Clyno Cars

In its heyday Clyno was the third largest car manufacturer in the UK after Austin and Morris. It proudly boasted that it offered a price level as low as any car of like rating in the world, and a value vastly higher.

It all began when cousins Frank and Ailwyn Smith of Thrapston,  Northamptonshire designed and manufactured a pulley with a variable drive ratio, for belt-driven machines. They called it the "inclined pulley", which soon became abbreviated to the "clined" and finally Clyno.

In 1909 they began to manufacture motorcycles, and in 1910 the company moved into a factory at Pelham Street, Wolverhampton, on the site of Fort Works. The factory had previously been used by the Stevens Brothers for the manufacture of petrol engines.

The Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company's factory, as it was in about 1907.

The buildings were occupied by Clyno in 1910.

A little while later Clyno also acquired Ashes works across the road.

 

How the factory looks today. It has been greatly extended.

 

   
Read about Clyno's early years.
   
Sales were good and the company prospered. During the First World War, Clyno signed an agreement with the Russian War Commission at the Savoy Hotel in London for the supply of solo and combination machines for the Imperial Russian Army. During the war large numbers of heavy motorcycle combinations were produced for both the British and Russian armies. They consisted of mobile machine gun units, ammunition carriers and solo machines. During 1918 and 1919 Clyno also built a number of ABC Dragonfly aero engines. In 1916 Ailwyn left the company after a disagreement with Frank. He went on to pursue a highly successful career with Samuel Taylor & Sons of Brierley Hill where he designed staircases for the side of ships, chains and anchors etc.
After the war it seemed that the Clyno Engineering Company would have a bright future.

A new motorcycle, the highly acclaimed 'Spring 8' with a top speed of 50m.p.h. was launched in 1919 at the Olympia show.

Unfortunately it would be two years before the machine went into production.


Ashes Works, Clyno's second factory in Pelham Street.

In 1920 the post-war motorcycle market collapsed, and the original works manager Henry Meadows, left to form the well known engine manufacturing company, Henry Meadows Limited at Fallings Park.

At the time, large numbers of cheap ex-WD machines were available. To compound the problem, there were also shortages of materials, which didn’t help production, and last but not least, the Russians failed to pay for the military motorcycles they had received during the war. As a result the company's financial backers withdrew, and the Clyno Engineering Company went into liquidation.

Rebirth

Frank Smith very much wanted to produce cars, and with this in mind he formed the Clyno Engineering Company (1922) Limited with a capital of £100,000. Frank’s father William Smith was chairman and Frank became managing director.

Initially both cars and motorcycles were produced, but by the autumn of 1923 motorcycle production had ended. The new company stated that no Clyno machines would be displayed at the 1923 Motor Cycle Show.


Clyno's prototype car.

The new works manager was Leslie Munn. The new sales manager, James Cocker had previously made a name for himself in motorcycle racing.

A prototype 2 seater car had been built before the end of the war, but it was abandoned, possibly due to lack of finance.

The car had been designed by Charles M. Van Eugen who had recently joined the company.


An advert from 1922.

The first production car made its debut at the 1922 Motor Show. It was designed by George Stanley who came from Triumph, and A. G. Booth who did the detail design.

The car had a 10.8hp. 1,368c.c. four cylinder Coventry Climax engine, a Clyno 3 speed gearbox, electric lighting, and initially sold for £250.

Most of the parts were made in-house including the steering, brakes, and gearbox.


A Clyno advert from 1923 showing their first production car.

Clyno prices were always kept low to undercut the competition, in this case Morris. In the following year the selling price fell to £238, complete with an electric starter. A 2 seater version was introduced, and around 522 cars were built that year, and distributed by Rootes. The agent in Wolverhampton was Cyril Williams.

The car had some success in reliability trials, winning 2 gold medals in the 1923 London to Edinburgh Trial, and a silver medal in the Scottish Six Day Trial.

In April 1924 the product range increased with the introduction of the 11.9hp., known as the Clyno 13hp. and a 10.8hp. saloon. Prices ranged from £275 to £350. In July the cars had some success at Brooklands when racing motorcyclist Ray Abbott won a race, organised by the Essex Motor Club, at 70.74m.p.h. driving his specially tuned Clyno car.

