75 year in business
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OMMER as a vehicle anufacturer came about beLuse of a gearbox. At the turn ' the century, the gearboxes use were somewhat primye to say the least, so an igineer named Linley degned his own. The actual )gs were engaged by dog utches that were positioned ior to engagement by cams introlled by the gearlever. Linley claimed that his dem eliminated the crashing of !ars, but the engagement of s particular dog clutches we rise instead to some range clicking sounds. Thus nley had to assure cusmers that this was normal th the slogan "dogs which :e with a click".
Linley was the engineer, .th the commercial expertise ing provided by Julian A. Ilford. He saw the potential the Linley box, and set up a iall workshop in South Lonin to build a prototype hide around the gearbox. Lis went on the road in 1903. After successful trials, a mufacturing company was -med in 1905 — Commercial irs Ltd, with Halford as maging director. Because 2 London premises were not itable for full-scale producin, the company moved to ;cot Road, Luton, with the st vehicle built there being mpleted by August 1906.
By 1907 the vehicles were ing known as "Comercar" r "Komerkar" in some ?as). So confident was Hal ford of the product, particularly the gearbox, that he wrote to The Commercial Motor, his letter being published in the July 18 issue of 1907. In this he suggested that several gearboxes be sealed by independent observers (including a member of CM's technical staff) before the RACorganised Heavy Vehicle Trials.
After the event, the seals were to be broken and the gearbox inspected for wear. This inspection and ceremonial seal-breaking was carried out at die first commercial vehicle exhibition at Olympia in March 1908.
There was negligible wear in the gearbox, and the resultant publicity did the company no harm at all to the extent that, by April, a night shift was laid on at the Luton factory to cope with increased demand.
It was in the July 2 1908 issue of The Commercial Motor that I found the first reference to Commer as a marque name. Although the vehicle was referred to as a "Commer Car", it was at least now expressed as separate words.
By 1911 the range included a two-ton chassis, a smaller two-cylinder model for 30cwt loads, and a seven-ton chassis. By this time, Commers were exported to Australia, America, New Zealand, Canada, Patagonia and even Siberia.
By the outbreak of the First World War, various design changes had been made including a switch from chains to shaft drive. For Military Commers, however, the wellproven chain-drive versions were retained.
During the war years, some 3000 of the military four-ton RC chassis were produced. One particular chassis had a very interesting war. Supplied to Russia in 1912, it was captured first by the Germans in East Prussia and then in turn by the British in France.
Like many other factories. Commer had a tough time immediately after the war because the large number of exmilitary vehicles being sold off at low prices did nothing for new vehicle sales. So many companies put up the shutters in the early twenties, that rumours were rife about the ones that kept going. In 1924, Commer asked The Commercial Motor to publish a statement on the viability of the company.
"An impression exists in some quarters that the company is either out or going out of business and we have been asked to point out that they have absolutely no intention of so doing and every effort is being made to stimulate sales and production and steady progress is resulting from these endeavours."
But in 1926 Humber of Coventry took over the company with both Humber and Commer being taken over two years later by the Rootes brothers. The latter had earlier taken control of another longestablished Coventry marque, Hillman, and with these three famous names Rootes became an important force in the motor industry in the late Twenties.
The 'Rootes story began at Hawkhurst in Kent during the 1890s where William Rootes' father had an engineering business that included cycle rebuilding. In 1898 he added car sales to the business.
As soon as William Rootes returned from his apprenticeship at Singer Motors, he went to work to expand the firm. A move was made to larger premises in Maidstone when the enterprise became Rootes Ltd. By 1926 the company had become the largest motor distributors in the country with agencies which included Clyno and Hillman. The following year Rootes moved into manufacturing by actually acquiring the Hillman company. Work on updating Commers began soon after the association with Humber with the introduction of a new Humber four-cyclinder engine with plain bearings and pressure lubrication.
In 1927, a 30cwt chassis with this new engine was introduced, and a design for a six wheeled bus chassis prepared. These improvements had barely been introduced when the Rootes takeover was announced.
In 1929, a six-cylinder engine was produced which was installed in the Invader chassis, designed for 20-seater passenger bodies or two tons of goods. This was followed by the Avenger, a fast passengercarrying chassis suitable for capacities up to 50 seats and a normal control chassis for a seven-ton payload.
The haulage chassis was notable for having the front axle set behind the engine to relieve the load on the drive axle, which was otherwise likely to go over the legal eight-ton limit if the full payload was carried.
The Rootes management was aware that flowline production techniques had been used successfully by Ford and Morris so the Luton plant was switched to line production.
