Historic Car Brands
Alex Govan founded the Hozier Engineering Company in 1899 and produced the first Argyll Voiturette that was copied from a Renault model. It was powered by a 2¾ hp de Dion engine and had shaft-drive. Argylls were pivotal cars in the early years of Australian motoring.
1900 5hp Argyll Voiturette – Stephen Dickson
The Argyll 1901 models had an upgraded 5hp engine and cars made in 1902 had 8hp units. In 1903 came a 10hp twin with side-mounted radiator tubes and in 1904 the company introduced a range of front-radiator, Aster-engined cars, with four-cylinder engine displacements of 1985cc, 3054cc, 3686cc and 4849cc.
The transmission was a Govan gearbox that had a T-shaped gate and separate reverse and change-speed levers.
By 1903 the Argyll factory was doing very well and wished to expand into overseas markets. William Ross was an Aussie, working at Argyll and he could see an opportunity for sales Down Under. With Argyll’s permission, he sailed back to Melbourne with the appropriate documents, to search for and appoint an Argyll agency in Australia.
Harley Tarrant and Howard Lewis had made Australia’s first home-grown, petrol-powered, commercially-available car, but production was slow and they were keen to improve cash flow, but selling imported cars alongside the Tarrant.
They took up the agency and invited Ross to join them as a partner. Tarrant oversaw engineering, Lewis, sales and Ross, the commercial aspect and most importantly, ordering of Argylls from Scotland.
The Argylls sold reasonably well and HarleyTarrant’s victory at Sandown in 1904 and in the Dunlop Reliability Trial of 1905, driving Argyll cars, helped publicise the brand, but the release of the Ford Model T in the USA was hammer blow to Tarrant/Argyll.
Harley Tarrant, through his research, knew when he was licked. The Model T was direct competition for his Tarrant and Argyll motor cars, but it had more features, more power and was less expensive – despite being imported. So, he shut down the production of his own car brand and the Argyll imports, and acquired the Victorian franchise for Ford in 1907.
1910 Argyll Flying Fifteen – Xhack
Back in Scotland, by 1906, Argyll had become Scotland’s biggest marque and was renamed Argyll Motors Ltd. It moved from Bridgeton, Glasgow to a grand, purpose-built factory in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire.
Architect Charles James Halley designed a palatial structure and the factory covered 12 acres (4.9ha), with its own railway line and several streets of houses for the factory workers. The new facility cost over Stg£200,000 and was designed to produce 2500 cars per year.
By 1907, production had passed 800 cars per year, but the high running costs of the huge factory and the failure to adopt mass production saw the venture struggle financially. Argyll began to decline after Govan’s death in 1907 and it went into liquidation in 1908.
Production restarted in 1910, under a company now named Argyll Ltd, with a new range of cars including the famed Flying Fifteen and a six-cylinder model.
Argyll 25hp – National Motor Museum Trust
The 12/14 was widely sold as a taxi and some were exported to New York. Four-wheel brakes designed by J M Rubury of Argyll and patented on 18 March 1910 by Henri Perrot and John Meredith Rubury (Patent number 6807) were available from 1911.
In the category of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ the Single-Sleeve-Valve engine designed by company director Baillie P Burt and J P McCollum began production in 1912 and the entire Argyll range featured Burt-McCollum engines by 1914.
The sleeve-valve story had started in the early 1900s, when Chicago-base engineer, Charles Yale knight, began experimenting with cylindrical valves, in an effort to circumvent the problems of weak valve springs and burnt poppet valves that were plaguing automobile engines of the time.
With his patented double-sleeve-valve system, Knight had a then-viable alternative to poppet valves that was adopted by several European and US car makers.
Argyll was keen to implement a sleeve-valve design, but didn’t want to pay Knight’s royalties, so the Burt-McCollum design was adopted.
In the double-sleeve-valve engine, one sleeve had the inlet port opening and the other sleeve, the exhaust port. The Argyll design had a single sleeve that reciprocated, like the double-sleeve design, but rotated as well, so that the one port acted as inlet and exhaust.
Argyll used the single-sleeve-valve engine in cars and aircraft, and aircraft engine makers used the design up to and during World War II. Sleeve-valve engines were the Napier Sabre, Bristol Hercules and Centaurus, and also the Rolls Royce Crecy that was short lived, because of the development of jet engines.
Early Argyll single-sleeve-valve aero engine
Despite the Argyll engine’s design differences, US holders of the Knight sleeve-valve patent sued Argyll in 1912 and, although the court denied the Knight claim, the legal costs added to company losses, plunging Argyll into financial trouble.
In 1914, Argyll was reborn, but the huge Alexandria factory was sold to the Royal Navy for torpedo production. Argyll car production was resumed on a small scale in the original Bridgeton works under the control of John Brimlow, who had previously run the repair department.
1927 Argyll – Museum of Transport Glasgow
The first product from the new company was a revival of the pre-War, 15, 9hp model, with an electric starter, but few were sold. In 1922 it was joined by a 1½-litre sleeve-valve model and in 1926 by the 12/40 sports.
The company made a final appearance at the London Motor Show in 1927 and the last cars were probably made in 1928, but were still being advertised until Argyll closed in 1932.