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SNAPSHOT 410: 1923 Vulcan 20 h.p.

The brothers Thomas and Joseph Hampson built an experimental car in Bolton in 1899. Three years later they set up their Vulcan company with a factory in Southport on the Lancashire coast. The first Vulcan car was a 4 h.p. single-cylinder with a 2-speed gearbox and final drive by a single belt to the centre of the rear axle. It had radiators on the side of the bonnet in the style of Renaults of the time. The 1903 car was improved: 6 or 9 h.p., with mechanically operated inlet valves, and an armoured wood chassis replacing the earlier tubular construction. Wire wheels became artillery. For 1904 the side radiators were replaced by a conventional front-mounted honeycomb type. Six-cylinder engines arrived in 1906, some as large as 6 litres, but in 1911 a light car was also added to the range. This was the first time that Vulcan had used a bought-in engine – in this case a 2-cylinder 1960cc Aster. The company grew, and in 1909 moved to a large new factory. All 1914 Vulcans had bullnose radiators.

During World War I Vulcan made gun limbers and aircraft. With peace the first new car was the 16, powered by a 2.6-litre side-valve 4-cylinder Dorman engine. In 1916 the Hampson brothers left and the company was then run by C.B. Wardman, who made some unwise decisions – including a £150,000 investment in the Harper Bean group (makers of Bean, ABC and Swift cars) and in Wallace tractors. This formed the grandly named British Motor Trading Corp., which did nothing for its component companies except waste money on at least three new 1920s designs that never reached production.

The car in our Snapshot was advertised as a 20 h.p Landaulette, on sale at £895, and was powered by a 3.7-litre version of the Dorman 16 engine. All cars now had flat radiators. These Dorman engines were also used in Vulcan’s commercial vehicles, which were playing an increasingly important role in the company’s output.

By 1923 Wardman had managed to extricate himself from the British Motor Trading Corp. and started to share the Vulcan dealer network with Lea-Francis, and some Vulcans were sold under the Lea-Francis name. Vulcan made some Lea-Francis bodywork, and Lea-Francis supplied gearboxes and steering gears to Vulcan. From 1926 commercial vehicles began to supplant cars as Vulcan’s main product, with buses and light military vehicles alongside the trucks.

Financial problems overtook the company in 1928. C. B. Wardman resigned, and no more Vulcan cars came from Southport – but a few badged as Lea-Francis were made up to 1930. Despite continuing production of trucks and buses, the company went into compulsory liquidation in 1931 and struggled on with limited output for a few years until Brockhouse Engineering took over in the mid-thirties and managed to keep production going until 1938, when the remains of the company were sold to Tilling-Stevens, a bus manufacturer in Maidstone.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

One response to “SNAPSHOT 410: 1923 Vulcan 20 h.p.”

  1. Ariejan Bos says:

    Maybe it’s a minor detail, but I have my doubts about the side coolers of the 1902 Vulcan. Indeed the car had thermosyphon cooling (like Renault), but on the only picture I’m aware of (in the Motor Car Journal of March 22, 1902) the presence of side coolers is doubtful. What may look as tubes, are in my eyes more like vertical air slits (or louvres). Certainly there are no horizontal distribution channels present at the top and bottom (which is unlike Renault), but also the vertical cooling tubes are normally gilled and this is definitely not the case here. So my interpretation is that we see air slits, but with the louvre opening towards the front for improved cooling of the room under the bonnet.

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