British Anzani - a company history
(page 2)


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.

Many other manufacturers took up the engine. Captain Donald Marendaz who had financed his car making with the profits he made selling exotic second hand cars from the Brixton Road premises he shared with the London Cab Company and which also housed the concessionaires for Bugatti and luxury US car maker Graham-Paige. The Marendaz Specials were made from 1926 to 1932 and were sporty, good looking cars using the Anzani 1496cc motor (though some were sleeved down to 1097cc) and although they did not sell in great numbers they did excel in competition. It is estimated that only 20-25 cars were made in Brixton before he moved the factory to Maidenhead in 1932 (and was by then using other manufacturers engines) until they ceased production in 1936.

Other manufacturers using the motor included Crouch the Coventry based car maker. The marque had been made famous with the racing exploits of Stirling Moss’s father Alfred who regularly drove his Anzani powered cars with great success at the Brooklands race track. Their models 12/24 and 12/30 Sports and Super Sports made from 1924 to 1927 were well built and so reliable London agent Moss offered a one years free warranty on them! Deemster the forerunner to the Frazer Nash had used the engine in it’s 12hp model produced from 1919 to 1924 and likewise Whitlock the Cricklewood based manufacturer in it’s 1922 Coupé de luxe model. F.W. Bond the Yorkshire based company used it in their 1927 1½ litre Sports and likewise Lea Francis and the Putney based maker Palladium in their 1922 12hp model.

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 Maclure’s 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 1921 a special single seater 16 valve AC driven by Harry Hawker sped through the flying half mile at a record breaking 105mph and in 1922 J.A. Joyce became the first man to do a hundred miles in an hour (averaging 101.375mph). Replicas of the car with a standard Anzani engine were for sale to the public up to 1926 for 1,000. The same 16 valve engine was used in the Brooklands 200 Mile Race in 1923 and 1924 with Joyce finishing 3rd in 1923 and 4th in 1924.

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 Cubitt’s 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.

AC Sports
AC Sports pictured at Stonehenge in 1922


Anzani struggled on in receivership until November 1925 when British Anzani’s newest director decided to take a hand. Charles Fox of Fox Pianos had only joined the board in January 1925 and yet within a year had taken over the company renaming it the British Vulpine Engine Company and embarked on a programme of expansion. Gustave Maclure was invited back once more and rejoined his old firm as works manager and stayed there until 1927 when he left to go to Riley cars where he became works manager. The new company was not to last long. By July 1926 it had itself gone into liquidation forced into bankrupcy by some ill luck and poor judgement on behalf of Charles Fox.

Morgan cars ordered their engines by the hundred thereby playing one manufacturer off against the other as each new contract was bid for. Because of the increasing keeness of the prices inevitably some quality had been sacrificed and a problem developed with exhaust valves in the Anzani/Vulpine engines. Morgan complained and Anzani provided replacement valves - Morgan demanded more and Fox objected. Morgan cancelled their order and Fox sued for breach of contract, and lost. The company was bankrupt again and had lost a valuable customer into the bargain. Fortunately for Anzani/Vulpine’s other big customer, Frazer Nash, there were a number of engines already made and there was no immediate shortage for the Kingston-on-Thames based company to worry about.

Archie Frazer-Nash was looking about for other suppliers though and wasn’t particularly happy with what he’d 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.

Frazer Nash logo

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 Burt’s 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 it’s life on February 18th 1927 still in the old Scrubbs Lane factory but it wasn’t long before the first factory move came. The lease on the Scrubbs Lane site expired at the end of that year and Burt moved Anzani’s 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.


Frazer Nash Falcon

Frazer Nash Ulster

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. Burt’s 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.

The ‘SA’ four cylinder when first fitted to the Frazer Nash in 1925 developed 38 bhp @ 4000 rpm and was used in all the cars until 1927. The Super Sports in 1927 developed 47 bhp @ 4000 rpm and the HE (High Efficiency) developed 52 bhp @ 4500 rpm. A special engine developed in 1927 gave 52 bhp @ 4500 rpm and had roller bearing big ends and special camshaft. This engine was developed further to include a chain driven camshaft.
The works race engines were fitted with Cozette No 8 and No 9 Superchargers blowing up to 10lbs/in, had roller bearing cranks, were dry sumped and had heads lapped direct onto the block and they developed 85 bhp @ 5000 rpm on petrol and 90 bhp on alcohol.



The 11.9 hp with Cozette supercharger

The R1 twin OHC

Things changed dramatically again for Anzani’s 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 Anzani’s 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.

Archie Frazer-Nash
H.J. Aldington


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 Solex’s and twin overhead camshafts. Much of the internals of the new engine were based on Ross’s 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.

The Squire Car Manufacturing Company was situated in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and run by ex-Bentley apprentice Adrian Squire. Between 1934-1936 these were the epitome of the 1930’s sports car. The 1½ litre R1 Anzani motor had twin OHC, a Roots supercharger and twin Solex carbs giving a 110bhp power rating and over 100mph performance. A four speed Wilson pre-selector gearbox and 15" hydraulic brakes in manganese alloy drums all in a Squire designed cruciform chassis made this this one of the most desirable cars of its era. Unfortunately its ‘no-expense-spared’ design meant it was indeed very expensive and only seven were known to have been built. Adrian Squire went on to work for Lagonda but sadly died in an air raid in 1940.
1934 Squire

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 Ross’s 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 Anzani’s 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 it’s 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 1920’s 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.