British Anzani - a company history
| The story of how Anzani came
to design a car engine is slightly curious. During their search for new
business a man approached Gustave Maclure and suggested that if he were
to build an engine of a certain type at a certain price then this person
would certainly purchase them from him for the new car he was considering
building. Maclure designed the 11.9 hp side-valve saying later the
side-valve Anzani was the product of everything I learnt at Rolls Royce,
especially from Royce. You could say it was a Rolls Royce design.
It was a gem of an engine; strong, light, reliable and tunable it was just
a pity that his customer had no company, no car and no money
to pay for his work. Fortunately Maclure was to hear that someone else might
find a use for his engine...
In 1918 AC Cars directors John Weller and John Portwine had decided to replace the French Fivet engine in their light car and they were designing a 1500cc 6 cylinder engine for this purpose. The engine (which was later to become the classic 2 litre AC engine) was costing them a fortune to develop and the offer of an off-the-peg replacement while the six was perfected was too good to miss. So the British Anzani 1496cc four cylinder side-valve 11.9hp motor was to be built at the Willesden factory and an order was placed by AC in 1919 for 2,000 of them. In recognition of this order AC Cars were given 2000 shares in Anzani and John Weller and fellow AC director Selwyn Francis Edge took up their places on the British Anzani board of directors.
Other events were taking place though and in 1923
Gustave Maclure resigned from British Anzani to set up his own company
(with fellow Anzani director Richard Simpkin) just around the corner from
his old employer in Willesden. He was to manufacture a new engine under
the Plus-Power Engine Company name and in less than a year
the new engine was ready. It came to the attention of Archie Frazer-Nash
who was on the look out for an engine for his cars and Maclures
Plus-Power (a 1500cc OHV) which was in many respects just a more sporting
version of his original design suited the dashing Frazer-Nash perfectly.
Events in the motor industry were overtaking Plus-Power however and independent
manufacturers were falling by the wayside with the effects of the cheaper
mass produced Morris and Austin cars. In less than a year Plus-Power were
calling in the receivers and Maclure was a much poorer man for his venture.
The company did not have limited liability and with debts rising the directors
decided to pull out quickly before the damage grew too large. They had
sold engines to only three companies and of these Frazer-Nash was by far
the biggest customer and it was to them that Maclure turned asking them
to buy his ailing company. Nash refused and meanwhile H. J. Aldington,
a fellow Frazer-Nash director, invited Nash to try a car powered by the
British Anzani and from then on British Anzani supplied Frazer-Nash
with their engines.
In January 1925 AC cars managing director
Mr S. F. Edge decided to manufacture their own version of the British
Anzani engine at the Aylesbury factory of the Cubitt Car Company
(in which he had a financial interest) and he immediately cancelled the
30 engines a month order from Anzani which caused a receiver to be appointed
in February 1925. Edge had had a team of engineers strip down an
Anzani engine to make patterns and they then redesigned the exterior slightly
to avoid direct comparison with the original. To add to the pain felt
by Anzani the managing director of Cubitts approached Gustave Maclure
to remedy some teething problems they had had with the new engine and
so Maclure ended up working on a plagiarised version of his own engine
design! By the end of 1925 Maclure had cured the faults he had found in
the Cubitt engine and production continued for another two years until
the four cylinder cars were withdrawn in 1927.
Archie Frazer-Nash was looking about for other suppliers though and wasnt
particularly happy with what hed found. Then a chance meeting with
Eric Burt in August 1926 changed everything. Eric Burt was a director
of Mowlems (as was his father) the international civil engineering
company and enjoyed the lifestyle of the young and rich. Nash had met
him at a motor racing event where Burt was competing with his Burt
Special Aston Martin/Anzani and they got to talking about their engines.
Nash thought the young man was just another keen garage proprietor/racer
and invited him to the factory for a chat but by the time he turned up
a week later Nash had realised who he was and an idea began to form.
Eric Burt and his brother were persuaded by Nash to put up the bulk
of the money to resurrect the Anzani/Vulpine company. They renamed it
the British Anzani Engineering Company and with Eric Burts
wife Elizabeth as his nominee on the board of directors and with other
directors Archie Frazer-Nash and R.G.H Plunkett-Greene (the
financier of A.F.N.) the next phase of Anzani history began. The new company
began its life on February 18th 1927 still in the old Scrubbs Lane
factory but it wasnt long before the first factory move came. The
lease on the Scrubbs Lane site expired at the end of that year and Burt
moved Anzanis into an adjacent site of the Kingston-on-Thames factory
of A.F.N. Ltd. (the Frazer Nash company name). The new company
was further encouraged when Morgan relented and returned to Anzani with
more orders for engines for their three-wheelers.
