burrell, came up with a radical, but not completely implausible creation with a 1600cc flat four mounted at the rear with space for luggage above accessed through a lifting hatch incorporating the rear window (1964, remember). Additional luggage space in the nose, where the spare wheel and twin radiator cooling system would also help to balance weight distribution. Individually contoured seats for four only.
      No harm in a little “what if” speculation – but Jowett as a vehicle manufacturer at least had an honourable end in that it pulled its own plug, all debts were paid off and the engineering side of the firm lived on for several years until absorbed by the aviation industry.

    2. Read how the Bradford CD prototype initially carried over the Flat-Twin SV engine before later on being swapped for a Javelin Flat-Four engine, though was any consideration given to either converting the aging Flat-Twin from SV to OHC or at least developing a new OHV Flat-Twin?

      Would have to agree it is difficult seeing a scenario where a surviving Jowett was not acquired by a larger company, Chrysler would probably have been one of the better candidates (at least pre-war or early postwar) since IIRC they were thinking along similar lines as Jowett in developing a few pre-Valiant post-war small car projects powered by Flat-Four engines. Not to mention the pre-war FWD Chrysler Star Car prototype, whose radial engine could have possibly been switched with a more viable Boxer engine. A later Chrysler acquisition of Borgward* and gradual merger between the latter and Jowett would have allowed for easier integration into Chrysler Europe (instead of heavily i debt Rootes) as well as together help counter the dominance of Simca (should Chrysler still opt to buy out the latter).

      From my admittingly limited perspective there are obviously a number of missing elements to the above such as a British analogue of Antonia Fessia to replace Gerald Palmer and put a more Lancia-like touch to the Borgward Boxer designs, though would be more in keeping with Jowett IMHO.

      *- Borgward had a number of Flat-Four powered cars including the 2.0-2.5-litre motor in the 1955 Borgward Traumwagen concept (along with a stillborn 1300cc version of the Borgward Hansa designed by Pietro Frua whose styling themes were said to have been recycled on the Glas 1700), not to mention aspects of the Lloyd Arabella’s design while not being a copy was said to have influenced the Subaru 1000 and EA Flat-Four engine (while Suzuki themselves decided to have the Suzulight closely based on the 2-stroke Lloyd 400).

  7. To fully answer to your opening question Bob could make a whole article by itself and is but one of the fundamental issues which were concentrating Jowett minds at the time. The 2-cylinder engine was a design dating back to 1904 and in its final form was actually overhead inlet valve, side exhaust valve and twin carbs; output about 32bhp. It had been developed for low speed torque and was therefore a slogger (top speed 55 mph) entirely suited to a commercial vehicle – which is what the CD was, initially, intended to be – considering that the maximum legal speed for a light commercial in the UK was still 30 mph.
    I suspect that Robertas has considerably more to say on the subject….

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