Historic Car Brands
The Crossley brothers, of Manchester, were the first British engineers to produce four-stroke power units, having acquired the licence Otto & Langen gas engines in the 1860s. The brothers were asked to produce automobiles European-car importers Jarrott & Letts and the first Crossley car was displayed at the Society of Motor Manufacturers’ Exhibition, at Crystal Palace, in 1904.
The first model was a 22hp, 4.8-litre four-cylinder ‘mongrel’, designed by ex-Daimler engineer James S Critchley and incorporating imported components, but was well accepted. Intended to be the ‘British Mercedes’, the first Crossley model used a French-made chassis and had a chain-driven rear axle, but incorporated innovations, including lightweight pistons, water-pump cooling, an automatic carburettor and internally-expanding rear wheel brakes.
1912 Crossley Model 15 – Shuttleworth-Collection
A new design team joined Crossley in 1909 and A W Reeves and G H Woods soon revamped the range. The 2.4-litre 12/14 featured a gearbox bolted to the engine – a manufacturing ‘first’ in the UK – and four-wheel brakes.
However, the front brakes worked from a pedal and rears by a hand lever, with the result that many drivers used the pedal only and front suspension dramas soon followed. The front brakes were quietly dropped in 1912 and didn’t return until the 1920s.
1914 Crossley 20/25 Tourer – Crossley Motors
In 1910 the engine size was increased to 2.6 litres and the power went to 15hp. In 1913, a sporting version, the Shelsley, was introduced, with a distinctive, rounded-vee-shaped grille.
Crossley Shelsley engine – Malcolm Asquith
Its name was chosen to echo the site of what is now the oldest still-functioning motorsport track in the world – Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb.
Crossley 20/25. Note the dual rear tyres – Shuttleworth Collection
In 1912 the 20/25 was launched, to become the most successful Crossley model. It used a four-cylinder engine, cast in two pairs that displaced 4.5 litres.
Crossley 20/25 engine – Crossley Motors
Six of these were bought by the Royal Flying Corps and, when World War I broke out, substantial orders followed. At least 6000 20/25s went into battle and post-War sales of the 1918-upgraded 25/30 model continued until 1926, totalling more than 10,000 sales.
Interestingly, war-service staff car and ambulance 20/25s and 25/30s were fitted with dual rear tyres, for improved traction in mud.
Crossley Shelsley cockpit – Griffin
After the War, Crossley released war-surplus 25/30s to the market, fitting a higher bonnet line to smooth the transition to the scuttle. Being war-surplus vehicles, these were often referred to as ‘RFCs’.
Possibly inspired by King George V’s penchant for the 25/30, the Crossley brand became the choice of several monarchs, including the Kings of Spain and Siam, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
1920 Crossley 19.6hp – Bonhams
The 1920 3.8-litre, four-cylinder ’19.6’ model was designed by T D Wishart, who had replaced Reeves and Wood. Wishart remained designing Crossleys until the end of production.
Where previous Crossleys had mono-bloc engine construction the 53hp 19.6 had a detachable cylinder head. The Motor magazine was impressed by this car and discovered top-gear flexibility for 4mph up to 64mph, with economy of 20mpg. More than 1100 of this touring class were produced, until 1926.
At the 1921 London Motor Show, Crossley announced its intention to build British Bugattis, but nothing came of that venture. (Crossley had been British agents for imported Bugattis since 1913.)
The 20/70 sporting version of the 19.6 was launched in 1922, with engine compression increased from 4.8:1 to 5.3:1, high-lift camshaft, upgraded valves and a re-jetted carburettor, for a power lift to 76hp. The 20/70 was guaranteed to achieve 75mph. The Motor reckoned it was, ‘one of the best cars produced in Britain’, but only around 100 were sold.
Crossley offered a downsized model in 1923, with the release of the 12/14 – sold in Australia and New Zealand as the 15/30. It was far cheaper than its predecessor and around 5600 were sold.
Like Citroen, Crossley produced light truck models in the mid-1920s, using the Kegresse half-tracked system.
