Vanished Vehicles – Part 6
A look back over the past century and beyond at the manufacturers that once produced transport for the masses….
Thames Ironworks – UK 1906-1911
Straddling the banks of the River Thames, its factories described as ‘Leviathan’ on the site of the current Docklands Light Railway; ship building and massive construction projects were the source of this company’s revenue. Naval contacts slowed in the early 1900s so Thames looked to diversify. Originally with steam and petrol powered commercial vehicles from 1902 their first car a shaft drive 45hp six cylinder was displayed at Olympia in 1906. They went on to offer 15 and 24hp models but their star performer was a 60hp machine that would break several records in 1907 and 1909.
WT Clifford Earp was already a very accomplished pioneer race driver, completing the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup in 8th
and breaking speed records at Daytona Beach the following year. At Brooklands the mighty Thames 60hp took records over 50 and 150 miles plus the furthest travelled after one and two hours. Thames motorcar production increased in 1910 with an 8hp single, 12hp twin and a 15hp Taxi version for London’s masses. The larger six cylinder engines were also available including a 13 litre 80hp monster but at Olympia in 1911 Thames announced it was too busy to continue building motorcars and production ended. The Thames Ironworks Football Team originally consisting of company workers, known as ‘The Irons’ they would become West Ham United in 1900.
Between the Wars
The Rhode Motor Co – UK 1921-1931
Reported to be one of the best light cars of its era, the sporting Rhode was constructed by FW Mead and TW Deakin at Tyseley in Birmingham. Unusual for the time, only the gearbox for the Rhode was ‘out sourced’, all the other components were ‘in house’. Originally, the 4 cylinder 1087cc offered 19bhp from its overhead valve engine with lubrication performed by the flywheel scooping sump oil and throwing via a pipe to the valve gear above. Quoted as being fast, reliable and noisy, the two seater version failed to sell in huge numbers so the company produced this four seat version in 1924 with the option of a self-starter.
To cope with increased weight a more powerful 1232cc engine was fitted combined with a lower axle ratio. Competitively priced in a competitive market but Rhode punched above its weight; one dealer Mebes & Mebes of Great Portland St. London W1 offered them for sale alongside the equally sporty Lagonda. In 1924 the final stage of a 1000-mile trial was held at Brooklands of the ten vehicles that completed the event, one was a Rhode. The 11/30 arrived in 1926 with refinements continuing on the engine, with push-rod overhead valves silencing its mechanicals somewhat. The 1928 Hawk continued the company’s direction away from sporting machines being larger and heavier than its predecessors, it also enjoyed an overhead cam version of the 11/30 engine. The company produced a light truck but like so many unique manufacturers of the time just disappeared after a decade.
Lost Cause – USA 1963-1964
The name could not be more apt; a stranger automobile project would be hard to find but it did actually happen. The reality of the Lost Cause appeared at the New York Motor Show in 1963, a Chevy Corvair itself not the most popular machine of all time was displayed in a stretched version that dripped excess and luxury. Kentucky Congressman and entrepreneur Charles Farnsley set up Lost Cause Motors Group and had a passion for Corvair’s but hated post war cars with all their plastic trim. Derham Body Company of Rosemount Pennsylvania were tasked with the project; they knew their business having modified or built cars for King Farouk of Egypt, Dwight Eisenhower and even Josef Stalin. The extended body required upgraded suspension mounted on wire wheels and bathed in lashings of heavily lacquered British Racing Green. Standard equipment included aircraft altimeters and compass, custom leather and walnut trim along with picnic hamper and matching luggage. The average price for a standard Corvair in 1963 was $2326.00, the Lost Cause on show in New York was a shocking $22300.00 and they took one $1000.00 deposit. Although a production model was completed, the plans for further examples were shelved. As for the original car, it was found under blankets in a barn and underwent a full restoration in 2002; three decades after Ralph Nader’s report condemned the Corvair in his report ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’.
De Tomaso – Italy 1959-2004
Argentine, Alejandro de Tomaso raced Maserati and OSCA machines during the 50s making two F1 appearances. He settled in Italy marrying a wealthy American heiress Isabelle Haskell who also drove for OSCA. Building uncompetitive race cars in the early 60’s the company began construction of their first road machine for 1965, a mid-engine Giugiaro design called the Vallelunga. Only about 50 were produced with a Ford power plant as used in the 1500cc Cortina. De Tomaso also took over several other well-known manufacturers including Maserati and Innocenti plus motorbike builders Moto Guzzi and Benelli. His second offering the Mangusta in 1967 featured a Ford V8 and some 400 of these were produced until 1971 when the Pantera arrived. Despite being described as ‘incompetent but undeniably stylish’ by one harsh journalist, around 10,000 left the factory and were sold via Lincoln and Mercury outlets in the USA.
The oil crisis of the mid 70’s affected the American market, especially the V8 ‘gas guzzlers’ and sales slowed. Pantera production continued but not in the thousands per annum, now it would be in the hundreds, all hand constructed. Several luxury models arrived during the 1970s-80s, an attempt to rival Mercedes and Jaguar. Innocenti and Maserati were both sold to Fiat in the 1990s, following which several attempts were made to revive the failing brand and in 2003 Alejandro passed away leaving his son at the helm. Liquidation in 2004 followed and despite new owners, speculation and even a prototype; the ‘name’ De Tomaso was sold to a Chinese company in 2015.