Vanished Vehicles – Part 10
A look back over the past century and beyond at the manufacturers that once produced transport for the masses….
Automobiles M. Berliet – France 1895-1978
Automotive pioneer Marius Berliet built his first car within a garden shed near Lyon, his machine was constructed with a narrow wheel base allowing it to fit through the door opening. Moving to a small alternate premises in 1899, as cars became more popular they were often assembled on the street outside. From 1901 Berliet offered two and four cylinder machines with advanced honeycomb cooling radiator and steel chassis, selling the licence for these to American Locomotive Company in 1906. His designs progressed the following year with four cylinder engines of 2412cc and 4398cc plus a 9.5 litre six cylinder but it was war production from 1914 that required massive expansion. Berliet’s WW1 truck production ran at 40 per day but post hostilities when the demand declined, the factory was over staffed and oversized. Returning to car production with a 12, 15 and 22hp all running pre-war side valve designs, a range of OHV engines arrived in 1924 and with six various sized power plants available Berliet also looked to supply their own bodies. Growth was stifled by the Wall St Crash and Depression into the 1930s, by which time Berliet was developing more commercial vehicles and experimenting with diesel trucks. In 1936 the Dauphine was the final car bearing the Berliet name; of ‘airflow’ design with independent front suspension it was considered both advanced and attractive. Marcus Berliet died just after WW2 but his name remained on Lyon built trucks even after a takeover from Citroen in 1967. When Michelin (owners of Citroen) sold Berliet to Renault in the mid-70s the historic marque ceased.
Between the Wars
Joswin Motorenfabrik – Germany 1920-1926
Based in Halansee near Berlin, Josef Winsch used the first three letters from his names and created Joswin, manufacturer of the finest vehicles available in the early 1920s. Huge chassis clothed by the finest coach builders, the calibre of Szawe/ Szabo & Wechselmann resulted in the Rolls Royce of German automobiles, all based around Berlin. Powered by the largest Mercedes DIII six cylinder, 12 spark plug aero-engines of 180hp all surplus from WW1 Fokker D VII fighter aircraft. This OHC engine was extremely advanced for the era and originally of 14 litres was adapted to suit and offered in two variants in the Joswin, either a 75hp of 6462cc or the larger 95hp of 7269cc, through a four speed gearbox. The ultra-high-end specification included the finest upholstered arm chair seating, full rosewood panelling and all-wool leather bound carpeting. Pelmets and blinds adorned the opera windows with co-ordinated ornate lighting offering the finest of 20s luxury travel with direct telephone communication to the chauffeur. Very few versions of the Joswin were built, only the wealthiest could afford the bespoke perfection of the marque. Known owners included the Judell family, Amsterdam based coffee dealers, Emperor Wilhelm II and the King of Bulgaria. One surviving example is the Joswin Sedanca de Ville (photograph) that became an instant star when it arrived in the USA in 1924. The car featured in several movies before finding a home in the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan where the image was taken; the car is currently stored in the Louwman Museum in The Hague, Holland.
Grantham Productions Ltd. Kendall - UK 1945-1946
The first post-war ‘people’s car’ the Kendall appeared in two models but the first was a rear radial three-cylinder engine in a small two door costing £100. The second, a copy of J. A. Gregoire design penned in secret during WW2, a, front wheel drive, front engine flat twin of 594cc that would have sold for £200. Gregoire was involved in the development of the ‘Tracta-joint’ the fore-runner to today’s CV (constant velocity) unit, he also designed cars for Donnet, Amilcar and Panhard. The Kendall story takes an interesting twist when details of its financial backing and sponsor were apparent; Denis Kendall MP. The MP for Grantham ran away to sea at 14, whilst in the US he became a steeplejack and worked in a Philadelphia car plant before managing the Citroen Works in Paris for nine years. Returning to the UK Kendall became MD of British Manufacturing and Research Co, developing the Hispano-Suiza aircraft cannon in 1938. Winning the Grantham election in 1942, this controversial and outspoken character became known to the security services. Suspected of smuggling arms and currency with links to Fascists and right wing groups, although no action was taken, his dossier was released by the Government in 2008. With massive financial contributions from the Maharajah of Nawanaga both car and tractor production began at the end of WW2. Most estimates conclude no more than a dozen cars were built and the air cooled radial engine design failed to impress, the finances vanished and Kendall moved to the US; later becoming a millionaire.
Mercury Automobiles – USA 1938-2011
The creation of Ford’s Mercury brand owed much to the opposition in the form of General Motors and its President Alfred P Sloan. By introducing a hierarchy of models Sloan not only made sense of GM’s jumble of brands he also kept the customer ‘in house’ with a make for every budget. The idea taken on board by Henry Ford’s son Edsel, he persuaded his father to launch the mid-priced brand in 1939. Whilst GM kept their marques distinct and recognisable Ford and Mercury were very similar, their first product the ‘Eight’ was an enlarged Ford Model 91. At $957 the ‘8’ was $230 more than its smaller sister car, but cheaper than Ford’s high end Lincoln marque and crucially GMs Buick. A full size package that offered economy and up until WW2 Mercury sold in good numbers. By 1949 after three generations of the ‘Eight’ the brand became more distinct, attracting new custom and a loyal following. The Mercury name was chosen by Edsel Ford, the Roman ‘God of Speed’ perfect during the 1950s as the brand produced powerful, fast and technically advanced models. Performance machines like the Comet, Meteor and Cougar not only sounded exciting, they flew from the 1960s showrooms but the oil crisis forced all US brands to re-think the following decade. Adopting European Ford models such as the Capri helped sales during the 70s, whilst renaming the Sierra XR4i (Merkur) in the 1980s allowed the distinct Mercury features to become diluted. The brand continued with bountiful speculation over its future until the last Mercury car left the production line in January 2011.