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HRG history

Written by Ian Mahany


 


HRG 1100 Sports (1939)
 

During the early 1930's little attention had been paid to Sports cars in Britain, as manufacturers had been concentrating on the production of family saloons, for which there was an ever increasing demand. In consequence, with few very expensive exceptions, sports cars were poor both in performance and handling characteristics. Too often the sports model was just the family touring chassis with a "sports" body, (sometimes heavier than the standard) and a louder exhaust. Their chief faults were, too much total weight in relation to capacity of engine, soggy steering, poor road holding due to lack of lateral rigidity of chassis and excess of unsprung weight, small diameter brakes.

This state of affairs had often been discussed between three people all of whom had long experience of driving sports cars namely, E.A.Halford, G.H.Robins and H.R.Godfrey and there did not seem to be any reason why a car should not be designed with the idea of eliminating the aforementioned bad features, So in the spring of 1935 it was decided to pool resources to produce a design and make a prototype which it was hoped would be outstanding in both performance and road holding.

A small workshop was rented at Kingston-on-Thames and installed with the necessary equipment, the working drawings and the manufacture of the prototype being undertaken by the partners themselves with the help of one mechanic.

In general, the design followed conventional practice of the period but special attention was paid to the following:

  1. Low overall weight (14 cwt.) with a 1500 c.c. engine developing about 50 b.h,p. at moderate revs. so that a comparatively high axle ratio could be used. Wide springs with a deep channel frame for general rigidity.

  2. Low centre of gravity and accurate steering geometry. Very low unsprung weight by the use of tubular front axle and extremely light (11 inch diameter) brakes made from magnesium alloy.

The prototype was 'finished in 6 months and the following major components were used:

  1. Meadows 4 ED Engine with increased diameter crankshaft.

  2. Moss 4 speed crash gearbox.

  3. Centre portion of back axle (E.N.V. Spiral Bevel).

  4. Marles-Weller steering box.

  5. Rudge centre-lock wire wheels.

Other parts were of special design for the job, excepting of course, the bits and pieces always purchased from specialists. An aluminium 2-seater body was fitted with slab petrol tank at the rear.

When road tested, the car exceeded expectations in every way, both in speed and acceleration, road holding and steering. It was then handed over to members of the technical press and others with instructions to drive it very hard, with the object of finding out any defects. However, no weaknesses became apparent in many miles, in fact the press representatives were all loud in their praises. It appeared to be several jumps ahead of other sports cars of the period. Now that the prototype was so successful it was decided to go ahead with manufacture, on a small scale. A private limited company was formed in February 1936 with, a capital of 1,000 and larger premises were rented at Tolworth (the present factory). By the middle of 1936 cars similar to the prototype were being turned out at about 1 per week and the make quickly became a favourite with private owners, particularly those interested in competitions. If, was claimed that the owner of an HRG could use his car for everyday motoring and also indulge in trials, hill climbs or races with success. Competitions were of course, not so specialised as they are now.

During the period 1936 - 1939 a large number of successes in all kinds of competitions were gained by private owners of H.R.G.'s (see pre-war catalogues). The Meadows engined H.R.G. continued to be made up to the outbreak of war in September 1939 but during the summer one 1500,Singer power unit had been tried out. This engine (after a number of HRG modifications had been made to it which increased the power by about 10 b.h.p.) gave about the same performance as the Meadows, but was very much quieter and smoother and was fitted with a synchromesh 4-speed gearbox. It was also available in 1100 c.c. form. At the outbreak of World War II, cars were discontinued and the factory turned over to engineering war work.

When the war ended, cars were again produced still in small quantities of about 2 per week. The chassis was not altered but the Singer engine with HRG modifications and gearbox units were used. The other alteration was that the petrol tank was now concealed instead of being a slab tank at the back of the body.

The "1100" engine model was made (similar to the 1500 in all other respects). The "Aerodynamic" model was also introduced in 1500 form, the body being the main difference.

In 1946 additional capital was made available to the Company and Lord Selsdon and Mr. T.A.S.O. Mathieson joined the Board, Lord Selsdon being Chairman. In 1950 Mr. S.R. Proctor joined the Company as a Technical Director, Mr. Halford and Mr. Robins having left.

The Singer engined HRGs were made until 1956, the later models being fitted with the short stroke 1500 c.c. Singer engine and Salisbury Hypoid axle. These post-war HRGs were again very successful in competitions, for example in the 1948 International Alpine Trial, the HRG team of private owners quite dominated the event (see post-war catalogue).

About 1952, it became evident that the old design was becoming outdated and vintage and a number of more up-to-date designs were sketched out. These were finalised in 1956 and four prototypes of the new design were made.

A number of up-to-date features were incorporated including:

  1. A double overhead camshaft engine developing 115 h.p. (the H.R.G. Head etc. was applied to Singer bottom part).

  2. Tubular frame.

  3. Independent suspension front and rear.

  4. Wide (411) thin leaf transverse springs front and rear.

  5. H.R.G. design hydraulic disc brakes with floating discs.

  6. Cast magnesium wheels.

This 1956 model was not put into production., although the prototype gave every satisfaction. The traditional firm safe feeling was still there softer springing gave added comfort. With over double the b.h.p. and the same weight the performance was quite exceptional.

Unfortunately the Singer Company on whom HRG had relied for some components including the bottom of the engine, had been taken over by another Concern, The old co-operation between the H.R.G.'s and Singers had therefore ended, which meant that with a change of vital components, a lot of expensive re-designing and prototype work would have been necessary. The Company therefore decided to concentrate on its general engineering side and no more cars were made after July, 1956. It must not be overlooked too that with the demand for sports cars increasing as it was and the big firms were all their resources entering the market, small firms were soon running into difficult times.

Postscript

During the late fifties, general engineering continued in combination with servicing of the cars. Although spare parts became increasingly difficult to obtain, it was still possible to obtain a complete rebuild and the happy relationship between the Works and customers was cemented in 1960 by the formation of the H.R.G. Association, strongly supported by Works, owners and erstwhile owners alike.