In June a new 'Sports Clyno' appeared, with Swallow bodywork. It was a door-less two seater with a slimline body, and sold for only £250. At such an attractive price, sales could have been high, but only 25 were built because of the difficulty in keeping up with the large demand for the other models.


Roy Surman's Clyno Tourer from 1924.

1924 also saw the introduction of the 'Weymann' saloon and the 'Royal' 2 and 4 seater tourer. They featured four wheel brakes and balloon tyres. Prices were again reduced and sales soared, around 3,000 were built in the first 6 months alone.

Frank Smith and the other directors had an obsession to beat the Morris Motor Company at their own game, by a sustained price-war.

At this time Clyno had become a serious competitor, but was always under-capitalised. It has been said that the company was floated on a bank overdraft.

In October 1925 the company launched the Clyno 13hp. car which proved to be very popular.

The car, actually rated at 11.9h.p. in an R.A.C. test, had a 1,496c.c., side valve engine, 3 speed gearbox and internal, fabric lined, cone clutch.

There were 2 horns, one electrically operated, and the other bulb operated.

It had a petrol gauge and a 3 pane windscreen, with two upper adjustable panes, and a Smith mechanical windscreen wiper.


Another view of Roy Surman's Clyno Tourer.


A final view of Roy Surman's Clyno Tourer.

The 4 seater car had leather upholstery, weighed 17cwt and sold for £260.

The 2 seater version sold for £245, the coupé sold for £285, and the 4 door saloon sold for £298.

The chassis was also available for £172.10s.

Another new model was the Regent 4 door saloon, rated at 11hp. with a fuel consumption of 35 to 40m.p.g., and a selling price of £275.

Frank Smith. The photograph, courtesy of Chris Smith is from the Light Car and Sidecar magazine, 12th March 1926.

1925 also saw another reduction in the price of the 10.8hp. range. The ‘Royal’ 2 seater now sold for £210, the ‘Royal’ 4 seater now sold for £215, and the 4 door saloon sold for £245.

Other models in the range included the 2 Seater, the ‘Occasional Four’, and the 4 Seater. At this time production had reached an average of 150 cars a week, although many more where produced in December. It’s hard to imagine how so many cars could have been built in the cramped conditions at the works.

By the mid 1920s a 'flow' system of production was in operation and the company employed around 1,000 people. The works operated both day and night to meet the demand.

By 1926 a maximum of three hundred and fifty cars were produced every week. A total of 13,149 Clyno cars were made in 1926. A marvellous achievement in the year of the General Strike, which demonstrates the loyalty of the staff.

The factory at Pelham Street was enlarged, and the 'Colonial' model began to sell well all over the world. Its main markets were in Singapore, Australia, Aden, America and Europe.

The 13hp. car was renamed the 12-28 and produced in three forms:

The first, the 2 seater model had a dickey seat, an all-weather hood, and sold for £215.

The second, the 4 seater model had 4 wide doors, an adjustable front seat, and sold for £220.

The third, the saloon had a coach-built body, incorporating a sloping windscreen, patent slam-locks, and sold for £250.


An advert from 13th February,1925.

Before the end of 1926 another new model, the Cowley Saloon, was launched. It had two doors, four 12inch brake drums, and sold for the incredibly low price of £199.10s.

By this time Clyno had become the third largest car manufacturer in the country, just behind Austin and Morris.

Although under-capitalised, the company had to find alternative premises to increase production, in order to keep up with demand.

All the available space had been used at Pelham Street.


Advert supplied by Michael Pick.


An advert from 26th June, 1925.


An advert from the Light Car and Cyclecar magazine, October 2nd 1925.
   
Read an article from 1926 about the Pelham Street works
   
10.8hp. Clynos entering Pelham Street from the works in 1926.

They are bound for Maude's of Exeter,
the West Country distributor.

The same scene today.

The far building has lost its upper story, and the yard on the right has been opened-up.


The photograph, courtesy of Chris Smith is from the Light Car and Sidecar magazine, 12th March 1926.


An advert from 'The Motor', 21st September 1926. Courtesy of Chris Smith.

Another advert 'The Motor', 21st September 1926. Courtesy of Chris Smith.


From 'The Motor', 23rd November, 1926.


From 'The Motor', 29th June, 1926.

