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Aspects of Motoring History # 18

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SNAPSHOT 390: 1905 Speedwell 10 h.p.

Way back in Snapshot 74 appeared the 1903 Chainless car built in Paris. Its main interest lay in the source of many of its chassis components: Messrs Lacoste & Battmann, also of Paris. L&B kits came in various sizes and appearances and were especially popular among small manufacturers (or “assemblers”) between 1902 and 1907.

The Speedwell, built between 1900 and 1908, initially in Reading and then in London, was one of the British cars that contained many elements from Lacoste & Battmann. Speedwell Motor & Engineering Co. Ltd. were originally agents and factors in the cycle trade. Before 1900 they diversified into the sale of cars, advertising popular models such as Renault, Léon Bollée,  De Dion-Bouton, MMC and Gardner-Serpollet. The owners, the Dew family, built a Rochet-based special, and the name Speedwell first appeared on a few Hanzer cars that they imported from France. From around 1902 the first British-built Speedwells appeared, with L&B chassis and De Dion engines. Five chassis were available at the 1903 Crystal Palace show, from 6 h.p. to 40 h.p.

The 10 h.p. model in our latest Snapshot dates from 1905, by which time Speedwells had started to commission their own castings for axles and gearbox parts.  At this point, too, the distinctive round radiator replaced the earlier square version. The 10 h.p. was powered by a twin-cylinder vertical Gnome engine. An article in The Motor for 18 April 1905 praised the 10 h.p. as a ‘Cheap and Thoroughly Well-designed Vehicle’, but there were no outstanding attributes to set the car apart from the multitude of similar cars of the time – apart from one.

This was the gearbox. Whether or not Speedwell had designed all or part of it, a remarkable feature was that in direct-drive top gear “all the gear wheels are out of action, thus reducing the wear and friction to a minimum.” An illustration of the gearbox internals suggests that the dogs on the front of the sliding gearset not only engaged direct drive but also took the rear-mounted constant-mesh layshaft gears out of engagement, thus making them and the layshaft stationary. This, if true, would be a far simpler arrangement than the 1914 Le Gui transmission in our own Technical Talk No. 1, which can be found in our ‘News’ column.

By 1906 the company had been taken over by Brown Brothers and was therefore once more mainly concerned with factoring and agencies. New models with Aster engines were on display at Olympia in 1907, but sales must have been poor because the Speedwell disappeared soon after.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

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