The next step taken by ti Rootes Group was ti acquisition of ti Huddersfield-based Karri Motors Ltd in 1934. Founded 1908, "Karrier" was the ma que name for the vehicles pr duced by Clayton and C (Huddersfield) Ltd with ear chassis being for loads of up two tons and utilising tw cylinder engines which dev loped 20bhp at 900rpm.
Later models were built wi three salient features: as lari a load space as possible, short overall length f, manoeuvrability, and powerful engine for the hills. 50bhp Karrier bus accomm ating 21 passengers was the rst psv to climb Porlock Hill Somerset.
In preparation for war Rarer — like Commer — proaced a design accepted for le Government Subsidy cheme. Many of these were in peration before 1914 and uring the war a further 2000 lassis were built for the serices.
By 1924 the reconstituted )mpany listed no less than 17 ifferent models with carrying ipacities from 25cwt to five ms. The prices ranged from 450 for the three-speed CTpe to £950 for the top of the Inge K5. Karrier paid partiAar attention to six-wheelers L the late Twenties, including )me for passenger work.
In 1925, for example, the )mpany produced such a lassis with a platform height ' only two feet — made posble to a large extent by 'fsetting the propeller shafts Id axles banjoes by nearly 14 ches.
In 1928 Karrier introduced Le Karrier-Clough six-wheel olleybus while two years ter the company produced Le first "mechanical horse" .sign. Known as the Cob, it )uld carry a three-ton payad at a maximum speed of 18mph. At this time in Karrier's history the company employed over 1000 people on a ten-acre site.
In May of 1932, the two-ton Bantam was unveiled, a vehicle that was to prove popular for many years. Its first public appearance was at the conference of the Institute of Public Cleansing in Manchester where it appeared with a seven cubic yard tipper body. Behind the gearbox was a casing which enclosed the chain drive used to lower the driveline and thus keep the propellor shaft parallel with the ground.
With Commer and Karrier now under the Rootes banner, a campaign to rationalise the model range was carried out. The first step was to discontinue production at the old Clayton works in Huddersfield and concentrate on Luton as the main manufacturing plant. During 1935, Karrier production was phased in at Luton where a new assembly shop was built.
At Luton the Karrier range was centred around the Bantam two-tonner, the Cob and Colt three-wheel "mechanical horses" and the CK3 and CK6 chassis for general municipal use. The rationalisation was to avoid duplication of models while, at the same time, using as many common components as possible.
In spite of this, there was great emphasis on keeping the Commer and Karrier marque names separate — even during the Second World War there were separate Commer and Karrier designs for military use.
But 1939 no less than 600 local authorities were using Karriers and this specialisation continued after the war. Karrier maintained close links with specialist body builders producing refuse collectors, tower wagons and gully emptiers.
When, in 1952, the Bantam was updated and the CK3 replaced by the Gamecock, a new design of cab was introduced which was common to both models and similar to the Commer forward control chassis of the period.
Returning to Commer, this particular marques line-up was updated in 1935 with the N-Series which ranged from 15cwt to five ton payloads and featured a pressed steel cab for the first time.
That same year, Rootes also acquired Sunbeam and Talbot. Both companies were primarily car makers, although Talbot had made ambulances in the Twenties and Sunbeam trolleybuses continued to be made at Wolverhampton.
In 1939 Commer announced the Superpoise range, with models from 30cwt to six tons payload. The major attraction claimed for this machine was the combination of a long body space on a normal control chassis without an increase in wheelbase.
The name Superpoise was intended to indicate wellbalanced loading characteristics. As with Morris Commercial's "Equiload" name of the late Thirties, it was meant to suggest the superiority of the longer-bonnetted designs to the stubbier Bedfords, Austins, and Dodges of the period.
The Superpoise was a success. Commer's Luton plant was enlarged, the assembly building was extended, the machine shop re-equipped, and a new stove-enamelling plant added.
In a Commercial Motor road test of 1939, the verdict was " . . the reception that has already been accorded to this new Commer — indeed to the whole new range — corroborates our view that it will achieve widespread success", The re-equipping of the plant in 1939 was timely for obvious reasons. Rootes were asked to run one of the new government shadow factories as early as 1936, and this became the Ryton plant at Coventry where armoured cars and scout cars, as well as bombers and aero engines, were produced during the war.
At Luton, Rootes built some 30,000 military vehicles — 20,000 Commers and 10,000 Karriers — during the period of hostilities.