The Bushbury Works
  

In January, 1927 the company announced a new factory, covering 4 acres at Bushbury, financed by another bank loan. The new factory contained some of the latest machinery, but although production began during the first half of the year, it took a long time to really get going. The old factory was slowly allowed to run down, and it took until November to reach an acceptable level of production at the new works.

The buildings at Bushbury consisted of a two storey office block and a range of north-lit sheds. The sheds were arranged in 17ft by 28ft bays, along with 2 large shops, for chassis and engine building.

The chassis shop was equipped with an assembly line and a large wood working shop which used machinery driven from electric motors and overhead line-shafting.  There were also bays for car despatch and export chassis preparation. Initially 70 saloons were built there each week. In May the luxury 'Olympic' saloon was introduced, which had wire wheels and sold for £295. The company's financial situation worsened; there were loans to be paid, and the whole product range needed updating.


The 11hp. 2-seater from 1927.

The interior of the 11hp. 2-seater.

Over the year output had fallen, mainly due to the time lost in the change-over.

Bushbury didn’t get into full swing until November. As a result only 7,350 of the 10.8hp. models were produced, although 2,099 of the 12/28 models were made during the year.

Another new model, the 12-35hp. 4 door, 4 seater tourer appeared towards the end of 1927.

Like all of the later models it carried a new style of radiator. It sold for £220.

Other models included a 2 seater that sold for £215 and a coach built Saloon that sold for £250.

 

In the summer of 1927 Clyno developed the model 'Nine' light car.

It had a 9hp., four cylinder, side valve engine, three speed gearbox, Cox-Atmos carburettor and a modern single plate clutch.

A.J.S. secured the contract to build the bodies at Lower Walsall Street works.

 


Mike Dancer's 1926 Clyno Royal at the Black Country Vehicle Rally.

   
Read a paper that was given by Arthur G. Booth and view some of his photographs
   
The bodies consisted of a wooden framework that supported fabric covered panels and were built in batches of 50.

The car was designed by Arthur G. Booth and sold for £160.

The fabric bodies were produced as part of the effort to reduce the cost, but proved to be unpopular.

From now on they would be fitted to most Clyno cars. The first ‘Nine’ left Bushbury works in February 1928.


An advert for fabric bodies.


In the centre is Frank Smith. Courtesy of John Stephens.
At this time Clyno seemed to loose its direction. A number of decisions were made that would soon lead to the company’s downfall.

The first was to end the agreement with Rootes, in favour of a network of dealers, split up into territories. This is hard to understand because Rootes had done so much to boost the company’s sales. Presumably the new dealer network would have accepted lower profit margins, allowing Clyno to reduce selling prices to a minimum.

Another bad decision, that would soon have serious repercussions, was to discontinue the use of Coventry Climax engines, in favour of engines of Clyno’s own design, built at Bushbury works.

The new fabric bodied, 2 door Clyno 'Nine' saloon leaving Bushbury Works, with some of the Clyno staff.

Third from the right with his hand in his pocket is Arthur G. Booth himself. Third from the left at the front (directly above the number plate) is Frank Smith.


A Clyno 'Nine' tourer.

   
View some extracts from the 1927 catalogue.
   


James Thomas's Clyno Royal Tourer from 1928.

The old rivalry with William Morris continued just as before. Less than a week after the announcement of the Morris Minor in May 1928, Clyno announced a new version of the ‘Nine’, called the ‘Century’.

It consisted of a 'Nine' chassis covered in cheap fabric, and sold for £112.10s. The basic 4 seater tourer had a 3 lamp lighting set, a stove enamelled radiator shell, and a hand operated windscreen wiper, but lacked many of the usual features that were commonplace, such as a clock, speedometer, and dashboard lamp. The new dealers disliked the car because their profit margins were too low.

A meeting of the creditors took place in August, after which attempts were made to increase capital investment. It took until November to find suitable finance.

Clyno expected to build 300 ‘Century’ cars a week, but at end only about 300 of them were produced.

The car, described as cheap and shoddy, had been a disaster for the company, and earned the nickname the ‘Cemetery’.

The price war with Morris had been a failure. At the Motor Show all of Morris’s prices, except for the ‘Minor’ were lower than Clyno’s.