The Fox programme of range expansion continued and several new innovations
were adopted. The 11.9 hp was adapted for marine use and marketed as an
inboard engine and was still sold in various states of tune for car use.
The V-twin range was expanded to incorporate three 1,000cc and 1,100cc
motorcycle engines (also sold as the aero engine) and two 1,100cc water
cooled cyclecar engines plus the 500cc single.
Whilst on his third period at Anzani Gustave Maclure had designed his
third engine and the new company decided to look again at this SOHC design.
It was of similar capacity to his predecessors but had hemipherical heads
and a chain driven overhead camshaft. Burts draughtsmen built Maclures
engine and used it in a test-bed racing car called the Slug (for
it's low slung appearance) and the engine proved very powerful.
Things changed dramatically again for Anzanis in 1929. Archie
Frazer-Nash temporarily retired from the firm with ill health and
the new managing director H. J. Aldington decided to make some
major changes. Firstly he decided to use the Meadows 4 ED engine
in their cars only using the side valve in supercharged form for racing
engines - he also decided against incorporating Anzani into the business
thereby casting adrift what had become their specialist engineering arm.
The situation was made more awkward because Anzani and A.F.N shared stores
and drawing offices in the factory. Some benefit came Anzanis way
in the fact that they no longer did subsidized work for AFN but the fact
remained they had lost by far their biggest customer. It is also widely
recognised that 1929 marked the end for the specialist independent manufacturers
of cars and engines. The surviving builders of cars and motorbikes now
built their own engines and the era of mass production had finally won
through. A decision was made to not look for new orders for engines although
they were still made to order and Burt did his best to help his company
through this difficult time by giving them contract work from Mowlems
and for a time they became builders of concrete mixers and pneumatic road
drills. The next traumatic change came when Aldington announced that the
company should move to a new site in London Road, Isleworth in Middlesex.
In 1931 Frazer-Nash, now out of hospital, resigned from the company and with Plunkett-Greene already gone after Aldington took over in 1929 many of the old faces were no longer there. Significantly one new face to join was T.D. Ross from Austin.
Ross argued for the company to manufacture a new racing engine which would be sold in a detuned state to sports car manufacturers; an argument which flew in the face of the current industry thinking. The decision was agreed however and the R1 (the Ross 1) was put into development. It was a very powerful motor, producing over 100bhp through it twin Solexs and twin overhead camshafts. Much of the internals of the new engine were based on Rosss experience at Austin and he was later to comment that it was basically an Austin design and the tappets he said were pure Austin 7. The problem was there were no customers for the new engine until one day the young manufacturer Adrian Squire came to see Ross and his new engine. The deal was clinched when Ross agreed to cast the Squire name in the cam covers and thereby make his new car appear an all Squire Car Manufacturing Company product.
Ross made his second engine the R2, a redesign of the old V-twin, for a 500 engine order for the Bristol Tractor Company for a small tractor they were building and later he got a further order from Bristol for another 1,000 R2 engines. He was also involved in working on a new order from holiday camp entrepreneur Billy Butlin for their Dodgem Boats and generally things were looking up for Ross when in August 1933 he fell out with Burt and offered his resignation on a point of principle and to Rosss amazement Burt accepted it! Ross left and joined the Army and Burt went back to his contract work.
In 1934 Aldington became a director of British Anzani after buying a large number of shares with a view to having BA make a new SOHC engine for Frazer Nash popularly known as the Gough. He had had Anzanis immediately develop a supercharged racing version of the engine and although the manufacturing never actually did come their way the company had entered yet another new phase of its history.
In 1936 Aldington bought out Burt completely and the company became a fully integrated member of A.F.N. making a living doing special development work and race engines for Frazer Nash, engine refurbishments, spares for the old engines plus their perennial contract work and all was quiet - for the time being anyway...
A.F.N. at this time were developing their links with the BMW car company and finding it a very profitable business. This relationship was to become a defining feature of the company and the Anzani side of the business was left to fend for itself. The staffing level at this time is thought to have been around 25 people, far removed from the heady days of the AC contract in the early 1920s when they employed over 100 people in the Willesden plant.
Among the directors though was a man who was to have a big influence on British Anzani for the next 30 years. This man was a motor boat and motor cycle racer, an ex-world record holder and an engine designer - his name was Charles Henry Harrison.