Lost Marques: Horstmann - The Light Cars From Bath, England

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 1914 - 1929
SHORTLY AFTER ITS INCEPTION in 1914, the Horstmann light car was awarded a prize by the Junior Car Club for its novel design features and, although in the marque's later years some of the novelty had to be sacrificed to commercial expediency, the Horstmann nevertheless remained one of the more distinctive designs of its day right to the end of production.

Sydney Horstmann of Bath

Designed by Sydney Horstmann, who ran a garage in Bath, Somerset, the Horstmann light car originally appeared with a neat I-liter engine with horizontal valves and a detachable cylinder head; this power unit also formed the forward part of the chassis, as the crankcase webs were made especially wide.

To compensate for the lack of sidemembers, Sydney Horstmann suspended his creation on long cantilever springs fore and aft, damping down any tendency to a seasick motion by fitting anti-roll bars all round. The car was fitted with a delicately veed radiator and, considering the somewhat hand-to-mouth financing arrangements of the company, whose capital was subscribed as necessary by the directors and their friends, a surprisingly wide variety of body styles was available, mostly built in the Horstmann workshops.

Single Dry Plate Clutch

A single-dry-plate clutch was an advanced feature for the period, but the three-speed gearbox was incorporated in the rear axle, in the best Edwardian light-car fashion, an arrangement that the Horstmann had in common with such esteemed makes as AC. This model formed the basis of the company's post-Armistice production, by which time the famous (or notorious) Horstmann kick-starter had made its appearance.

This operated on the basis of an Archimedian screw and, according to an early review of the car, 'It is the pleasantest and easiest job to start the engine from cold, and one can stop and restart a hundred times a day without either stooping over a starting handle or fearing to exhaust an electrical starter'.

However, as this car had only run 580 miles from new when the review was penned, it is unlikely that this enthusiast had experienced any reluctance to start on the part of the engine, because the kick-back of a recalcitrant Horstmann, it seems, could leave the owner scarred both in body and mind. The idiosyncratic Horstmann engine was first augmented, then supplanted, by a Coventry Climax power unit after World War 1, presumably in the interests of economy, as both engines were of 1.3 liters capacity.

1914 Horstmann engine
1914 Horstmann engine, a neat 1 liter unit with horizontal valves and detachable cylinder head.

1914 Horstmann
1914 Horstmann, which formed the basis of the company's post Armistace production.

1921 Horstman Super Sports
1921 Horstman Super Sports. Note the twin headlamp configuration.

1921 Horstman Racer, fitted with a 1.5 liter Anzani engine
1921 Horstman Racer, fitted with a 1.5 liter Anzani engine.

1922 Horstman 4 seater runabout
1922 Horstman 4 seater runabout, fitted with solid wheels. We assume there was a door on the passenger side?

Hortsmann loses an 'N' to look less Germanic

Nevertheless, the capitalisation deficiencies of the company were beginning to show; on 13 December 1921, matters came to a head when, at the insistence of a number of creditors, a receiver and manager was appointed. It was around this time that the car lost the final 'N' of its name, as it was felt that the original name looked too Germanic.

Around this time the Horstman Super Sports had made its first appearance. Catalogued at £500, this model was fitted with handsome and rakish polished-aluminum bodywork, an outside exhaust pipe and a special engine fitted with racing camshaft and lightened piston rings and connecting rods. It had Daimler fluting to it’s pointed radiator, retained the deadly kick starting mechanism, however later models had an early and ingenious system of hydraulic four wheel braking.

the Horstman Super Sports

The power unit was a 1.4-liter Anzani. Horstman cars appeared in the Brooklands 200-mile race from 1921 to 1923, the latter year's entry having a special twin-carburetor installation, while experiments with supercharging were also made.

In this form the car driven by Major Coe was faster than most. Inevitably, from a firm with such advanced ideas, a sports model was amongst the catalogued cars, one of which was virtually the racing version with some road equipment tacked on. However, there was also a normal sports version, less exiting but more practical and aided by an anti roll device applied to the cantilever suspension.

In unblown form the Super Sports Horstman was exceptionally fast: in 1923, C. F. A. Temple was racing one of these cars at Brooklands and recording a maximum speed of 90 mph. Horstman racing cars pioneered front-wheel braking, too, although these did not find their way onto production cars until 1924. Then, however, they were hydraulically operated, making Horstmann one of the first two British light-car companies to fit hydraulics all round (the other was Triumph).

The End of the Kick-Starter Era

The 1925 Horstman cars had advanced specifications; these fully justified their prices which, at £250 for a chassis and £320 for a tourer, were comparable to those of the Austin 12/4 range and other middle-class motors. Take the 12/30 hp Horstman saloon shown at Olympia in October 1924, Anzani-powered like all its fellows in the 1925 range, and now with the gearbox in unit with the engine, which meant the end of the kick-starter era.

Its 'Horstman-built body was coach-painted in royal blue, upholstered in velvet cord with pile carpet linings and had adjustable and removable froht seats, adjustable plate glass side windows and V -type wind- screen. Parcel shelf and pockets were provided; polished mahogany dashboard fitted with speedometer, clock, dash lamp, oil indicator and switchboard; special tool box under running board; folding luggage carrier at rear; screen wiper and roof light. And all for £430.

Production Rises, But So Does Operating Costs

The company seemed sure of success, especially as production had been rising at a steady rate since the end of 1923. However, on October 24, the day before the Motor Show closed, it was disclosed that the improved trading had not been sufficient to outweigh the company's operating costs, and that therefore the debenture holders were appointing a receiver and manager.

The second period of receivership (the first had ended with a scheme of arrangement in August 1922) lasted until March 1925, when Horstman Cars Limited was put into compulsory liquidation, with a total deficiency of £26,321. Assets were extremely low, being a measly £1746.

'The failure of the company', concluded the Official Receiver, 'is attributable to the fact that for some time it had been selling its cars at a gross profit insufficient to meet its overhead costs and charges'. These had, let it be added, included the production of a fearsome front-wheel-drive supercharged sprint car, which developed 100 bhp and weighed less than half a ton.

After the liquidation, Horstman tried very hard to recover, although the cars were nominally listed until 1929, there were few takers. There was even an attempt to revive the ephemeral 9/20 hp model, which had briefly featured in the 1924 model line-up-presumably some of the 1100 cc ohv Coventry Climax engines bought in 1923 were still lying around the Horstman works. It was all over by 1929, though, at least as far as car production went.

Horstman still retained their interest in unorthodox suspension systems, and in January 1929 they released details of a new method of car springing. This used coil springs under compression, acting through a system of levers, and was equally suitable for beam axles or independent-wheel suspension. Horstman Limited and Herbert Terry & Sons, the Redditch spring makers, joined forces to develop this 'Slow Motion Suspension', which was fitted experimentally to a Morris-Cowley saloon, but apparently never saw production.

1914 Horstmann Coupe
1914 Horstmann Coupe.
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