Frank Smith and his co-directors had paired prices to the minimum, they could be reduced no further.

Clyno had little room to manoeuvre. The 10.8hp. model was discontinued, but there were hold-ups with production because the Clyno engines were taking too long to build.

Although improvements were made to the cheap ‘Century’ body, it was too little, too late.


   An advert from the Garage and Motor Agent, 6th March 1926.
   Courtesy of Chris Smith.


The Clyno 'Century'.

Two plan views of the Clyno 'Century'.


Frank Walker's Clyno Tourer from 1828.

Even at this desperate time, Clyno set about designing a new model, the 8 cylinder, 22hp. ‘Straight Eight’. A single prototype was built, but that’s as far as it got.

On 11th February 1929 a Receiver was appointed, which resulted in the company being wound-up in September.

The assets were acquired by toolmaker Alfred Herbert Limited of Coventry, who sold the jigs, drawings, and spares to R. H. Collier & Company Limited of Birmingham. A. G. Booth, Clyno’s designer soon moved to A.J.S. to design the A.J.S. “Nine” car.

The company had become a victim of its own success, but had taken its cost cutting policy much too far. Clyno had invested heavily in the new factory at Bushbury, and low sales quickly led to cash flow problems. The company had always suffered from a shortage of capital and had borrowed heavily to fund the new factory, and update the machinery. The last straw, the ‘Century’ destroyed Clyno's reputation, and led to its ultimate demise. During Clyno’s lifetime, over 15,000 motorcycles and between 36,000 to 40,000 cars had been produced.

All traces of the Bushbury factory have now disappeared. Most of it had been destroyed by fire in the 1990s. It is thought that only 100 or so Clyno cars survive, including the prototype “Straight Eight”.  They are a reminder of one of Wolverhampton's leading vehicle manufacturers, and hopefully will continue to be so for many years to come.

The front of the Bushbury works, as it is was in 2000.

The site has now been redeveloped.

All of the Clyno factory at Bushbury has now disappeared.

This view shows what was left in 2000. Most of it had been destroyed by fire in the 1990s.

The western end of the factory.
A final view of the factory, again looking at the western end.
This advert from 1937 shows just how long it took for Alfred Herbert to sell the factory.

It was eventually purchased by Britool Limited, who were there for many years.

The interior of the Bushbury factory in the early 1930s. It is from a sales advert and gives an impression of the size of the building.

Clyno products

Keith Ball's Clyno Royal Tourer from 1926.
Mike Dancer's Clyno Royal from 1926.
Another view of Mike Dancer's Clyno Royal from 1926.
Suzy Flynn Owen's 10.8hp. Clyno Tourer from 1926.


The engine in Nick Lacy Hulbert's 10.8hp. Clyno Tourer from 1926

A front view of a Clyno 'Century' showing the later style of radiator.
The 1927 Clyno Tourer that's part of  the collection at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley.
       
Another view of the 1927 two seater Clyno Tourer from the Black Country Living Museum's collection.
A final view of the 1927 two seater Clyno Tourer from the Black Country Living Museum's collection.
James Thomas's Clyno Royal Tourer from 1928.
A 2 door fabric bodied 'Nine' saloon.
A version of the 11hp. chassis that was launched in May 1927 as a dual-purpose Clyno saloon, intended for business purposes during the week, and a pleasure vehicle at weekends.

The rear seat could be removed and replaced with specially made, adjustable shelves, as in the photograph. The car sold for £210.


The Clyno 12-35hp. four door, four seater Tourer launched in the autumn of 1927. Like all of the later models it carried a new style of radiator. It sold for £220. Other versions included a two seater that sold for £215 and a coach built Saloon that sold for £250.


Some features of the 12hp. models.


The interior of the 12hp. Saloon showing the 6 interior lights, separate front seats, 4 winding windows and ample leg room.


The new 12hp. engine with a two-part sump.


The 2 seater 11hp. Clyno.


The line-up of Clynos at the 2009 Festival of Black Country Vehicles.


A close-up view of part of the Clyno display at the 2009 Festival of Black Country Vehicles.


I would like to thank Chris Smith, the grandson of Ailwyn, for his help, and the material that he has supplied for this section.

There is a Clyno Owners Club and Register web site for owners and enthusiasts, at: www.clyno.co.uk


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