The BSA Company first produced a motor car in 1907 some 2 years before it produced its first complete motor cycle. From 1907 various RWD BSA cars were produced before production of all RWD cars stopped in 1936 when the company concentrated on FWD vehicles.
Designed by Captain E Baguley the first BSA cars were produced in various forms with capacities ranging from 2.5 to 4.2 litre. The larger cars were based on the 1907 Peking-Paris Itala. Following the purchase of the Daimler Company by BSA in September 1910 responsibility for Motor Car manufacture was transferred to the latter company. BSA cars continued to be produced for two years following the amalgamation of the two companies but after this point they became badge engineered Daimlers.
Rear-Wheel-Drive cars 1921 to 1924.
The 1914-18 war stopped production of BSA cars and it was not until 1921 that production of cars resumed. This was no badge-engineered Daimler but a genuine attempt to move into the light car market with the RWD V twin. This car used an engine based on the Hotchkiss designed 900 V twin introduced in early 1921. The car was certainly designed at Small Heath and may well have been produced in one of BSA's Birmingham factories, but this is by no means certain.
The car was eventually produced with V twin, 4 cylinder one 6 cylinder engine with the latter being a Knight sleeve valve engine. The cars were produced between 1922 and 1926. BSA constructed a large new factory on the Coventry Road, Birmingham which was known as the light car works to handle production of these vehicles. Production of the RWD cars never really came to anything with estimates of the numbers produced for all models quoted at around 1000 over the 4 years.
The car was entered by BSA in many rallies during the twenties, doing quite well in the hands of Captain Brittain and Mr Danby. Strong competition from the cheaper Austin 7 helped to force an early end to this interesting light car in which are to be found the basis for BSA ventures into FWD three and four wheel cars from 1929.
The first Front Wheel Drive cars, 1929.
It is only in recent years that the concept of front wheel drive in cars has become popularly acceptable. However, the concept of front wheel drive has been with us since the earliest days of motoring, after all in those days there was not guaranteed "way to do it". Obviously car manufacturers soon realized that it was preferable to steer with the front wheels and this automatically led to rear wheel driving, a simplification perhaps but probably the reason why.
In the nineteen-twenties front wheel drive motoring was limited to a relatively few small production runs, with the FWD Alvis being one of the first series U1 FWD cars with only a few hundred produced.
The BSA company in the late twenties no doubt examined all the layout permutations when they decided to enter the light car/three wheeler market, then dominated by the Morgan. Two wheels at the front was the popular configuration at that time, but driving through a single rear wheel did mean a "motorcycle" type assembly and a heavy driving load on the single tyre. FWD offered an easily detachable rear wheel with no oily chains - a sales "plus".
So in November 1929 the BSA three wheeler appeared. BSA designers had not restricted themselves to a FWD Morgan or Coventry Victor, and introduced innovations such as a reverse gear, electric start and full weather protection. Independent front suspension was another benefit resulting from the FWD layout and "Motor Cycle" of the day said "The details of this vehicle are of such interest that it may be said to mark a milestone in the history of the light runabout".
The engine in the BSA Three wheeler was based on the Hotchkiss designed 900 air cooled V-twin (1021cc), used previously in the 1922 RWD BSA. This allowed the car to be kept within the 8cwt weight taxation limit for three wheelers. The engine was mounted with cylinders across the car and driving through a cork clutch and conventional gearbox to a differential mounted midway between the front wheels. Final drive was by shaft, flexible coupling and Hooke joints at the front wheels. Two coupled brakes were fitted, one on the rear wheels and one mounted to the right of the differential. This extract from a sales brochure shows the front suspension layout.
Earliest trikes did not have any shock absorbers but these were fitted to all later models apparently to prevent spring breakage. The diagram is taken from a 1935 Scout brochure. The suspension arrangement remained essentially the same throughout the life of the vehicles although later Scouts had outboard front brakes. The BSA/Daimler (Armoured) car manufactured during WWII had suspension of the same pattern, but in 4 wheel drive form and somewhat more massive!
The 1930 BSA three wheeler was introduced with two models, a sports and a tourer, supplemented by a four seater family model for 1931. For 1932 there were four models. The four seater squeezed two children's seats in behind the main passenger seats. They were decidedly child-sized and there was a footwell on one side only for the larger child to have extra legroom. The seats were deck-chair style canvas seats rigged between the rear body and bars fixed to the rear wheel cover.
A non-starter was the Trike Van. A small number were built but there appeared to be a severe shortage of delivery firms brave enough to try them. One has been re-created by a Club member. We understand he advertises a feather and balloon delivery service but has avoided branching out into heavier haulage!
BSA's first FWD Four wheeler.
In 1931 BSA's foresaw a market for a four wheel light car and in that autumn introduced a four wheel version of the trike, the FW32. This was produced in a two seater, four seater and van versions, unfortunately they offered no advantages other than road stability over the trike and not many were built. Another short lived model in 1931 was the TW-5 van version of the threewheeler.
Later Three Wheelers.
The 1933 threewheeler was a much improved car, a water cooled four cylinder 9 h.p. version being offered, with the same engine as the T.9, but with some changes. The body was also changed significantly together with new wings and longer bonnet. The Vee Twin models continued in production alongside the 4 cylinder version until 1936, and were mechanically unchanged to the end, with the exception of minor improvements.
Whilst many cars were painted a single colour, two-tone paint designs were common and again varied. For some, the two-tone line followed the bonnet and boot lid sides, on others a sweeping line from the radiator filler to the lower point of the tail was followed. These two-tone schemes were very distinctive, and included black/ivory, green/black, red/black, dark grey/light grey and lilac/grey. The wings were generally stove-enamelled black and wheels were originally also black, although later a variety of colours were introduced.
