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SNAPSHOT 178: A 1920s Showroom

We are once again very grateful to Guy Loveridge of the SAHB, who has lent us this amazing picture of a 1920s car showroom.  On the mount below the original are the words “Dyson & Chappell Ltd, Motor Car Showrooms, Huddersfield”.  Sadly, no enquiries revealed any information about this company.

We do, however, know that this was a showroom of Willys Overland Crossley – and we can see examples of each of the three makes in our picture.  The company was jointly owned by Crossley Motors and Willys-Overland, and had factories in Stockport, Berlin and Antwerp.  It was formed in 1919 to make cars, buses and trucks, and continued until 1934.

In 1919, Crossley Motors and John North Willys on behalf of Willys-Overland agreed to set up a British operation to import, manufacture and sell cars based on the Overland 4 model. Crossley Motors provided the Heaton Chapel, Stockport aircraft factory they had recently bought from the government after the end of the First World War.  Production started in 1920 with the assembly of kits bought in from the Willys-Overland Canadian plant, with WOC designing British bodies to fit the Model 4 chassis.

In 1925, a version of the Willys-Overland Model 91 called the Overland 13.9 was produced using a Morris engine. Later in that same year it was joined by the six-cylinder Model 93.  But sales were disappointing, and the joint company declared a large loss for the year. Because of the legal structure of the company, responsibility for this loss fell on Crossley Motors.  To keep going, Crossley was thus forced in 1928 to sell the AVRO aircraft company, which it had bought in 1924 to increase its capacity.

We know that our picture dates from 1926 or later, because the car second from the left is an Overland Whippet – a small vehicle introduced in that year by the American company, but unsuited to British or European markets and destined, once again, to sell in disappointingly low numbers.  Undaunted, WOC opened its Berlin factory in 1928 to assemble Whippets, and a further factory in Antwerp soon after.  The depression forced both factories to close in 1930.  In 1931, the car business of AJS was purchased but it was too late to turn the company into profitability and, in 1932, Crossley Motors dissolved the partnership with Willys-Overland and WOC went into voluntary liquidation in 1933, with production limping on until 1934.

The failure of the WOC venture was certainly not evident when our picture was taken.  The showroom is full of attractions designed to entice the prospective customer – from the very comfortable-looking settee in the middle, through the decorations festooning the ceiling lamps, to the smartly displayed cars.  The central Willys Roadster is priced at £385 and the Willys Coupé on the left behind the leaflet stand at £450, while the little Whippet is a mere £235.  We also like the way that the two Crossleys have alternate bonnet lids open, so that curious customers can immediately see both sides of the engine without having to ask a salesman.  Dyson & Chappell clearly worked hard to draw their customers in.

Picture courtesy of Guy Loveridge

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