The post-war Commer range was similar to that announced in 1939. To the Superpoise models was added a passenger chassis labelled "Commando" — a name which was to reappear in 1974.
One of the most dramatic breaks with convention came in 1948 when Commer launched the fiveand seventon chassis complete with underfloor engines. This was not an underfloor type as used, for example, by MAN or the psv manufacturers, but rather a conventional power unit mounted in the front of the chassis and inclined at 660.
The underfloor range was a success for the company; so much so that by 1953 Luton production was no less than 215 per cent up on the 1938/39 output. It was now evident that demand for Commers and Karriers was stretching Luton's facilities, so the deci;ion was taken to build a completely new assembly plant on a 100 acre site at nearby Dunstable.
On October 21, 1955, the last vehicle came off the Luton assembly line — coinciding neatly with Commer's fiftieth anniversary. Luton then became a transmission and components plant, with all Commer and Karrier production being moved to Dunstable.
Ftootes expand again
More component produc:ion capacity had been added n 1952 with Vulcan and Tilling Stevens at Maidstone coming nto the Rootes fold. Vulcan — Dr to give the company its correct title, Vulcan Motor and Engineering Co (1906) Ltd — was another old-established name in the industry.
Situated in Southport, much pf the workforce in the years mmediately after the Great A/ar came from the shipyards at Barrow where unemploynent had hit hard. At that .ime, Vulcan tippers, tractors, ;eneral haulage vehicles and passenger chassis enjoyed onsiderable success.
One notable achievement on the export side took place in 1924 with a shipment of 26seater buses to Riga in what was then Latvia. In 1927 the company launched the A/SW six-wheeler, the design of which owed much to War Department requirements.
Thus it was built to carry ?,Ocwt across-country or 30cwt m the road and was capable of -muting a 30cwt trailer. The Tar bogie provided impressive articulation over rough ;round. In 1935 Vulcan introduced the forward-control Jubilee two-tonner and followed this a year later with a normal control version using much of the Jubilee componentry. The diesel versus petrol engine argument had not been resolved in 1936, and the Vulcan was equipped with a 3.3litre four-cylinder petrol unit with an RAC rating of 20bhp.
In October 1937, J. Brockhouse and Co Ltd purchased the entire share capital of Vulcan. It was stated at the time that the Vulcan range would still be made, although Brockhouse intended to use the Crossens works as a genera] engineering factory.
But less than six months later it was announced that Tilling Stevens Ltd of Maidstone had acquired the manufacturing rights of Vul can with the production being transferred to the Maidstone plant.
Tilling Stevens' great days were in the 1920s when petrol/electric buses were in vogue. In the TS7 the engine was coupled through a laminated steel spring to a dynamo, the current from which was conveyed to a motor coupled to the front end of the propellor shaft of the overhead worm-driven axle. One of the main advantages claimed by Tilling Stevens for this system was that road speed was not governed by engine speed.
In 1924 the company concluded arrangements with Skoda in Czechoslovakia whereby the vehicles were marketed throughout Eastern Europe under the name of Skoda Tilling Stevens. A similar agreement was made the following year with the Gray Motor Corporation in the USA. This enabled Gray to obtain exclusive manufacturing of the electrical equipment.
Although the company later moved to more conventional designs, the petrol/electrics had a new lease of life during the war because they were ideally suited for searchlight/ generator chassis.
Tilling Stevens was not a company to be hidebound by convention, as illustrated by the Successor and Yeoman chassis of 1937. The Successor was a six-wheeled chassis for 44-seater single-deck bodie while the Yeoman was a twi axle haulage chassis for eigh ton payloads. Both were pov ered by an underfloor eigh cylinder diesel engine whic was of the horizontal] opposed type, not a straigl eight laid on its side.
Other unusual features the design were the use of ii dependent rear suspensio and a vacuum-operated prt selector Maybach gearbox.
Under Rootes Grou ownership, the Vulcan an TSM brand names disappeare and the Maidstone plant ‘4,q: added to the group's produi tion resources. When the TS engine was announced in 195. it was built at the Tillin Stevens Maidstone factor: This was an ingenious desigi being a three-cylinder oppose piston two-stroke operatin on the Kadenacy principl with a multifuel capability fc possible military use.
For maximum scavengin effect, a mechanically drive Roots (not Rootes!) blow( was specified. Although a economical unit, it did ric endear itself to the public z large because of its distinctiN but pronounced exhaust not At the lighter end of th scale, Rootes had steadily ii creased production of ca: derived and light vans froi the time of the Hillman an Humber acquisition. Comm( was well known for light var from 1932 when a 15cwt an the first Minx-derived 6cv van were offered. During t] 1930s this end of the marki was developed by adding one ton, 25cwt and 30cwt models based on the existing medium-weight truck range.