Enter the T9.
A more ambitious four wheeler followed in 1932, the T.9 open four seat tourer powered by a water cooled four cylinder 9 h.p. engine (1075cc). A van version, the V.9 was also produced. The T.9 was a pleasant car but its success was curtailed by a severe weight problem, and by 1933 production had ceased.
The BSA Scout, Successful Sports/Tourer.
BSA's efforts in producing a successful four wheel FWD car culminated in the Scout, introduced in 1935. This was a two seater with pleasing lines and basically conventional sporting appearance. It used the Threewheeler/T.9 nine Horse power engine, a single differential brake at the front as per the three-wheeler, and drum brakes at the rear operated by rods. Rear suspension was semi-elliptical springs. Chassis arrangements were similar to the T9, the picture shows a series one, identified by the horizontal bonnet louvres.
The Scout sold well, and BSA were encouraged to produce a 10 h.p. (1204 cc) version which also featured a relocated handbrake assembly. This appeared as the Series 2 (2 seater) and the Series 3 in both four seat open tourer and 2 seat coupe form. At the beginning of 1936 the BSA car buying public were faced with a choice of five basic FWD models plus many more fluid flywheel RWD four and six cylinder saloons. The situation was rationalised during 1936 by a reduction in the model range to only an improved version of the Scout, in 2 seat, 4 seat tourer and 2 seat coupe form. These Series 4 Scouts featured an umbrella dashboard gear change and all round hub brakes, rod and cable operated at the front. Later Scouts were fitted with a re-designed gearbox.While synchromesh could not be squeezed in, the straight-cut gears were replaced with offset double helical "Silent Second" constant mesh sets which gave a dog-clutch type engagement. Whilst quieter and easier for gear selection, the gears were not as strong and added a further limitation on any attempts to increase performance.
For 1938 the Scout series 5 featured 12 volts, Bendix cable brakes and minor styling changes, for example the coupe being a 2 plus 2 in modern parlance. For the final year of Scout production the 1939 Series 6 was fitted with 'easy clean' wheels and a three bearing crankshaft, and appeared in 2 and 4 seat tourer form, plus a steel bodied saloon. Just before war commenced a 2 seat drop head coupe version appeared, but only fourteen were produced, and the rising war effort brought BSA car production to a halt before the Series 7 with a revised front suspension arrangement got beyond the prototype stage.
Data on the number of BSA's produced tends to indicate that some 6650 three-wheelers were manufactured between 1929 and 1935 and 3000 Scouts of all models. In the above short history, no mention has been made of the various special bodied FWD BSA's, as details are unclear. With the advent of the Second World War BSA car production ceased and with it died the only volume production pre-war British FWD car. In some ways it was more than that - the BSA FWD threewheeler was the world's first volume produced FWD car and a significant pointer to what today is commonplace.
BSA RWD Cars of the thirties.
BSA's next RWD car came in 1932 and whilst designed and produced at Small Heath did have similarities to the small Lanchesters, then being produced by the BSA group. For 1933 rear wheel drive car with 1185 cc engine. At that time Daimlers had 6 or 12 cylinder engines and the only 4 cylinder Lanchester had a 1203 cc engine (presumably not very different to the later 1203 cc Scout engine). These BSA's were produced on a Lanchester theme but the similarity was only superficial as wheelbase, gear box ratios, wheel size and other items were different.
Of 1300 cc capacity The Streamlined saloon might have looked impressive but it had the same performance as other vehicles in the range. The six-cylinder engine may have sounded more powerful but it only had a capacity of 1300c.c.
For 1933 the RWD BSA cars were a 10 hp tourer and a 10 hp saloon on an 8' 14" wheelbase, both fitted with the fluid flywheel system of transmission. Chassis numbers started at D1Ol and engine numbers had a T prefix, presumably also starting at T1O1. Look at the T9 page and you'll see that the FWD T9 chassis was offered as an alternative to the fluid flywheel chassis. Like all of the FWD cars, the T9 models were substantially cheaper that the RWD cars.
For 1934 the RWD range was expanded to include a standard saloon plus Delux version, Varsity saloon, Tickford Drophead foursome saloon, Peerless coupe (by Coventry Motor Sundries) and a Tickford three seater. The last named looked very sporty, but presumably with fluid drive lag sprints were out of the question. The engine was tuned by N A McEvoy and the body built by Jensen's of West Bromwich and was dubbed the Alpha Beta due to its Alpha like appearance. The basic saloon had a steel body, whilst the De Luxe version was coach built, as was the Varsity saloon and all featured the 1185 cc engine. For 1935 there were some changes, the most significant being the introduction of a six cylinder engine (what other companies were building 2, 4 & 6 cylindered cars at the same time!?) This engine was 1378 cc OHV with integral cylinder and head arrangement with a four bearing crank.
And so it went on, or did it? For 1936 the range was unaltered with the exception of a 4 cylinder 1330 cc engine on some models, but with a massive reduction in price. All six cylinder models were reduced at leat £40 and all four cylinder cars by at least a whopping £80. This obviously was the writing on the wall and in the spring of 1936 production ceased for all models, including our three wheelers, with the exception of the Scout. After this date BSA cars were restricted solely to the FWD Scout in various forms and the fluid flywheel market was left exclusively to more expensive Daimler and Lanchesters. So ended the production of BSA RWD cars. Post War saw the BSA group centralising car production on the Daimler and Lanchester companies and a move away from the low cost towards the medium and high cost market.
(source: BSA Front Wheel Drive Club).
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