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SNAPSHOT 369: 1914 Swift 15 h.p.

Why would someone be doing this to a Swift chassis? Clearly the passenger is having fun – but that, of course, is not the primary purpose. It is a test of a “15 h.p. Swift chassis for colonial use”.

Many British manufacturers built colonial versions of their cars. The 1915 Napier 16/22HP “Colonial” tourer had a raised chassis with greater ground clearance for use in less-developed countries. The 1923 Wolseley A9 Colonial Tourer was fitted with a “wide track chassis, extra petrol tin and carrier, magneto ignition and low rear axle ratio”. The 1912 index for The Autocar listed an Austin 18-24 h.p. Colonial Car for South America.

There is no information on the specific characteristics of the colonial Swift chassis; there is simply a cryptic comment in Georgano: “Swifts were popular in several export markets…”

The Coventry Sewing Machine Company was founded by James Starley in 1859. James was a gifted engineer and inventor, and something must have run in the genes of the Starley family since his nephew John Kemp Starley is widely credited with the invention of the safety bicycle – the forerunner of all modern cycles.

The sewing machine company started to make bicycles in 1869 and changed its name to Coventry Machinists Company. In 1896 it became the Swift Cycle Company and started to make motorcycles in 1898. It experimented with its first car in 1900. In 1902 a separate company was formed for motor vehicle production and registered as the Swift Motor Company. After World War I ended, the cycle car company was merged with the main company as Swift of Coventry and the range was simplified.

The first Swift car of 1900 was a single-cylinder model using an MMC engine. A Swift-engined twin-cylinder 7-horsepower light car came in 1904 and the 1913 15 h.p. in our Snapshot was a 4-cylinder side-valve car with 3,052cc capacity, its engine being built in Coventry by White and Poppe.

The last Swift car was the 1930 Cadet, which was an attempt to compete with the £100 cars from Ford and Morris. It had an 850cc Coventry Climax engine and a price of £149 for the tourer and £165 for the saloon. But Swift was too small to compete and closed in 1931 after its suppliers foreclosed on its debts. Coventry Climax was left with several engines for the Cadet model, which it used as the basis of its Second World War fire pump engine designated FSM, the SM standing for Swift Motors.

Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive: www.richardrobertsarchive.org.uk


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