Forget Rolls-Royce and Henry Ford, some of the lightest, affordable early cars were made right here in Yorkshire, in the shape of Jowett Cars Ltd, Bradford.
The company was formed by two brothers, Benjamin and William Jowett in 1901, who originally made bicycles. Over the following three years they quickly developed into a company who produced engines for machinery and then for use as replacements in early cars. Their first premises were located on Back Burlington Street in Bradford from 1904, where they started developing their first prototype for a light, affordable vehicle. During this time the Jowetts also provided engines for some of the early Scott’s motorcycles, who were based in nearby Shipley.
Finally in 1910, after years of work and 25,000 miles of exhaustive trials the first Jowett light vehicle was put into production. Twelve cars were made in total, all of which were sold by 1911, at a time when only the very rich could afford them. The early Jowett car engines were made from aluminium and had a maximum speed of 20mph. These cars were the first to be designed for the hilly roads around Bradford, where a faster speed would have been no use. In 1913 a new, improved model was produced, this time with wheel steering and 36 units made before the outbreak of World War One. Like many factories across the UK, Jowett motoring made munitions for the war effort until 1918.
The end of the war saw the creation of a new company named Jowett Cars Ltd in June 1919, which created and sold motor vehicles. They also moved to a new set of premises on the site of a disused quarry on Bradford Road in Idle. The production of a brand new car was in the pipeline too. The Jowett “Seven” was launched in 1920 which used an enlarged version of the pre-war aluminium flat twin engine. In 1922, their latest creation was exhibited at the London Motor Show, which achieved nationwide recognition and put Bradford firmly on the motoring map. This led to Jowett’s cars being used by the Metropolitan Police until 1932.
The money created through extended orders enabled Jowett cars to design and create several innovative motors throughout the 1920s and 30s. These included the Jowett “Long Four,” the first four seated vehicle (1923), the four-speed “Jowett Kestrel” (1934) and the Weasel sports tourer model.
The company was doing well and their vehicles became a common sight on Britain’s roads during the 1930s. That is until Jowett Cars was stopped in its tracks once again by war. During the conflict they provided aircraft components and other military hardware for the Allied Forces.
Post war and Decline
In 1945 Britain was a different place and Jowett Motoring had to diversify their range to try and compete with the changing demands of the market. First off the post-war production line was the “Bradford Van,” which was based on the old 1930s Jowett Eight. It was an economic, efficient design with a flat twin engine, three speed gearbox and top speed of around 50mph.
On the other side of the market was the Jowett Javelin, a post war car with a top speed of 80mph. This, more streamlined vehicle, which had been developed during the war years had four gears, made in-house at their Idle plant. Unfortunately the gearboxes on both the Javelin and its sister car the “Jowett Jupiter” proved too costly to make and, coupled with poor sales, led to a stockpile of car bodies being made, without gearboxes to put in them.
In 1953 legislation was passed for a 25% cut in car tax, which made motoring more affordable. This led to the production of cheaper cars to the masses from larger companies, such as Ford. Jowett Motors were to be left floundering in this brave new post-war motoring world.
One of their major suppliers, for the bodywork of the Bradford vans and Javelin cars, “Briggs of Doncaster” were bought by Ford and then sold on to another firm, which itself was bought out by The British Motoring Company, a merger between Austin and Morris. This ensured that the new Jowett R4, which would have reached 100mph never came into production.
By 1954 Jowett motoring had run out of working capital and was forced to sell their Idle factory to the tractor manufacturers, “Harvester,” who remained there until 1983. Jowett continued making parts for their cars at another site on Howden Clough Road in Morley until 1963 and aircraft fittings in another part of the county.
Nowadays, the site of the old Jowett factory in Idle is a retail park featuring a Morrison’s supermarket and a McDonalds. If you ever find yourself here wheeling a trolley around or munching on a burgerand fries, it may be worth thinking about the site’s importance in early British motoring history and the origin of Yorkshire’s only ever mass produced cars.
About “Yorkie” the Long Four Tourer
Built in 1926 at Jowett’s factory in Idle, the Long Four Tourer was the second model made by the company post First World War, after the Jowett Seven. It was the first of their range to use a coil ignition and electric start. Secondly, as the name suggests, this model had four seats for the first time. In 1926 the “Long Four” would have cost £245 and only the very rich could have afforded one. Despite its huge body compared to the size of its engine, the weight was kept to a minimum, something which Jowett had sought to do since their first pre-war creations. Like many vintage cars the driver has an all round view and is simply designed with a steering wheel and three speed gearbox. This would have been operated on the right of the driver. Reverse gear was left and forward, while first gear was reverse and back.
Rather shockingly the car had no front wheel brakes, something which only appeared on post- 1929 Jowett cars. Drivers would have stopped the vehicle with a foot operated transmission brake and lever for hand brakes to halt the rear wheels. These could have been quite hazardous in wet driving conditions! The car is driven by a two cylinder engine but remains comparatively small in comparison to the rest of the vehicle. The steering is quite good for its time and can go around corners seamlessly but with a maximum speed of 40mph it had plenty of time to think about it!
Although Jowett cars were never the fastest, they were always renowned for their toughness, reliability and flexibility especially across rough terrain. Despite their use in the South for the Met Police, Jowett cars were far more popular in the North of England, especially by those with large country estates, where these attributes would come into their own. The company’s change to make faster cars after the Second World War would ultimately contribute to their demise in 1954. Gladly, their memory lives on in the form of highly sought after and collectable classic cars around the world.