1925 Crossley 18/50 – NMA
In 1925 the venerable 25/30 was replaced by the six-cylinder, 2.7-litre overhead-valve 18/50 that was a steady performer, if somewhat heavy at 1.5 tons. It was upgraded in 1927, with engine capacity raised to 3.2 litres and renamed the ’20.9’.
1927 Crossley 20.9 Limousine – Crossley Motors
The lighter ’15.7’ was released in 1928, with a smaller six of two litres capacity. It had better economy, but the model could still achieve 70mph, thanks to its high-revving (4200rpm0 capability. The sporting version had power increased to 60hp, from 45hp.
In 1930, the 15.7 was relaunched, with some mechanical improvements to engine, gearbox and brakes, as the Silver series. Next year, the 20.9 scored a new chassis and four body styles. The long-wheelbase version was dubbed the Golden series.
1932 Crossley Torquay – Car & Classic
Crossley reacted to the Great Depression by introducing a 10hp model in 1931, powered by a Coventry-Climax ‘F-head’ (overhead inlet and side exhaust valves) 1100cc engine. This engine was also used by Triumph and Morgan. A sporting version was fitted with twin carburettors.
A record-breaking drive from London to Edinburgh and after the finish in Torquay saw the name ‘Torquay’ applied to this little car and the ‘Buxton’ name was affixed to bootless version, following success in the Buxton Trophy event.
In 1935 Avon Motor Bodies came up with a restyle and the Regis model was launched, but it was heavier, although lower and sleeper, so performance suffered. A six-cylinder, 1476cc engine was fitted to the Regis Six.
It seemed like a good idea at the time…
Sir Denistoun Burney was the designer of the R100 airship and he perhaps should have stayed with that vocation. However, he established Streamline Cars Ltd in Maidenhead in 1930 and built twelve prototypes of a rear-engined car. One of the deign rationales was that heavy items were best located at the extreme ends of the vehicle, hence an overhanging rear engine, with the radiator and battery up front.
Also, Burney insisted on stowing the spare wheel inside one of the rear door skins! (Dr Ferdinand Porsche made the rear-engine location work, but he used a lightweight engine that was air-cooled and he put the fuel tank and spare wheel under the bonnet.)
1934 Crossley Rear Engined Streamline – Crossley Motor
Making the package even less stable was swing-axle rear suspension – albeit with camber change limited by short-travel, semi-elliptic leaf springs – but with the rear track a staggering 13 inches narrower than the front. This was done, to improve the teardrop, streamlined shape.
Reports from the time suggest that the car was very difficult to control in the wet and in cross-winds. ‘Difficult’, we imagine, is a wild understatement.
Crossley designed and built around 25 Rear Engined Streamline models that used the Silver’s two-litre engine, coupled to a Wilson pre-selector gearbox. The last of the stock was heavily discounted.
1934 Crossley Two-Litre Sports Saloon – Crossley Motors
Much more sensible was the 1934 Crossley Two-Litre sports saloon that complemented the 10hp and 12hp models. The Two-Litre had a new chassis and running gear, and a Wilson pre-selector gearbox. However, it was expensive and only 25 were made.
The last production Crossley car model was the Three-Litre that had the Golden engine slotted into the Two-Litre chassis.
Crossley continued making trucks and buses after 1937 – until 1956 – but car production just seemed to fade away, without being officially terminated. During WW II Crossley produced military vehicles.
Crossley Down Under
A number of Crossley cars made the trip to Australia, before and after Wold War I, but the best-known example is this maroon and black 1926 Model 18/50hp Crossley type 1L Landaulette ‘Canberra’ car.
This stately maroon and black car was one of 12 imported to Australia for use by the Duke and Duchess of York – later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother – during their 1927 royal tour of Australia. This vehicle was acquired for the National Historical Collection in 1976.
Technical specifications include: a six-cylinder, overhead-valve, 2.2-litre engine; four-speed gearbox and four-wheel drum brakes.
Primarily an iconic reminder of the royal tour, this vehicle has strong relevance to broad areas of Australian social history and can be used to address the themes of royal transport, the monarchy in Australia and innovation in the motor industry.
As a rare, coach-built vehicle, the Crossley reflects the rise of the automobile industry in the early 20th Century and the import of increasingly sophisticated European and American vehicles to Australia, for recreational and ceremonial purposes.