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SNAPSHOT 213: ca. 1912 Rollo cyclecar

This snapshot was discovered very recently in a ‘bygones’ shop in Clapham in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales not seven miles from where the picture was taken: at the base of the photograph are the words ‘Duke Street, Settle’.  That street is still familiar today, and the Golden Lion Hotel seen at the right is still serving excellent fare to motorists and walkers alike.

The driver of the cyclecar in our picture may very well soon be in need of refreshment, because just below his right foot appear to be the remains of the car’s offside drive-belt, and some considerable effort is likely to be needed to replace it.  Nobody seems to be wanting to help, but the little boy on the bicycle to the left is at least showing some interest.

These cars were built between 1911 and 1913 by the Rollo Car Co. of 140 Conybere Street, Birmingham. There were three models.  The 4½ hp named the Pony had a single-cylinder 549 cc air-cooled engine made by Precision and had a single seat.  The larger car with a V-twin 964 cc 8 hp JAP air-cooled engine was available in two versions: the Rollo Tandem with fore-and-aft seating with the driver in the rear seat and the Rollo Sociable ‘for those who prefer to sit side by side’.  All three cars had belt drive – or not, as our unfortunate driver is discovering.

It is very difficult to be certain as to which version we can see here.  The steering wheel appears to be too far forward for it to be operated from the rear seat, but the car seems to be rather narrow for a Sociable.  Whichever it is, we have some more recent evidence that these little cars were not the easiest to drive.  Reg Long, who owned a Rollo for five years from 1955, was reported in the Light Car and Edwardian Section of a VSCC publication as saying in 1992: “The brakes were Bowden-cable operated and, being rather poor, braking was like Russian roulette – the harder you pressed the pedal, the more likely you were to strip the cable nipple off and have no brakes at all. Starting was by anti-clockwise turning of the starting handle, situated midway along the n/s chassis and of convenient length to leave the skin off one’s knuckles on the tarmac. Steering was direct, which means no steering box, just a drop arm controlling the left-hand wheel, hence ¼ turn of steering wheel from lock to lock – quite a handful on a bumpy road. The plus side was that, at only 5cwt unladen weight, it would go!  50 to 55mph if you got both plugs firing, and with a straight-through exhaust it sounded as though you were doing a ton…”

With that bravery and that amount of work to repair the belt drive, our driver is fortunate indeed to be close to the Golden Lion.  He will soon deserve some sustenance.


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