Great British Cars – The Jowett Jupiter
WELL, IT’S been well over seven years since I started writing this column about Great British Cars and during this time I have written about some history on every major British car maker past and present. Or so I thought. In fact, I missed one, not purposely I assure you, as this company produced many very fine motor cars. I missed it simply because it slipped my mind, or was it perhaps that its roots were in a very unusual place for car manufacturing.
Most car makers, you see, started out in the midlands for logistical purposes as their products could be delivered equally north or south of the country. However, this company started out up north and remained there throughout their manufacturing life; this meant that the majority of their products would need to be delivered south of their factory. The place was the Yorkshire City of Bradford and the company was Jowett.
Jowett was founded in 1901 by brothers Benjamin and William Jowett and Arthur V Lamb. The siblings were initially in the cycle business, yet soon started producing V-twin engines for driving machinery. These engines soon found their way into other makes of cars for replacements. The brothers developed their first car in 1906, but as the company was very busy with the engine part of the business plus the lack of space in their facility, this first car didn’t go into production until 1910. By this time their first car had undergone over 25,000 miles of exhaustive tests and trials. It turned out that the Bradford area was the perfect location for the production of the first Jowett motor cars as these cars could be described as England’s first real light car.
The car had been designed specifically for the surrounding area of Bradford and its heather moors and rolling hills. The engine and gearbox were specifically designed for a light car and made largely of aluminum. Its low speed torque and gear ratios were ideally suited to the hills about Bradford and Yorkshire’s terrain where poor roads provided little use for a high top speed or quick acceleration. Construction of the engine and the rest of the car were robust. Benjamin Jowett held that the light car class was suffering from engines from cycle-cars that possessed sufficient power but were subject to rapid deterioration because of inadequate bearing surfaces, or engines from larger cars too heavy for the rest of the car’s structure leading to a different set of troubles.
These first production cars quickly became popular using an 816cc flat twin water-cooled engine of 6.4hp and a three-speed gearbox with tiller steering. The light car and engine were perfectly suited for negotiating the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales and the narrow twisting roads in the area. It was a niche market that Britain’s other car makers had either not discovered or failed to capitalise upon.
Car production ceased during the WWI years as the Jowett Company was tasked with munitions production until 1919 when motor car design and production resumed. That same year, a new works site was bought at Springfield, Bradford Road, Idle, outside Bradford – it was the site of a disused quarry. Car making started in the new factory in 1920, and the first vehicle was the Jowett Seven using an enlarged version of the pre-war flat twin. First, it was enlarged to 831cc, then to 907cc in 1921 when the claim to 8hp was dropped from advertising. Thereafter, all Jowett’s were Sevens until the introduction of the four-cylinder engine in 1936. This engine developed its maximum torque at low revs and was soon famed for its pulling power, reliability and economy. Business in the period between the wars for the Jowett motor car company was booming, and this lead to several newer models being produced. The Jowett motor cars were now suited for all types of terrain throughout Britain and sold well up and down the country, but they were Yorkshire’s cars and many people there were faithful to the Marque.
The post WWII years started well for the company with the introduction of the Jowett Javelin, a streamlined saloon with excellent handling characteristics capable of 80mph. The success of the Javelin which sold well throughout Britain prompted the design of a sports car, the famous Jowett Jupiter. With the combined production of the Javelins, Jupiters and Bedford vans, production levels had risen to a peak that Jowett had never attempted before.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the timing of Jowett’s success was to become a disaster. As the company kept up with the demand, Javelin and Bradford body production was out-sourced to Briggs Motor Bodies who built a new plant in Doncaster. Briggs supplied the bodies fully trimmed and ready to be applied to the mechanicals. The Jupiters were always built in-house at Idle.
Prior to 1953 purchase tax on new cars was at 66.3 percent, this was at a temporary level due to the cost of the war. Then, on April 15, 1953 this tax rate was lowered to 50 percent, and this move triggered a surge in demand for new cars. This should have been good for business for the Jowett motor company, but it didn’t turn out that way, as the Ford motor company bought the Briggs Motor Bodies company, the sole suppliers of the Jowett vehicle bodies. The Briggs facility was adjacent to the Ford factory in Dagenham and Ford needed the Briggs Company to facilitate the demand increase due to the new car purchase tax reduction. As it turned out, just after the purchase, Ford decided that the Briggs Motor Body company was surplus to their requirements and sold the company to Fisher and Ludlow who in turn sold it to the newly formed British Motor Corporation.
This signalled the end of the line for Jowett. In 1953 a column appeared in the Times newspaper stating that “Jowett Cars had run into difficulties” that year after the acquisition of the motor body suppliers Fisher and Ludlow by BMC was completed in September 1953. Since the company ceased manufacturing Javelin and Bradford vehicles it became impossible to keep the main factory operating at an economic level.
So the most successful period in Britain’s motor car history was not to be for Jowett motor cars. But for Ford the Jowett Motor Car Company could today have been a major player in the car manufacturing business. They will live on in memory though; many famous people drove the great Jowett Jupiter including MotoGP and F1 champion John Surtees. The Jowett was truly a great Yorkshire Motor Car.