One very long running model was the forward control light van, introduced in 1960. This started as the Commer 1500, then became the PA, then the PB, and finally the Spacevan. It was rated originally at 15cwt capacity and powered by a 11/2 litre engine. Extensively restyled in 1978, this range is still with us.
The Commer Walk-Thru van range was introduced in 1961 with 11/2, 2 and 3 ton models all designed for multistop local delivery work.
By 1964 the Chrysler Corporation had acquired 46 per cent of the Rootes Group ordinary shares, and 65 per cent of the non-voting shares in what was then Rootes Motors Ltd. By 1967, Chrysler had acquired complete control, and the integration of the Dodge Brothers (Kew) operations with those of Rootes — begun in 1964 — was completed with assembly of both marques concentrated at Dunstable. To trace the story of Dodge up to that point, it is necessary to go back prior to the Twenties.
In 1919 a company was set up to distribute Americanbuilt Maxwell cars with a repairs and parts depot being established at New in 1922. In 1924 the US Maxwell company was acquired by Chrysler and the British company became known as Chrysler Motors Ltd the following year.
.Dodge Brothers (Britain) Ltd had been formed in 1922 as a subsidiary of the US Dodge concern with car sales premises at Stevenage Road, Fulham. It was soon found that there was a good market for vans and light lorries, and, 15cwt and 30cwt chassis were added to the catalogue.
In 1925 a move was made to new premises at Park Royal and by 1928 15 types of vehicle were offered including rigids, tippers, buses, vans and even hearses.
The acquisition of the US Dodge parent company in 1928 by Chrysler meant that the latter was in a position to rationalise its British operation by the amalgamation of the Dodge and Maxwell facilities. The Park Royal factory was closed and all vehicle and assembly was concentrated at Kew.
By 1932 the Dodge range from Kew included a Britishbuilt chassis with an American engine, but by 1938 the first all-British Dodge was introduced: a five-tonner powered by a Perkins engine.
During the Second World War, New produced a retricted vehicle range — devoting most of its efforts to building aircraft for the RAF.
A new style of cab was introduced in 1949 which, to quote a contemporary The Commercial Motor, was "imposing without going to extremes." One interesting innovation was the use of a sub-frame to carry the complete cab together with wings, 'bonnet and radiator. This was claimed to keep the components always in correct alignment, thus relieving the stresses when operating on rough ground.
In 1957 a new forwardcontrol range was introduced, a radical departure for Dodge in Britain. This was the 3000Series (later 300) which embraced models in the five-, sevenand nine-ton categart plus ten-and 12-ton tracti units.
One of the most importa Dodge introductions came 1965 with the 500-Series. TI tilt cab range started at f tons payload and went up the 20 ton gross tractive till powered by the then new PI kins 8.3 litre V8. This ram was in production for 13 yet and brought Dodge into 't heavier end of the market, move that was extended the arrival of the Barrel!. from Chrysler Espana.
This company had been tablished in Madrid in 19! 'becoming part of the Chrys: Corporation in 1967 and bei. renamed Chrysler Espana 1970.
To cover the 28 ton pl market and particularly the ton artic sector, the Barreir 38 tonne tractive unit w marketed in Britain as t: Dodge K3820P from 191 Spanish-built models are at known as the 300-Series al are marketed as Dodge.
The most important laun in Dunstable's history w that of the Commando in 19' With no less than eight mod' from 7.5 tonnes through to tons gross, the Commani made possible hundreds variations.
Five years after the Cot mando launch came the ,a nouncement of the 50-Seiri intended to replace the Wal Thru. In fact it was more th; a replacement. With fi! models covering the 3.5 to: -■ tonnes gross sector, it e tended Dodge's coverage the market.
On August 10, 1978, it w announced that the Europe; operations of Chrysler Corp ration (Chrysler Espa4 Chrysler France and Chrysl UK) had been bought by • PSA organisation already owned Peugeot al Citroen. This made the ine organisation the largm automotive group in Europe Then on July 10, 1979, 4til car marque was changed f Chrysler to Talbot with t registered names of all three Chrysler compa changing to Talbot on Jan 1 this year.
Throughout all this Dodge brand name has b .
retained for all the product* the commercial vehicle di sion. It has been a long re from a small company piti ducing gearboxes to EurOpi largest automotive Co glomerate.